PMW 2018-030 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
The Problem before Us
Many Revelation commentators argue that the new creation of Rev. 21–22 follows after the final judgment of Rev. 20:11–15. And it certainly is not unreasonable to hold that John’s statement that “the first heaven and the first earth passed away” (21:1) chronologically “follows on the heels of 20:11, where it is said that ‘heaven and earth fled away from the presence [of God], and no place was found for them’” (Beale 1039). This would suggest that ch 21 follows after the final judgment in 20:11–15.
I would note that Scripture does, in fact, teach a consummate new creation after the final judgment (Ro 8:18–23; 2Pe 3:10–13), which would be the environment suited for our physically resurrected bodies. What is more, much of the imagery in 21:1–22:5 appears to describe a perfect estate beyond the present order. Thus, we could easily hold that “whereas chs. 1–3 focus on the churches’ weaknesses throughout the old age, here John foresees the church in its perfected eternal state” (Beale 1039).
The Resolution of the Problem
Nevertheless, elsewhere I have argued (as have many others) that we may make a strong case that John’s visions in Rev 21:1–22:5 present the church on earth, ideally conceived in terms which anticipate and reflect her consummate eternal glory: “The New Creation in Revelation.”
This interpretation grows out of redemptive-historical preterism with its inaugurated, already/not yet eschatology. This view is further suggested when we recognize Rev’s highly symbolic character, its dramatic presentation, and its conformity with other NT revelation regarding the church.
To properly assess the matter, we must recognize that God’s redemptive work through Christ involves three basic stages of development: the legal, historical, and consummational. That is, salvation is legally accomplished in Christ in the first century, historically unfolded in the history following his earthly ministry, and fully realized in the consummation as the glorious conclusion of his earthly ministry’s goal. The same is true of this new creation / new Jerusalem imagery. “That which is to be absolutely and completely true in eternity is definitively and progressively true now” (Chilton 538). Or as Carrington (334–45) expresses it: “It is the earthly Catholic Church growing in love and holiness, as well as the Church made perfect, regnant in the heavens. It is not now one and now the other, but both at once; for one is the other. The earthly imperfect Church is the heavenly ideal church.”
The Book of Revelation Made Easy
(by Ken Gentry)
Helpful introduction to Revelation presenting keys for interpreting. Also provides studies of basic issues in Revelation’s story-line.|
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
Thus, as redemptive-historical preterist Chilton (538) explains: “This vision of the new heaven and earth is not to be interpreted as wholly future. As we shall see repeatedly throughout our study of this chapter, that which is to be absolutely and completely true in eternity is definitively and progressively true now. Our enjoyment of our eternal inheritance will be a continuation and perfection of what is true of the Church in this life.”
Mulholland (1990:316; cp. 1996:115–19) agrees with Chilton’s view: “Obviously the vision has moved back from the portrayal of the final judgment of God to the actualization of that final judgment in ongoing human history. John sees that the action of God in the Cross and Resurrection, which culminates in the final demise of the entire rebellious order, also shapes a renewed order of being in history, which is the firstfruit of its final consummation.”
Caird (263) expresses the matter well: “This is a future which interpenetrates and informs the present. The holy city is described as coming down out of heaven from God because this is the essential quality it already has in the anticipatory experience of the church.” Lightfoot (1822: 3:366) comments that John is presenting “the spiritual Jerusalem” at the first-century “coming in of the gospel, when all things are made new; a new people, new ordinances, new economy, and the old world of Israel dissolved.” Other commentators holding this view include: Glasgow (519–24), Terry (459–61), Carrington (335), Kik (243–44), Rissi (37), Krodel (330), Gundry (1987: 254–64), and Rowland (1995:154–55).
Since a final, literal new creation will actually come, John’s vision takes on an inaugural prospect (as per the frequent NT already/not yet theological tension). Though “history must have a real end, temporarily as well as teleologically” (Caird 262), John presents the ultimate new creation’s spiritual presence in new covenant Christianity, which finally comes to full and perfect expression at the end of history (cp. 2Pe 3:10–13). Thus, John’s presentation speaks to contemporary realities while it anticipates the ultimate, eternal new creation. Mulholland (1996:119) explains it well: “the vision portrays the fact that something of the consummation of God’s victory flows back into the ongoing history of the redeemed order.” He notes that the new Jerusalem does not mean only the “consummation of God’s victory,” but “also the reality that shapes the lives of God’s people in the midst of history.” We shall see how John presents this glorious, historical reality as his vision unfolds.
Four Views on the Book of Revelation
(ed. by Marvin Pate)
Helpful presentation of four approaches to Revelation. Ken Gentry writes the chapter on the preterist approach to Revelation, which provides a 50 page survey of Revelation .
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
Much of the confusion regarding the recapitulation of the millennium in the vision of the new creation, results from the literary linking of the final judgment in Rev. 20 with the new creation imagery in Rev. 21. 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). But again, John does not speak of that consummate, physical re-composition in Rev. 20:11–15.
The Link between Revelation 20 and 21
What then is John saying when he speaks of the fleeing away of the earth and heaven in Rev. 20:11?
Rather than speaking literally, he is speaking literarily. This 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:
(1) 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). 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 have shown, both of those refer to God’s judgment on Israel in AD 70.
(2) 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).
(3) 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 (see below), 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.
Thus, though ultimately the new Jerusalem is a heavenly reality “above” (Gal 4:26; cp. Jn 18:36; Eph 2:6), it is currently operating in history below (Col 3:1; Heb 12:22) — as we would expect from the first-century presence of the new creation (2Co 5:17; Gal 6:15). But John is especially linking its coming down with earthly Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70. Indeed, “the new Jerusalem presupposes the destruction of the old (which had become Babylon) but nevertheless reproduces it, in all its aspects, even though now on a spiritual plane” (Corsini 389). Regarding the harlot’s judgment “we saw there a symbolic representation of the condemnation and repudiation on the part of God of the old Judaism, corrupt and worldly, now an ally of political authority and, along with it, an instrument of Satan in the assault against Jesus Christ” (Corsini 410).
So then, John links the new creation (Rev. 21) to the final judgment (Rev. 20) in a literary fashion, not in a literal, chronological fashion.
1. John’s revelation differs from Peter’s, though both feed off of Isa 65:17. John’s not only emphasizes continuing historical realities (as per above argument), but demands temporal nearness (22:6, 10). Whereas Peter’s statement highlights the temporal long run, including mockers arising because of Christ’s delay (2Pe 3:3–5), God “reserving” the world for judgment (2Pe 3:7, surely not for just five or six more years), and urging them to think in terms of thousands of years (2Pe 3:8).