PMT 2015-081 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
In Revelation 20 we have the one section of Revelation that extends beyond the near-time indicators. John speaks of the “thousand years” in which Christ reigns with his martyred saints (Rev 20:4–7). In 20:11 we read of the Great White Throne of God. John informs us that “the heaven and earth fled away” at the setting of the judgment scene.
But what does the fleeing away of the heaven and earth mean? This is the question I will answer in this blog article.
In Rev 20:11 John adds a description regarding the enthroned one. He states that he is the one “from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.” According to Scripture, the physical universe will be physically transformed through fiery cleansing to make way for the consummate new heavens and new earth (2Pe 3:10–12; cp. Ps 102:25–27; Isa 51:6; Mt 5:18; 24:35).
Yet John is not speaking of that physical re-composition here. Rather his imagery dramatically presents the “awful impression of the majesty of the judge” (Terry 456), the “terrifying” presence of God (Boxall 289; cp. Beasley-Murray 300), as if “the natural creation shrinks back with awe and seeks to hide itself” (Stuart 2:370). For dramatic effect only, John represents the heavens and the earth as fleeing the scene, leaving only God’s glorious throne to dominate the picture of judgment day: “the great white throne stands alone, with nothing to challenge, to qualify, or even to mediate its sole supremacy” (Caird 258). This is an image of God’s terrifying majesty, an image that ultimately arises from Adam and Eve’s attempt to hide themselves from their offended God in Eden (Ge 3:8). I would argue this for the following reasons:
First, this only speaks of the fleeing away of heaven and earth so that “no place was found for them” (20:11b). In a book containing so much fiery catastrophe as Rev, we would expect a more dramatic picture of catastrophic removal if that were John’s intention. In fact, the impression left is that they flee away vainly, for despite their flight “no place was found for them” to hide from God. Elsewhere men hope to escape God’s judgment, but fail (6:16; 9:6).
Blessed Is He Who Reads: A Primer on the Book of Revelation
By Larry E. Ball
A basic survey of Revelation from the preterist perspective.
It sees John as focusing on the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
Beale (1032) is surely mistaken when he states: “the climactic nature of the punishment is also expressed by the following cosmic conflagration imagery: ‘from whose face heaven and earth fled, and a place was not found for them.’” But “conflagration” speaks of fiery destruction (L. conflagare: con [with] + flagro [blaze]). No such image appears in 20:11, even though John was not apprehensive about using fire language. In the other two samples Beale cites, while the fleeing away appears in judgment contexts, it seems to magnify the majesty of God who judges: 6:14 (see vv 15–17, where men try to hide from “the presence of Him who sits on the throne”) and 16:20 (see v 19, where Babylon is remembered “before God”). And as I argue in my commentary and on this blogsite elsewhere, both of those refer to God’s judgment on Israel in AD 70.
Second, if the heavens and earth disappear at this judgment, heaven would not remain for the great white throne (20:11a), the small and great stand would have no where to stand (20:12), and there would be no sea to give up the dead (20:13a).
Third, John’s attention here is not on the consummate new heavens and new earth brought about through his renovating power. Rather he is highlighting the judgment that befalls the unrighteous. We almost have to strain to recognize believers at this judgment, partly because the passage has such a condemnatory cast. This judgment is being portrayed as so terrifying that the universe seeks to hide from God’s wrath.
But now what happens in this terrifying scene? John continues:
“And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne” (20:12a). John’s primary focus here appears to be on the unrighteous dead, who will be thrown into the lake of fire (20:15). A few verses before this we can see the judgment of Satan and the destruction of Gog and Magog. Nevertheless, “final salvation is secondarily included” (Beale 1033; cp. Stuart 2:371; Swete 271; Beasley-Murray 301; Kistemaker 545, 546; Smalley 519; Osborne 722). This seems to be the case because:
Six lectures on six DVDs that introduce Revelation as a whole,
then focuses on its glorious conclusion.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
First, “the great and small” is an inclusive image, which John sometimes applies to believers (11:18; 13:16; 19:5, 18), though he can apply it to unbelievers alone (19:18).
Second, the book of life is one of the books opened, and it only only the names of believers (20:12, 15; cp. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 21:27; cf. Ex 32:32; Ps 69:28; Da 12:1; Lk 10:20; Php 4:3). After he mentions both “the books” and “the book of life,” we hear that “the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, which seems to include “the book of life.”
Third, this fits the consistent NT witness of a general judgment of all men (Mt 13:26–30, 47, 50; 25:32–33; Jn 5:28–29; Ac 24:15).