Revelation 20–Final Judgment?

> Tom Couchman with a question…
>
> Most commentators, for what I take to be obvious reasons, regard Rev
> 20:11-15 as a depiction of the final judgment of all, righteous and
> wicked. I suppose that’s the most straightforward reading, but I’ve
> just completed teaching a HS class on the book, and that study has
> left me with some doubts that the Last Judgment is what is
> contemplated in that text.
>
> Some things I’ve been caused to consider …
>
> 1. It does appear that the triumph of God’s people over Rome, and by
> extension civil authorities hostile to His kingdom, is the main
> subject of the book.

I think the main theme of Revelation is expressed in Rev 5:13. There it says, “Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever”. The book is about the exercise of Christ’s “all-power” (Mt 28:18). Christ receives all power from the hand of God in Rev 5:7. Christ’s exercise of His new power is then first expressed briefly the powers He exercises in the opening of the first six seals in Ch 6-7. In these two chapters John offers vignettes that exemplify Christ exercising the power He received under each of the first six seals.

Beginning in Ch 8 and continuing through 22:5 John describes Christ exercising the power of the seventh seal. That seventh seal is Christ’s power over the course of human history. Chapters 8-22 of Revelation are a three pronged exposition of the theme of Christ’s control over the course of history under the seventh seal. Chapters 8-14 show Christ’s control over the history of the Jews. Chapters 15-19 show Christ’s control over the history of the nations. Chapters 20-22 show Christ’s control over the history of the church. If you read these sections you will find that there are three separate accounts of Christ coming in judgment (Rev 14:15-20, Rev 19:11-21, Rev 20:9).

Since you just finished a study of Revelation I am sure you are aware of the difficulty in attempting to teach the book from the context of a First Century fulfillment. It is impossible to harmonize, even with the highly imaginative fiction of “spiritualizing” the text, all of the various scenes that John records in a First Century context. In addition to the great difficulties that arise from attempting to harmonize the Revelation accounts with a First Century historical fulfillment, my greatest complaint with that approach is that there is no basis for the supposed explanations that are offered. How do we know, for example, that the sea turned to blood was a Galilean naval battle between the Jews and the Romans? On what basis do we establish that? All we have is the expositor’s say-so. I find that a very weak basis for interpreting scripture. When you get right down to it, the whole historical approach is largely speculation. It is based on a fertile imagination trying to force fit supposed figures into some First (or in brother Hailey’s case, Fourth) Century context. The interpretation simply has no basis in scripture. The supposed interpretations are imagined and we can have no confidence that they are indeed what the author intended.

The “Revelation is the Destruction of Jerusalem” theory is just a special case of the “Revelation was fulfilled in victory over the Romans” theory and neither of them enjoys the support of a Bible key to unlock the figures. A major objection to a Destruction of Jerusalem (DOJ) interpretation of Revelation is the date of writing of Revelation. Stanley Paher (who is even an advocate of an AD 70 fulfillment for all of Mt 24) has recently written a book (The Book of Revelation’s Mystery Babylon: Rome, A.D. 95) in which he builds a very strong case for the late date for Revelation. If Revelation was written in AD 95, then of course the First Century fulfillment idea is completely bogus.

A second objection to the early date is the political situation. Expositors justify the symbolic language in Revelation based upon a thesis that God hid His wrath in veiled, apocryphal terms to avoid tribulation to Christians. That simply does not make any sense. In the first place, the most optimistic early date for Revelation is AD 67. However, the Jewish revolt began in AD 66. So the idea that God hid His wrath against His people in apocryphal language makes no sense because the Jewish war had already begun and the Romans were going to capture or destroy Jerusalem no matter what kind of literature the Jews produced. Furthermore, how could Rome be upset and increase the persecution when God’s message over Jerusalem was “Rome wins!” Why would God veil His message to His people in a highly symbolic book in which the ink was hardly dry before all of the events were completed? It makes no sense to write of the DOJ in symbolic terms. Jesus did not do so in the accounts in Mt 24:4-22, Mk 13:1ff and Lk 21:5ff. From these and other considerations, it is clear that Revelation is not about the DOJ.

From a historical perspective it is difficult to see how God’s people are ultimately yet victorious over anything. In the First Century you have great persecutions on Christians, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the estrangement of the Jews from the church. It is not until the Fourth Century that Christianity gained respite from persecution and in the century that followed, the church digressed rapidly from the ancient practices of the apostles. Following the thousand year reign of Christianity (AD 344-1344) over the nations of men, a period of reformation began where some reformers began to try to reform some of the more blatant corruptions of the church. In the centuries that followed instead of reformation of the church, the Reformation resulted in the fragmentation of Christianity into many warring camps. History does not show where Christians have yet been victorious for ever and ever as the prophecies require (Rev 7:12, 11:15). Since Christians have not yet been victorious for ever and ever, then the fulfillment of that prophecy is yet for the future, for God cannot lie (Tit 1:2). If Christians are to be victorious for ever and ever, then the fulfillment must be for the new earth, for the present earth is destined for corruption (Rev 13:15) and destruction (Rev 19:18, 21). The victory of Rev 11:15 and 22:5 is in the new earth (Rev 21:1) that is yet future (II Pet 3:13).

The main theme of Revelation is that God triumphs not merely over Rome, but over all evil men (Rev 11:17-18, Rev 19:21) by the complete annihilation of all life at the end of the world (Rev 20:9, II Pet 3:10, Rev 19:20-21) and the re-establishment of a new world order where eternal righteousness prevails (Rev 21:1-4, cp II Pet 3:13, Isa 65:17, 66:22, 11:6, 9, 65:25, 35:9, Zech 3:10). The redeemed are raised, judged, and rewarded (I Thes 4:16, Rom 14:10, Lk 19:15) and the wicked are raised, judged, and punished with eternal torment (Rev 11:18, 14:11). The book of Revelation describes the course of this world as God carries out His plan to bring the wicked to justice and bring His sons to glory.

>
> 2. What is apparently a parallel text, Dan 7:9-10, is squarely in the
> context of the “fourth kingdom,” and what is described in vv 11-12 of
> that text doesn’t seem to fit the final judgment.

Dan 7 is parallel to Dan 2, Dan 8, Rev 13, Rev 17 and Rev 20. Dan 7 describes the sequence of world-empires from Babylon to the end of the world. Daniel gives two different accounts of the sequence of powers from Babylon to the time of the end (Dan 2 and Dan 7). The first four nations in these accounts we are familiar with. They are Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. After the fourth kingdom 10 kings arise at a time close to the end of the world (Dan 7:25-26). The 10 kings are a federation of what appear to be Eurasian nations risen from the remains of the fourth beast-kingdom (Dan 7:24) and are thus subsequent in time to the fourth beast-kingdom.

The context of Dan 7 beginning at v7 is the ten horns at the end of the world. We know these ten kings are at the end of the world because they arise out of the Roman Empire (Dan 7:24) and Dan 7:26 says that the Judgment will be set and the Judges will take away his dominion to consume and destroy it for ever. At the end of days a little horn (a powerful man leading a powerful country) arises that takes control over the ten nations at the end of the world (Dan 7:8, 11) and destroys three of the federated kings (Dan 7:8). If you then look at the description of the little horn in Dan 7:8, you see the mouth of the little horn, the Man of Sin, speaking great things, even as he does in the parallel account in Rev 13:5, but he then is captured and cast into Gehenna (Rev 19:20). At the height of the career of the Man of Sin he comes to sudden ruin (Dan 7:11). There is then a judgment where thrones are placed and Ancient of Days sits in Judgment on the little horn. The judgment of the little horn (Dan 7:11, 26) is at the end of the world (Dan 7:27). The fire proceeding from God’s throne (Dan 7:10) appears to be the fire from heaven in Rev 20:9 that God brings on His enemies. The throne and the books being opened (Dan 7:10) is the same as Rev 20:11-12 with its great white throne and books being opened. At the time of the final Judgment, the earth and heaven fled away (cp. Rev 6:16-17) even as Peter describes the end of the world in II Pet 3:10-13. These passages are clearly speaking of the end of the world.

In Rev 19:20 the beast and the false prophet are taken alive and cast into the lake of fire. The remainder of his army is slain with the sword (Rev 19:21). Since the account in Rev 19 certainly is the end of the world and is parallel to Dan 7, then Dan 7 is at the end of the world as well. In Rev 19:20 the beast as represented by its head, the Man of Sin who speaks great things (Rev 13:5), is captured, judged, and cast into Gehenna (Rev 19:20). Likewise in Dan 7:11 the little horn speaks great words. He is then taken, judged, and stripped of his dominion for ever (Dan 7:26).

In Rev 19:21 the remainder of the army of the Man of Sin is slain with the sword while in Dan 7:11 the body of the beast is burned in the flame. The gist of the story is that the armies of the last nation-beast are slain with the sword by Messiah and His armies at His coming and then the angels burn the earth (II Thes 1:7-9, II Pet 3:7,10-12). There is no difficulty in harmonizing Dan 7:10-11 with the end of the world thus far. The only difficulty that is encountered is with placing Dan 7:12 at the end of the world because of its statement regarding the previous three beasts. Daniel says the previous three beasts are not killed, but their dominion is taken away and their lives are prolonged for a season and a time. That is exactly true if you understand the four beasts to represent four successive world empires. When one empire replaced another one, the people of the preceding empire were not all killed. They were merely subordinated to the new empire. The subordinated nations had their dominion taken away, but they continued to live through the reigns of the subsequent empires. The remnants of these three previous empires are assimilated into the last beast, as for example, where we see in Rev 13:2 the last nation-beast is an amalgamation of the four beasts that Daniel 7 describes. It is the last manifestation of the nation-beast that includes the ten kings and shortly thereafter brings forth the mouth speaking great things (Rev 13:5), the Man of Sin (II Thes 2:3-4). Dan 7:9-12 is in the context of the last beast, but it is more specifically in the context of the descendants of the last beast (Dan 7:24) and what happens to them. The account of the 10 kings that come out of the last beast (Dan 7:24) and the little horn that conquers them is set at the end of the world and just before the Judgment (Dan 7:9-10, 26).

>
> 3. It’s hard to separate a literal “final judgment of all” from a
> literal assemblage of the nations at Armageddon for a final battle
> (which, by the way, never takes place in the Revelation
> narrative–there is no battle of Armageddon described; the armies of
> the enemies are simply destroyed by fire from heaven).

There is a final battle of Armageddon, but you have to read the accounts that are parallel to Rev 20 to see it. For example Rev 16:16 speaks of the armies being gathered together. Then in Rev 19:19 John finally gives an account of what happens at the battle. The Beast (the Man of Sin) and the False Prophet are captured, judged and cast alive into Gehenna. The army of the Man of Sin is killed with the sword, the birds come and eat the dead (Rev 19:18, 21), and then the earth is burned (Dan 7:11) and cleansed (Num 31:23, Ecc 1:4). Rev 20:9 is the account of the end of the world where God recounts the fate of His people. Rev 19:19 is the account of the end of the world where God recounts the fate of the nations. There is another account of the end of the world in Rev 14:15-16 where God describes the fate of Israel and her enemies (Rev 14:17-20). The God ordained fates of the Jews, Gentiles and the church are recounted in these three descriptions of the end of the world under the description of the power of Christ over the course of history under the seventh seal. There is yet another account of the end of the world found in Rev 6:14-17 where John describes the power of the Lamb over judgment through His power given to Him by God under the 6th seal (Rev 5:5, 7).

The final judgment takes place after the battle of Armageddon. The Bible says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the Judgment” (Heb 9:27), so it is necessary that the battle of Armageddon be held first in order that everyone remaining on the earth can be killed and can then subsequently rise to be called to Judgment. The Resurrection of the nations occurs after the battle of Armageddon. It is after the Resurrection that all the nations will be gathered before Him (Mt 25:32).

>
> 4. In the “new heavens and new earth,” the Heavenly Jerusalem
> described in ch 21-22 is a refuge from “…
> the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the
> murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices
> falsehood…” who are still outside.
>
> I don’t know. So I’m asking you. What do you think?
>
The church is the espoused bride of Christ (Eph 5:25-32, II Cor 11:2). The church is made up of individuals (Eph 5:30). These individuals are raised from death at the last day and rise to meet the Lord (I Thes 4:16-17). These individuals are to receive a home in God’s house (Jn 14:2-3), but God’s house is in heaven (Heb 11:10, 4:3, Ex 20:11). Therefore, after Christ’s people are caught up to be with Him (I Thes 4:17) and after His work of the Battle of Armageddon is finished (Isa 11:4), He takes His people to their new home in heaven. God is finished dealing with sin at that point. He has then accomplished the reconciliation of all things unto Himself by the blood of Christ (Col 1:20). There is therefore no need any longer for man and God to be separated as they had previously been separated by sin (Isa 59:2). God has promised that He will come and dwell with man (Rev 21:3). Therefore we see New Jerusalem coming down from heaven. God moves His dwelling from heaven to earth (Rev 21:2). Inside the dwelling are the saints of God who have received their inheritance in their Father’s house. These saints are the church of Christ, the elect of all the ages. These assembly of the elect ones is the bride of Christ. When John sees New Jerusalem, he sees the city of God not made with hands coming down from heaven. This city of God contains the elect, the bride of Christ. The city of God is heaven and is our rest (Heb 4:3) and our eternal home. It comes down from heaven and parks above earthly Jerusalem and is joined to the earth for ever (Rev 21:2, Ps 132:13-14). However, New Jerusalem is not all that the elect receive. They also receive a crown (I Pet 5:4) and a kingdom (Heb 12:28) and all things (Rev 21:7).

The city of God is for the elect only (Rev 22:14), but the elect are not the only people who receive everlasting life. The new earth is outside the gates of the city of God (Rev 21:2), and the nations inherit the earth (Ps 82:8, Mt 5:5). Christ promises the elect that they will rule over the nations (Rev 2:26) and He will give the elect power to rule with Him on His throne (Rev 3:21, Lk 19:15, I Cor 6:2-3). Christ’s throne is the throne of His Father David (Lk 1:32).

In Mt 25:31-48 we see the all the nations of the earth gathered in judgment before the throne of the Lamb (Mt 25:32) as He sits on His throne, the throne of David. When Jesus sits on the throne of His glory, David’s throne, the apostles will then rule with him over Israel (Mt 19:28) as He promised in Rev 3:21. It will be the time that Jesus spoke of in Jn 18:36 when His kingdom will be from here on the earth. It will be the time that Jesus gives all power back to the Father (I Cor 15:28) and is then given a name that is above every other name (Eph 1:21) upon the throne of David (Ezek 37:24-25). It is the time of which Gabriel spoke when He promised Mary, “The Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Lk 1:32-33). When Jesus sits on David’s throne, He will rule for ever. The position that He now holds on His Father’s throne (Rev 3:21, Acts 2:34-35) will not last for ever (I Cor 15:24-25), but His position on David’s throne will (Lk 1:33). Jesus will be over the united house of Israel for ever in the land that God gave to His servant Jacob (Ezek 37:24-25). The meek sheep of the nations (Jn 10:16) will then inherit the earth (Mt 25:34, 5:5) and the elect will rule over them (Rev 3:21, Lk 19:15, I Cor 6:2-3, Isa 61:5, Isa 14:1-3, Isa 45:14, Rev 12:5, Zech 8:23).

The passage to which you refer in point 4 above where you speak of the new heavens and the new earth and heavenly Jerusalem and yet there are unclean people outside (Rev 22:15) speaks of a time when the nations will have inherited the earth. These are people upon whom God is enabled to have mercy by the sacrifice of Christ who died for all men (II Cor 5:14), but they have not been washed in His blood to be made clean (Heb 10:22, Rev 1:5). These are the ones upon whom God chooses to have mercy (Ex 33:19). Because they are unwashed, they are unclean and may not enter into the presence of the most holy God whose throne is in New Jerusalem (Rev 22:3). These are the people of whom Luke speaks, “But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes” (Luke 12:48) as opposed to the many stripes of everlasting fire (Mt 25:41, Lk 12:47). These are the people for whom New Jerusalem has gates and guards (Rev 21:12). These nations are the “pasture” to which the Great Shepherd leads forth the elect (Jn 10:3) and the nations are the ones to whom the elect shall go as Christ leads us in and out of New Jerusalem onto the new earth (Jn 10:9). The people outside of New Jerusalem are the reality of which the Gentiles of our present day were a type (Heb 8:5, Col 2:17). Just as the nations were not permitted into the court of Israel in the ancient temple (Ezek 44:7, 9), even so the unwashed nations will not be permitted to walk the highway of holiness and enter New Jerusalem (Isa 35:8). The nations are the ones to whom the elect will go on the new earth and will declare the glory of God among the Gentiles (Isa 66:19), so that the earth may be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isa 11:9, Hab 2:14).

In addition to the unwashed nations who inherit the earth and are outside of New Jerusalem and may not ever enter it for ever, outside of New Jerusalem to the south in what used to be Edom and Moab (Jer 49:13, Zeph 2:9) God will open a valley similar to the Valley of Hinnom (Josh 18:16, Mt 10:28-Gk-Valley of Hinnom) and will place the damned in it. It will be outside of Jerusalem and the elect will go there from time to time (Isa 66:24) to look upon the rotten bodies (Mk 9:43-44) of these in eternal torment.

So, yes, Rev 20 definitely speaks of the final Judgment and the punishment of the wicked. Chapters 21 and 22 reveal the reward of the righteous. It is so glorious that Paul says that our present sufferings are not worthy to be compared to what shall be revealed in us (Rom 8:18). Even so, come Lord Jesus (Rev 22:20).

About James Johnson

Bible student for 60 years. Preacher of the gospel for over 40 years. Author of commentary on Revelation, All Power to the Lamb. Married with children. Worked in aerospace and computer engineering for over 40 years.
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