Let the Word Speak!

Vision 7: The Consummation

As I studied this final vision, I found many similarities to symphonic music in how the vision is constructed. A symphony will have three or four movements, with the final movement borrowing and repeating material from the earlier movements as it builds the entire symphony towards a “grand finale” climax. Likewise, John’s seventh vision continues to draw from Old Testament writings, but adds in New Testament wisdom and quotes heavily from the earlier visions in Revelation. The imagery that John uses will be more vibrant and amazing, and rush by more quickly than before. John is more willing to mix metaphors and present us with confusing juxtapositions, for he wants us to be caught up in the wonder of the new heaven and new earth. Here, more so than in the earlier visions, if we stop to analyze, we will miss the great kaleidoscope that John uses to show us the final completion of God’s plan and the awe-inspiring beauty of heaven. Therefore, we must be even more careful than before about treating these symbolic images more literally than John intended.

Even the start of this vision shares a technique with symphonies. In a symphony, the final movement is sometimes done as an “attacca,” where the music proceeds without stopping from one movement to the next one, to increase the intensity of the final movement. Because of continuity of the “hallelujahs”, it is unclear where vision six stops and vision seven begins, but that really isn’t important!

Opening scene in heaven (19:6 – 19:10)

6 And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice [”sound”] of many waters, and as the voice [”sound”] of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth [”has begun His reign”].

The multitude singing is the redeemed, sounding very much like the 144,000 in Revelation 14:2. Now that all earthly powers are recognized as doomed, Christ is seen by all as King.

7 Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.
8 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the [implies ”symbol of”] righteousness of [better “given by God to”] saints.

The expression of praise is not for what God has done, but for what will happen.

The image of the marriage of the church and Christ is prevalent in both the Old and New Testaments. The prophets use the image of marriage in Isaiah 54:5-6, Ezekiel 16:8, and Hosea 2:16. However, the people of Israel were never faithful to God, so the prophets looked ahead to when there would be a faithful bride. See Jesus’ use of marriage in parables in Matthew 9:15, Mark 2:19-20, and Luke 5:34-35. John the Baptist uses the image to describe Jesus in John 3:29. Paul used it in 2 Corinthians 11:2 and Ephesians 5:25.

Notice the intentional contrast between the appearance of the Bride here and the attire of the Harlot in Revelation 17:3-6. This is the third of the three key women in Revelation, with the first being the woman giving birth in vision three. This woman is splendidly dressed, and her clothing is all a gift from her husband, Christ.

The last part of this scripture is often translated “for the fine linen is the righteousness of the saints” — implying that what the believers did is worthy of white linen. This is out of character with the message of grace. The key to understanding this passage is the Greek word dikaioma, which means an ordinance or a judgement of righteousness. Paul uses this word in Romans 2:26 and 8:4 as the requirements of the law, and again in 5:18, describing that Jesus fulfilled the ordinance of righteousness for us. Therefore, the bright linens are the outward sign of our inward forgiveness, just as Jesus healed the bodies of those as a sign of the forgiveness they received within.

9 And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.

Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to an invitation to a marriage supper in Matthew 22:2-10 and Luke 14:15-24, showing the abundant generosity of God. Now, if the church is the Bride of Christ, who are the people who would be invited to the marriage feast? They are the same people, the redeemed, as John tries another way to describe how awesome heaven will be.

The same angel in 17:1 makes certain that John takes this down. His statement that these are true words isn’t just declaring the obvious, it is celebrating the truth of this beatitude.

10 And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant [one word in Greek: sundouloi] and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

John was so excited at this image that he fell down to thank and praise the angel. Angel worship was a problem in the first century church, as discussed in Hebrews 1:4-14 and Colossians 2:18. While there are significant differences between men and angels, there are more important similarities between men and angels as servants of God, and there is only One who is to be worshipped.

The phrase that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophesy appears to refer to the story of Jesus’ baptism, where the spirit descended like a dove on him, given in Mark 1:9-11 and in the other gospels. However, what it actually means is ambiguous in the Greek. It either says that the message of Jesus is the root of our teaching, or it says that our greatest teaching is how we live in Christ. Neither of these fit well in the context of John worshipping the angel, so I think we’ve lost a common saying, a first century context, or a piece of the text over the centuries that we need to understand this sentence.

The white horse (19:11 – 19:16)

11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.

The image of a white horse recalls the first horseman in Revelation 6:2, but here the emphasis is not on war but on the victory. Jesus is the one named Faithful and True, just as he was called the Faithful Witness in Revelation 1:5 and similarly through the rest of Revelation.

12 His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns [”diadems”]; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.
13 And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.

Many of these descriptions, like the eyes as a flame, refer back to the first chapter of Revelation. Jesus wears many diadems, just as the Dragon did, but even moreso. It was common in the first century for emperors to wear all the crowns of the countries which they ruled. The name inscribed that no one knows was a symbol of power, similar to the promise to the church in Pergamum in Revelation 2:17. Jacob wrestled at night with what turned out to be God in Genesis 32:24-29, asking for the name of his opponent to receive a blessing. The emphasis of the hidden name is that no one can ever know all about Christ or have control over Christ.

The robe dipped in blood is open for interpretation. The common first century idea would be dipped in the blood of his enemies, and that is the image in Isaiah 63:1-3 about the defeat of Edom, but that implies a vindictiveness missing in the description of the Righteous Judge. The better interpretation is that the blood is his own, given for us on the Cross, in keeping with the image of the Lamb in Revelation 5:5-6 that had already been slain.

The title of Word of God is for the most important mission of Jesus, to send God’s message in the most intense way possible to humanity. This same thought is expressed in the opening to the Gospel of John. In Hebrews 4:12, the Word of God is living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword.

14 And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.

The angelic armies of heaven are dressed in the same fine linen and riding on the same white horses as Jesus. Recall that when Judas betrayed Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told Peter in Matthew 26:53 that he could call legions of angels from heaven in his defense — these are those legions. Even though this host is described as an army, there are no weapons and no armor mentioned. They clearly aren’t expecting to fight, as they did in Revelation 12:7 when Michael led the army to cast Satan out of heaven. This time, Christ is the only warrior required.

15 And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule [literally, “shepherd”] them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
16 And he hath on his vesture [”robe”] and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.

Here again is a reference to the first chapter of Revelation, with the meaning that Jesus’ word is his weapon, and that it is his only weapon. In Isaiah 11:4, judgement comes as “he will strike the earth with his mouth.” In Psalm 2:9, “you shall break them with a rod of iron.” In one sentence are three roles that Christ performs towards humanity, that of conqueror, shepherd, and judge. John leaves no doubt with the final mention of a name inscribed that Jesus, not Caesar, is King of kings and Lord of lords.

Food for birds (19:17 – 19:18)

17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God;
18 That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great.

The angel was in the sun so all the birds, flying in mid-heaven, could see. The connotation for birds is the same negative disgust as we reviewed in Revelation 18:2.

John draws a sobering parallel by using the same Greek word for “supper” in 19:9 and in 19:17. One is a celebration feast, the other, emphatically linked, is of total physical defeat. This image of vultures recalls the great defeat of the enemies of God, called Gog and Magog, in Ezekiel 39:17-20. Note that all men, from kings to slaves, are to be killed — war is no respecter of persons, and all people, no matter how powerful, are weak before God.

The defeat of the beast (19:19 – 19:21)

19 And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army.
20 And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. …

There are three different battles alluded to in Revelation: 16:16 with the Beast and the ten kings, this one, and 20:8 against Satan after his 1000-year imprisonment. Are these all the same battle? I believe so. Just as John shows us visions of heaven again and again in his earlier visions, he shows us several times the total defeat of evil.

So here we have all the evil of the world arrayed in huge numbers against God’s people. Just as they are ready to do battle, the battle is finished. God’s power is so overwhelming that the hordes of evil are helpless. I remember playing my brother-in-law in tennis once, me a novice amateur, and him having lettered on his college tennis squad. All I can say for my effort is that I enjoyed the sunshine…

… These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. 21 And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.

This lake of fire, puros limnen, describes the same scene as Matthew 5:22’s puros Gehenna, the hell of fire. This destination is not the same as the Abyss of Revelation 9:1 and coming in Revelation 20:1, where the demons are housed. Notice that the rest of the defeated from verse 19 are not yet thrown into Gehenna, they are “merely” killed, but later in the book they will face judgement with the rest of the unbelievers.

Binding Satan (20:1 – 20:3)

The passage to follow is the only reference in all of scripture of the “millennium,” the thousand-year reign of Christ. This is one of the most divisive and debated theological issues relating to the End Time. Given that John discusses it very briefly, I believe that he intended it to be a parable within the imagery of the end, showing God’s incredible grace, and that the debates of pre-millennialism and post-millennialism miss the mark badly. See the section on “Interpretation for the End Time” for more discussion of this issue.

1 And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.

The word here for “chain” is the same as the chains that shackled Paul in 2 Timothy 1:16 and Peter in Acts 12:6, a specific Greek word meaning a chain to imprison a person. In this image, God gave this angel total authority over Satan.

2 And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,
3 And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season [”a little while”].

The symbolism of a thousand years is 10x10x10, meaning a divinely (three-fold) complete time, for as long as God intended it to be. It also sounds like 2 Peter 3:8 and and Psalm 90:40, “For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past or like a watch in the night.”

With the abyss shut, there are no more evil, demonic forces — what a relief! Satan was not imprisoned to be punished, but so that the nations would not be deceived. Notice the necessity of Satan being loosed again. Why? We don’t understand the moral law behind what is meant, but we get a similar thought in Isaiah 24:21-23, where those in rebellion against God are shut up in prison, then later punished.

The millennial reign (20:4 – 20:10)

4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

Once Satan is locked up, Christ, with the faithful martyrs raised to positions of honor, rules over the earth for 1000 years. Some translations read that the martyrs were judges over the earth, but the better translation for the phrase is that they were given righteousness — remember that even their sacrifice is not enough to “earn” salvation. Some also read this as not just the martyrs but all the believers, depending on how the two qualifications given are interpreted.

Where are these thrones — on earth or in heaven? Within the time line of this vision, it would seem these are on earth. However, it would be consistent with the earlier visions that the martyrs are honored in heaven, and the passage does say John saw the “souls,” not the “bodies,” of those who had been beheaded.

5 But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.

There are theological contradictions with requiring a literal first and a second resurrection. John here implies a second resurrection by the mention of the resurrection of the beheaded before the 1000 year reign and the rest later. In the rest of the book, John talks of only one resurrection. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 has a resurrection of the dead believers, and those along with the living believers caught up in the air to be with Jesus. John 5:28-29 has a resurrection of all the dead, both believing and unbelieving. It is easier to see John’s descriptions as figurative, and part of the demonstration of God’s complete victory than it is to consider this as John’s contradiction of earlier teachings.

John’s real point is to compare the first resurrection with the second death, and warning that there is no resurrection from the second death. The first death is physical, but the second death is spiritual. The spiritual death is the same, maybe even a more accurate but less descriptive explanation, of the “outer darkness” and “lake of fire” used elsewhere for the final judgement.

7 And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,
8 And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.

After the imprisonment, Satan is back to what he was doing before — deceiving people. Notice he goes to nations in the four corners of the earth, a sign of evil as with the evil winds in Revelation 7:1. The nations of Gog and Magog are presented inEzekiel 38:2 as the prototypical enemies of the Messiah. In this way, we can interpret this passage as showing that the fulfillment of the protection of Israel in Ezekiel 38-39 does not take place during history for Israel but at the End Time for the completion of God’s plan.

Why would God release Satan again? To me, this passage describes both incredible patience of God, and the incredibly stubborn and rebellious nature of humanity. John portrays Jesus as ruling the entire world, a world without Satan’s influence, for 1000 years — what a wonderful place that would be! However, the people in the world are so evil that as soon as Satan is released from captivity, large numbers of people are eager to reject Jesus and follow the weaker Satan in rebellion against Jesus. John wants us to understand that over and over again God has given us an absurd number of opportunities to accept his love and grace, and if we don’t, we will be eternally separated from him, because we will have demonstrated repeatedly our unwaveringly choices for evil.

9 And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the [military] camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.
10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

Once again, the defeat of Satan was sudden and powerful, completely overwhelming the leagues arrayed against God’s people. Fire from heaven resembles the fire came down on Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:24 and like Elijah called down on his would-be captors in 2 Kings 1:10. God’s power is so awesome that they are defeated before the battle has a chance to begin, and God’s people never had to lift a weapon.

Again, this lake of fire is the final judgement for Satan. Note the progression, where Satan is thrown out of Heaven in Revelation 12:9, locked away for 1000 years in Revelation 20:2, and now ultimately defeated in this passage.

The final judgment (20:11 – 20:15)

11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.

The white throne represents God’s complete purity, similar to the description of the throne of the Ancient One in Daniel 7:9. God’s presence fully revealed is so pure and intense that the old, corrupted earth and sky were driven away, and all that is left is the spiritual.

12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell [better Hades, the place of the dead] delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

Now comes the final judgement where all have been resurrected — no one escapes final judgement, no matter where or how they died.

There are several books presented in heaven. One set of books has a record of all that we have done, similar to the books described in Daniel 7:10 after the image of the Ancient One’s throne. Malachi 3:16 presents a slightly different twist on these records, as God has his angels write in a book of remembrance about those who revere the Lord. This is true “justice,” that we are accountable for all that we do, that nothing is done in secret. However, there is also the “book of life,” of grace, referenced by Paul in Philippians 4:3, and promised by Jesus in Revelation 3:5 in the letter to the church of Sardis.

14 And death and hell [Hades] were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

By this time, there is no more death and no more need for a “waiting room” for the dead. Notice this is the pair seen in the image of the fourth horseman, now shown to be the last enemy defeated. Hebrews 2:15 promises that God will destroy the devil and “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.” By calling this the “second death,” John identifies this as the time when there are no more “last chances.”

Notice that the only way to salvation is through the book of life. The books of our history are present, but nothing anyone has done will free them from separation from God, except accepting God’s grace in the gift of eternal life.

The new Jerusalem (21:1 – 22:6)

The prologue (21:1-5)

Wall identifies more uses of the first century literary device of the chiasmus, the crossing, to emphasize the most important points in this final section of the seventh vision . The letters to the churches similarly used a chiasmus to emphasize the three middle churches, suffering from lethargy, as the most important focus of John’s message.

For the prologue, the crossing appears as this:

  • A: the promised new creation
  • B: the negation of the old creation
  • C: the passing away of the sea
  • D: the coming of the new Jerusalem
  • E: the bride beautifully dressed for her husband
  • D’: the divine confirmation of God’s new dwelling
  • C’: there will be no effects of evil
  • B’: God has transformed the old things
  • A’: into new things

So the emphasis of this passage is not the city of the new Jerusalem, as might be understood from the descriptions that follow, but that the new Jerusalem represents the people of the church, which is the bride of Christ. The story is not about where, it is about who.

1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.

Let’s divert into a first century Greek lesson on “heaven.” There is only one word used in the New Testament to describe both the sky, where birds fly and clouds float, and heaven, where God and the angels live. As a result of this limited vocabulary, the writers are not at all clear when they differentiate what happens with the earthly sky or with heaven. However, this lack of vocabulary words clearly didn’t bother them!

Our view of heaven is shaped by Greek philosophy, which differs from the Asian philosophy expressed in Revelation. We see heaven as permanent and timeless, with earth as changing and temporary, so we have a real problem with throwing the old heaven away for a new one, and want to read this as the “earth and sky” are thrown away. However, John desires to throw away the old heaven, the one that in Revelation 4:6 has a sea of glass that separates us from God’s throne. He wants to replace the whole thing with a new heaven and new earth that are now one in the same, because God dwells with his followers there.

The idea of all things new is seen in the promise in Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22 that God will create a new heaven and a new earth. These are “new” in the meaning there has never been anything like them before. These are “new” because there is no more separation, “new” because God has designed heaven and earth as a home for his faithful followers.

That the sea is gone doesn’t mean much to us. However, the sea represented in the first century a risky and hostile environment. Isaiah 57:20-21 implies this negative interpretation as it states that “the wicked are like the tossing sea, they cannot keep still; the waters toss up mire and mud; there is no peace, says my God, for the wicked.”

2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

This is THE Holy City, finally, not the one that had fallen short so many times. This Holy City is the perfect contrast to the evil city of Babylon. Here the city is the Bride, just as the faithful are the Bride in 19:7. There is a continuity of God’s presence shown by continuing to call this city Jerusalem, but there is also a transformation into what is new and different and perfect. The image of bridal attire is what Isaiah 61:10 referenced in describing how God blesses us with forgiveness. The image of a holy city is similar to what Paul reminds us in Philippians 3:20, that our citizenship is not in Israel or in Rome, but in heaven.

3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle [or “dwelling place”] of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.

John has throughout Revelation distinguished between the sinful “inhabitants” of the earth and the faithful “sojourners” on the earth. Here, he continues that image in describing God erecting a tent, a tabernacle, to live with humanity. In this case, however, John is using words in Greek that his listeners will immediately relate to the Hebrew word we transliterate as Shekinah, the visible presence of God. This word was used to describe the pillar of fire and of smoke that was God’s presence with the Israelites in the wilderness on the way from Egypt to Canaan, and that later occupied the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, recorded in 1 Kings 8:10-11. John isn’t holding on to a temporary expression in the permanent New Heaven, he is referencing to the most memorable expression of God’s visible presence in Old Testament literature. This closeness of God was promised in the prophets, as in Ezekiel 37:27, Zechariah 2:10, and Zechariah 8:8.

4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
5 And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. …

God will care for all the faithful with the same promise he made to the 144,000 in Revelation 7:17. The curse in Genesis 3:16-19, resulting from the first sin by Adam and Eve, is reversed here in the New Creation God has made. Although these passages describe the New Creation in many ways, God reinforces what He has done in declaring that all things are now recreated as God intends them to be.

The body of the vision of the new Jerusalem (21:5 – 22:6)

This section also consists of a chiasmus:

  • A: John must write
  • B: the water of life
  • C: the inheritance of the faithful
  • D: those who do not belong to the second death
  • E: description of the new Jerusalem
  • D’: the city does not belong to the impure
  • C’: but to those found in the Lamb’s book of Life
  • B’: they live by the water of life
  • A’: what John must write is trustworthy and true

… And he [the angel] said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.

Translations of this passage sometimes get confused on who was speaking, because that identification in Greek is subtle at best. A different phrasing of “he” leads us to identify the second voice as an angel, similar to the ones in 14:13 and 19:9, although others consider this command to come from God.

6 And he [God] said unto me, It is done. [literally, “They have come to pass!”] I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. …

What has come to pass are all the events that were required to renew God’s creation and redeem it from evil and sin brought about by Adam and Even in the garden of Eden. God calls himself by the same name He used in Isaiah 44:6, the “first and the last.”

… I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely [or “without payment”].

What an incredible sermon on God’s love there is in this one sentence! God makes available to his faithful water, but only if they are thirsty. Who wouldn’t be thirsty? Who wouldn’t be eager to drink from the fountain of the water of life? Who wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the free gift that God makes available? The answer to those questions is the essence of judgment. Those who are so arrogant as to deny their thirst rather than accept God’s gift condemn themselves to separation from God.

Isaiah refers to God’s renewal as water of life in Isaiah 44:3 and 55:1. Jesus used this imagery more directly in John 4:7-15, talking with the outcast Samaritan woman at the well. This infamously sinful woman saw in Jesus the “living water” of forgiveness that she needed to accept the gift of eternal life. In contrast, the scribes and the Pharisees in their arrogance refused to accept their own unworthiness before God — they denied that they were thirsty.

7 He that overcometh [”conquers”] shall inherit all things [”shall have this inheritance”]; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.

The phrase “overcometh” or “conquers” mirrors each of the letters to the churches, which ended with a promise “to everyone who conquers.”

There is a long history of inheritance, going back to God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 17:7-8 of a land and a people, and most of all that “I will be their God.” The promise of being God’s son was given to David in 2 Samuel 7:14, and repeated here for all believers. The rich young ruler came to Jesus to ask how he might receive the inheritance of eternal life in Mark 10:17. Paul teaches that we are no longer slaves, but heirs of God’s inheritance through Christ in Galatians 4:7 and Romans 8:17.

8 But the fearful [”cowardly”], and unbelieving, and the abominable [”polluted”], and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

The term translated here as “fearful” or “cowardly” is only used in the New Testament in the parallel passages of Matthew 8:16 and Mark 4:40. Jesus has just calmed a storm that the disciples feared would destroy them, and asks them why they so easily let go of their faith. The term better translated as “polluted” means defiled by holding to the values of the Roman Empire. I am puzzled by the significance of eight items, compared to lists in the rest of the book, unless it is the worldly “4” added to itself.

The image of smoke from sulfur is very similar to smoke from burning tires or rubber — thick, black, choking — the opposite of the crystal clarity used to describe so much of the new Jerusalem. This parallel also fits the understanding of those who follow God compared to those who cloud their minds with falsehood and refuse to see God.

9 And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials [”bowls”] full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.

One of the seven angels with bowls had shown John the Harlot, so the reference to one of the same seven angels emphasizes the contrast between the Harlot and the Bride. It is possible that John even meant the same angel was John’s guide for both.

10 And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,
11 Having the glory of God: and her light [”radiance”, “luminescence”] was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal;

Before, the angel had taken him out to a desolate region to see the Harlot. In contrast, the angel takes him to a mountain, symbolizing power and victory, to see the Bride. This vision clearly refers to the vision starting in Ezekiel 40, where on a great high mountain, the prophet saw the city of God. This passage uses the same language as Revelation 17:7 and Revelation 21:2. The phrase “glory of God” means that God lives there, just as Ezekiel 43:5 had God living in the holy city Ezekiel saw.

12 And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel:
13 On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates.

This holy city has a wall, gate towers, and angelic guards, all symbols of God’s protection and care for his people, even though there is nothing for them to fear in the New Creation. The word for these gates is pulon, the large gates with gate towers. The use of twelve gates named for the twelve tribes parallels Ezekiel’s vision of the city of God in Ezekiel 48:31-34. Notice that the walls face the compass directions, not the “evil” corners.

14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

Here, as with the 24 elders, John unites the Old Covenant with the New Covenant with the gates and the foundation stones. Similarly, Paul describes in Ephesians 2:20 the household of God as built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ as the cornerstone. Jesus renames Simon as the Rock in Matthew 16:18, and promises that on that rock he will build his church.

15 And he that talked with me had a golden reed [measuring rod] to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof.
16 And the city lieth foursquare [literally, “four corner”], and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs [or stadia]. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.
17 And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel.

The measuring rod was gold to symbolize royalty, and measuring was done to indicate security and protection. Historians tell us that Babylon was square, at 120 stadia per side, so the New Jerusalem is intentionally several orders of magnitude greater than the size of Babylon. The dimensions of this city are staggering: 1500 miles per side, the distance between New York City and Houston. The city is built as a cube, a symbol of perfection, with incredibly tall walls, because the Holy of Holies was also a cube (1 Kings 6:19). The walls are 12×12 cubits thick, or 216 feet.

John goes out of his way to continue discussing the similarity of humans and angels, thus emphasizing the value of humanity, in stating the similarity of a man’s cubit measure (length of forearm) and an angel’s.

18 And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear [literally “a raindrop of”] glass.
19 And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony [or “agate”]; the fourth, an emerald;
20 The fifth, sardonyx [or “onyx”]; the sixth, sardius [or “carnelian”]; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst.

There is a great variety of the twelve jewels mentioned, and that inclusiveness may be meaning enough. Scholars aren’t sure if there is a significance to the specific jewels chosen. Some believe that these jewels represent the signs of the zodiac presented backwards. When compared to the stones on the breastplate of the high priests, as given in Exodus 28:17-20, eight of the twelve jewels match, and some scholars assume this was intended to be a perfect match and attribute the differences to translation errors in the scriptures available in the first century.

If we aren’t poetic, this appears to be a very materialistic description of an opulent city. We need to see that the descriptions are of grandeur and awesome glory, a gift of a new dwelling by the all-powerful God to his faithful followers.

21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl [”each of the gates made of a single pearl”]: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.

The pearl was the most common of the jewels at that time, but the size of the pearl needed for these gates was incredible. The passage identifies the “broad way of the city,” but frequently, identifying the major thoroughfare also implied all the other streets as well.

22 And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.

Here was a surprise, indicated by the variation in John’s text — everything else was “I saw,” but this was “I didn’t see.” This is a more dramatic absence when compared to the Ezekiel 40-48 vision of the city of God, because the major portion of that account describes the new temple.

The fundamental truth of the New Creation is that God will live among us. By shaping the city as a cube, we understand that we will all live in the Holy of Holies in the presence of God, where on the Old Earth, only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, the center of the temple, and he just once a year.

23 And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.

This statement fulfills the promise made in Isaiah 60:19 that the faithful would have the Lord as their everlasting light. John includes both God and the Lamb in the description of light, emphasizing that they are indivisible. Recall that in chapter 1, lamps represented the churches, so we see here that those churches were small samples of the light that God provides in the New Creation.

24 And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it.
25 And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there.
26 And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it.

The images of walking in the light of God match passages in Isaiah 60 where all the nations shall come to the light of God. Because of this parallel to the prophesy, we have here the image of the “kings of the earth” bringing homage to God in the New Creation. This is also a reinforcement that all the earth’s rulers draw their power from God, so here they are giving back to Him what is His, and demonstrating that they are subject to him. There is also a key contrast with Rome: all the nations brought goods of all sorts into Rome, now the kings bring glory and honor into the New Jerusalem. The phrase “the gates shall never be shut” uses an emphatic Greek double negative, again like Isaiah 60, but also because there is nothing to fear that would cause the gates to be shut in defense. Notice that the common idiom “by day and by night” is cut short, since there is no longer any night.

27 And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

The Greek phrase uses a double-negative to emphasize that nothing unclean shall enter the city. The word for “abomination” is the same word used for Babylon in Revelation 17:4.

22:1 And he [the angel] shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of [from] the throne of God and of the Lamb.
2 In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

Images of rivers and fountains of God are prevalent in the prophets, including Zechariah 14:8, Ezekiel 47:1-12, Joel 3:18, and Jeremiah 2:13. The Tree of Life is particularly poignant in its reference back to Genesis 1:11 and the garden of Eden. In this image, the angel shows John that the paradise that was lost has now been regained. Twelve kinds of fruit is symbolic of completeness, but also amazing, just as amazing as producing fruit twelve months each year. Since tree leaves were often medicinal in the first century, the leaves of the Tree of Life heal the nations, probably from the effects of sin.

3 And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him:
4 And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads.

The first of the passage reminds of the close of Ezekiel’s vision of the city of God, found in Ezekiel 48:35, where the name of this city is “The Lord Is There.”

The faithful servants on earth will keep on serving God in heaven, in ways never before possible. It will be our blessing in heaven to serve God, and I believe our work on earth is in preparation for our service to God in heaven.

To see God meant more in the first century than just perceiving a visual image. It meant to comprehend and to understand. We will be near God, we will know God, and we will rejoice in God. We will have a direct, face-to-face audience with God, just as Jesus promised the Laodiceans (Revelation 3:21) that we will sit arm in arm beside Him on His throne.

5 And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.
6 And he [the angel] said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true. …

Interpretations

The idea of the millennium is brought up in the Bible only in Revelation 20:1-10. Nevertheless, this topic has been at the root of many bitter arguments among theologians.

One of the keys in how this passage is interpreted is the time line determined for Satan’s defeat and the defeat of the two beasts. Some, the a-millennialists, believe that the defeat of Satan must take place at the same time as the defeat of the two beasts. They interpret the angel coming down in 20:1 as backing up in time to Christ’s resurrection, so that the 1000 years takes place from the time of Christ’s resurrection to the Second Coming. For them, the chains are figurative, representing how the message of the Gospel spread by Christians on earth binds Satan.

Some, the pre-millennialists, believe that the Rapture, where the dead believers are resurrected and they and living believers meet Christ in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17), happens as Christ comes to earth before the 1000 years. At the end of the 1000 years, Satan is released, defeated, and the rest of the dead, the unbelievers, are resurrected.

Others, the post-millennialists, believe that the return of Christ takes place after this 1000 years, and at that point is one resurrection of all the dead. The idea of 1000 years of peace on earth before Christ comes seems to be out of context with the rest of the story line.

One of the other approaches to this millennial period is the Jewish thought during the first century, as best we can resurrect it. The rabbis agreed that the Messiah’s coming to earth would be the pivotal point to restore the world to how God intended. Many of the rabbis thought that this transition and restoration would take some time to do, so they had a reign of the Messiah on earth during a period of purification before the new heaven and the new earth could be formed.

Personally, I believe that the 1000 years is a parable of God’s incredible patience and grace with unbelievably rebellious, sinful man. What John tells us is that even after Jesus locks Satan up, and sets up rule on earth, the sinful on earth are so determined to oppose him that they leap at the chance to follow the defeated, jailed Satan as soon as he is released from the Abyss. John wants us to know that God’s judgments is restrained for so long that no one can believe that they didn’t get a fair chance to follow Him.

Connection to the Letters to the Churches

In the letters to the churches in chapters 2 and 3, each of the letters ended with a promise for those who overcome. The first six of these included promises from the seventh vision, providing a means for connecting the first part of the book with the last part. Now that we’ve covered the seventh vision, let’s review these promises and what they reference.

Letter 1: to the church in Ephesus:

To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

Revelation 22:2, the tree of life in the new Jerusalem

Letter 2: to the church in Smyrna:

He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.

Revelation 20:6, for those in the first resurrection, the second death has no power

Letter 3: to the church in Pergamum:

To him that overcometh … [I] will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.

Revelation 19:12, the new name for Christ that no one knows

Letter 4: to the church in Thyatira:

And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.

Revelation 19:15, the rod of iron in Christ’s hand

Letter 5: to the church in Sardis:

He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.

Revelation 19:8, white garments of the angels, and Revelation 20:12, white garments of the Bride

Letter 6: to the church in Philadelphia:

Him that overcometh … I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.

Revelation 21:2, the new Jerusalem, and Revelation 22:4, God’s name on the faithful’s foreheads

Letter 7: to the church in Laodicea:

To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.

There was no exact match for the promise to Laodicea, just as that letter was both more harsh but more personal than the other letters. The image still fits, and one part of this promise is included with the throne of Jesus and God are given in Revelation 22:3.

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