How come there are bad people in the new heaven and new earth?

Read time: 11 minutes

I started out with the intention of explaining what appears to be the persistence of bad things and bad people in the new heaven and new earth described in Revelation 21-22. John tells us that the gates of the new Jerusalem that is seen descending from God will never be shut, but “nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false” (Rev. 21:27). That seems to imply that these things will still exist in this brave new world, they just won’t be permitted entry into the holy city. Wasn’t all evil destroyed in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14; 21:8)? Something of a conundrum, you’ll agree.

Since I also need to prepare some lecture materials on Revelation, I thought I’d set out—not for the first time, but with some differences of emphasis—what I take to be the basic narrative structure of the visions. I offer little in the way of detailed justification for the shape of the narrative—this is an attempt to see the wood rather than the trees. At the end, I will suggest that the second vision of the new Jerusalem is not part of the new heaven and new earth, and I will give some brief reflections on how to make sense of it historically. The linked posts will back up the argument to some extent, or check out the two chapters on Revelation in my book The Coming of the Son of Man.

Introduction (1:1-3)

The purpose of the book of Revelation is stated in the first few verses. God has given its revelatory content to Jesus so that he can “show to his servants the things that must soon take place”. The content was conveyed to John by an angel, and by writing down what he “saw” John now communicates it to those who will hear it read aloud.

The first martyr, one like a son of man (1:4-20)

In the opening vision Jesus is presented as the first of the martyrs to be raised from the dead, who has become “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5). He is Daniel’s “one like a son of man”, who suffered and was killed, but who has been given authority—authority over death most importantly—and who will be seen “coming with the clouds of heaven”. On that day the people of Jerusalem and the tribes of the land of Israel will recognise the one who was pierced and will mourn on account of him (Rev. 1:7; cf. Matt. 24:30; Zech. 12:10). This martyred but exalted Christ instructs John to write what he sees.

Letters to the seven churches (2-3)

The visions are to be communicated to the seven churches (perhaps actual communities which together represent the persecuted church as a whole), which receive brief letters from Christ in chapters 2-3. The churches are facing various obstacles and challenges and in each case are exhorted to persevere in their faith in the coming rule of Christ over the nations. Those who are faithful unto death will “conquer”, will live, and will share in that kingdom (cf. Rev. 2:26).

Who is worthy to open the scroll to reveal what must soon take place (4-5)?

John is now taken up into heaven to see what must soon take place (Rev. 4:1). The revelation of future events is contained in the scroll that is in the right hand of God (Rev. 5:1). At first it appears that there is no one present who is worthy to open this scroll and make its content accessible. But then a Lamb is seen “standing, as though it had been slain”, and there is general agreement among the heavenly hosts that this Lamb alone is worthy to open the scroll.

The seven seals and the conditions for judgment against Israel (6-8)

The opening of the seven seals on the scroll puts in place the conditions for judgment on Israel. The four horsemen of judgment are unleashed: a conquering king (Vespasian), warfare, economic chaos, and death through violence, famine, disease, and the beasts of the earth (Rev. 6:2-8). The Jewish martyrs cry out for vindication; everyone else expresses great alarm at the coming “wrath of the Lamb”; the servants of God in Judea are sealed against the coming destruction; and a great multinational crowd of people of who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb praises God for the coming salvation. There is a dramatic pause in heaven before the final seal is opened; everyone takes a deep breath.

The seven trumpets (8-11)

The blowing of the first six trumpets marks the buildup to the destruction of Jerusalem, which is “given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months” (Rev. 11:2). But John has also been given a little scroll, because he must “prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings” (Rev. 10:11). The seventh trumpet heralds the establishment of the “kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ”, who will reign for ever and ever. The nations raged, but the “destroyers of the land” of Israel (i.e., Rome) will themselves be destroyed and God’s servants will be vindicated and rewarded.

Coincidentally, Scot McKnight today posted a summary of Craig Koester’s reading of this passage. Koester thinks that these are “what if?” visions:

The trumpet visions now reply to the prayers by implicitly raising a question: What if God responds to the prayers by sending wrath on the unrepentant world? What will that accomplish? Readers are shown the horror of pitiless wrath as disasters strike earth, sea, and sky, and demonic hordes of locusts and cavalry torment humanity amid clouds of fire, smoke, and sulfur (8:7-9:21).

He then notes that the “wrath accomplishes nothing”; the wicked refuse to repent (Rev. 9:20-21). So we get an interlude (Rev. 10-11): “God has delayed bringing justice for the deaths of the faithful in order that his people might continue bearing witness to the unrepentant world”. Clearly, Koester would like to defend God against the charge of violence and vindictiveness.

But the interlude has to do with Jerusalem, not the world, and Jerusalem suffered a violent fate. The six trumpets that have been blown constitute the prelude to the destruction of the city, corresponding to the “wars and rumours of wars”, the portents of coming disaster, the tribulation suffered by the disciples, and the increase in lawlessness that would precede the demolition of the temple (Matt. 24:5-15). But the leaders of the revolt in Jerusalem refused to repent. So the city was handed over to the nations to be trampled under foot.

The allegory of the dragon and the judgment of the one like a son of man (12-14)

The story of the emergence of the church and its witness against pagan imperialism is told in chapters 12-14, effectively as a reworking of Daniel 7. The two beasts of imperial power gain their authority from the dragon, which is Satan. The first beast from the sea, like the little horn on the head of Daniel’s fourth beast from the sea, utters blasphemies against God and makes war against the saints. Three angels proclaim an “eternal gospel” of judgment against Babylon the great, which is Rome, the fount and hub of idolatrous practice; the saints are called to endure; those who are martyred during this period of ferocious conflict will be blessed (Rev. 14:6-13). The “one like a son of man”, seated on a cloud, is instructed by an angel (this is clearly of some christological significance) to swing his sickle and reap the harvest of judgment against the oppressor.

The destruction of Babylon the great (15-19)

Angels pour out the seven bowls of the wrath of God on the earth. Now the intertextual echoes point not to Jerusalem but to the imperial aggressor. One of these angels takes John to witness the judgment of the “great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk” (Rev. 17:1–2). The woman is not Rome as aggressive military power but Rome as a degenerate moral culture by which the peoples of the Greek-Roman world have been corrupted. The marriage supper of the Lamb is a celebration of the eventual triumph of the saints, dressed in their “righteous deeds”, over satanically inspired pagan Rome.

The thousand years and a final putting right of creation (20-21:8)

With the overthrow of pagan Rome Satan is captured and confined to the abyss for a thousand years: in John’s vision Satan is exclusively associated with Rome’s violent opposition to the church. The martyrs are raised in a “first resurrection” and reign with Christ throughout the thousand years. At the end of this period there will be a short-lived recrudescence of satanic aggression against the church. Then John sees a second resurrection, this time of all the dead, not only of the martyrs, a final judgment, and the destruction of all workers of evil, along with death and Hades, in the lake of fire, which is the second death. There follows a vision of a new heaven and a new earth and the descent of the new Jerusalem from God. This will be the “heritage”—perhaps exclusively—of those who conquered death in the period of dangerous witness leading up to the fall of Babylon the great (Rev. 21:7).

Another vision of the new Jerusalem (21:9-22:5)

Remember that it was one of the seven angels with the seven bowls of God’s wrath against Rome who took John to see the judgment of the great prostitute? Well, it is one of these angels again who takes John to see “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb”—a second vision of “the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:10).

I suggest that this is not simply a repeat of the vision of 21:2. It is a symbolic depiction, drawing on descriptions of the restored city and temple in the prophets, of what will replace Babylon the great in the thousand year period. This is why we are told that the nations will walk by its light, the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, nothing that is unclean, no one who is “detestable or false”, will enter into it, nothing “accursed” will be found in it, and the leaves of the trees that grow on the banks of the river that flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb will be “for the healing of the nations”.

The dependence of the passage on Zechariah 14:6-15 LXX suggests that it belongs to an account of how God becomes “king over all the earth”—when there will be no night, living water will flow from Jerusalem, there will be no more “anathema” in the city, the Lord will cut off the peoples who waged war against Jerusalem, the gold and silver of the surrounding peoples will be brought into the city, and the survivors of the nations that came against Jerusalem “shall also go up year after year to do obeisance to the King, the Lord Almighty”. This is a transformed historical landscape, not a new heaven and a new earth.

Jesus is coming soon

The final section takes us back to the beginning and the assurance given to the struggling persecuted churches of Asia Minor that the “time is near”, that “he is coming with the clouds” (Rev. 1:3, 7). Christ, who is the “one like a son of man”, is “coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done” (Rev. 22:12). At this moment those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb will gain access to the “tree of life”, corresponding to the first resurrection of the martyrs in 20:4. The tree of life is in the second new Jerusalem vision (Rev. 21:2). What is being described here is not the final remaking of all things, the final destruction of death—I make the point repeatedly that the parousia marks the end of the age of pagan dominance of the people of God, not the end of history. What is being described, in an optimistic apocalyptic idiom, is the church in history as the restored place of God’s presence, a place of healing for the nations formerly brutalised by Rome.

A flawed enterprise

Obviously, the church did not live up to expectations, and some will see that as the fatal weakness of this line of interpretation. To my mind, however, the historical coordinates of John’s visionary narrative are so powerful that the only alternative must be to say that he was wrong, that his vision of the establishment of a new Jerusalem in the place of beastly pagan Rome came to nothing.

He expected the reign of the first martyr Jesus Christ to begin directly after the fall of decadent pagan Rome. He believed that a new restored and glorious Jerusalem, presumably a symbol for the multinational church, now at liberty to function safely on earth, would mediate the healing political presence of the living God to the traumatised nations of the empire.

The Old Testament teaches us—as does the New Testament under rather different conditions—that the “people of God” is always going to be a flawed enterprise. So I think that our best hermeneutic is to read the prophetic-apocalyptic visions that we find in Revelation for the most part as overstatements about the experience of the church in history.

This probably goes without saying, but “overstatement” is pretty much par for the course in Jewish apocalypse. The prophecies of the destruction of Edom come to mind. The concrete historical reality of the destruction of Edom falls far short of the imagery used to describe it, but the idea that Edom would be removed from the world stage in a decisive manner never to recover did happen.

peter wilkinson | Fri, 10/26/2018 - 12:41 | Permalink

But the interlude has to do with Jerusalem, not the world, and Jerusalem suffered a violent fate. The six trumpets that have been blown constitute the prelude to the destruction of the city

Are you saying that the events introduced by the six trumpets describe in some way (apocalyptic metaphor?) the actual violence that took place in Israel/Judaea leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem? Or violence more generally in the world (“wars and rumours of wars”)? And likewise the seven seals?

In any event, Revelation 11 has taken the destruction of Jerusulem and the temple out of an immediate historical context and given it broader significance. For instance, the outer court of the temple is to be trampled on by the Gentiles (who also trample on the holy city), but not the inner court and temple itself. The two witnesses are plainly not historical figures in a literal historical destruction of Jerusalem, since the church fled Jerusalem before its sack by the Romans. And so on.  

@peter wilkinson:

My argument is that the seven trumpets refer, either prospectively or retrospectively, to judgment on Jerusalem. The details echo the plagues inflict on Egypt, but Jerusalem is the “great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt” (Rev. 11:8). The Jews do not repent (Rev. 9:21), so the “mystery of God” is fulfilled, “just as he announced to his servants the prophets” (Rev. 10:7), and the city is given over to the nations to be trampled under foot (Rev. 11:2). The seven seals are preliminary to this; they introduce the conditions for the outworking of the wrath of God.

Certainly, chapter 11 is difficult to interpret, but the flight of the church as a whole from the city does not rule out the possibility that in John’s view a limited Elijah-like prophetic witness, real or symbolic, remained there, or would remain there, until the end.

Roger Sacco | Sat, 10/27/2018 - 13:37 | Permalink

Very helpful is a video on you tube”Tested in the Lake of Fire” by Gary Amirault of (15 MINUTES)

It seems to me to refer to one event.

Here’s the way I read it: When Jesus returns and begins to reign with the righteous (including the resurrected Jewish martyrs), evildoers will abandon their gods and recognize Yahweh as Lord or be destroyed. After a thousand years of this, there will be a universal resurrection followed by a universal judgment. Then Yahweh will come down to dwell with man in the New Jerusalem.

I don’t think we need to read “nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false” as an implication that evildoers will exist at this time. Why not just read it as an emphasis of perfection and a complete lack of sinfulness?

@Peter Simmonds:

I don’t think we need to read “nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false” as an implication that evildoers will exist at this time. Why not just read it as an emphasis of perfection and a complete lack of sinfulness?

I agree, that’s an option. But the contrast is between what will be brought in and what won’t be allowed in, rather than between what exists and what does not exist. That which is “common” or “unclean” (koinon) was not explicitly destroyed in the lake of fire; and if people making abominations and falsehoods were destroyed in the lake of fire, why not refer back to that, rather than making what looks like a redundant comment?

Also, the Old Testament antecedents suggest, I think, that the restored Jerusalem exists in the midst of the nations, for the well-being of the nations, and that Gentile uncleanness has not been eradicated:

Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean. (Is. 52:1)

Thus says the Lord GOD: No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and flesh, of all the foreigners who are among the people of Israel, shall enter my sanctuary. (Ezek. 44:9)

So you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who dwells in Zion, my holy mountain. And Jerusalem shall be holy, and strangers shall never again pass through it. (Joel 3:17)

And every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the LORD of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the meat of the sacrifice in them. And there shall no longer be a [Canaanite] in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day. (Zech. 14:21)

@Andrew Perriman:

I would agree that we need to look at the Old Testament to find the roots of New Testament ideas, but we also need to remember that Jewish apocalyptic thought continued to develop after the books you referenced were written. The idea of a universal resurrection and judgment followed by the destruction of everything bad in a lake of fire didn’t exist when Isaiah, Ezekiel, and these other books were written.

The apparent conflict of sin and death STILL being present post new creation ceases completely when one understands that John’s new creation language matches Paul’s new creation language… speaking of new covenant realities and has nothing to do with any supposed end of time-space history.


Indeed, that’s the preterist view, and I have some sympathy for it. But it still seems to me that in Revelation 20:11-21:8 John means to describe an absolute end to an old creation ruled by death.

  • The forces that motivated Roman hostility to the church (the beast and the false prophet) were destroyed in the lake of fire a thousand years earlier. We have moved far beyond the new covenant scenario.
  • All the dead are raised for judgment, including those lost at sea, not only the martyrs as in the “first resurrection”.
  • A first death is enough to put an end to contingent historical realities. The addition of a “second death” signals something more decisive than the deaths of unrighteous Jews or of blasphemous pagans.
  • The destruction of death and Hades in the lake of fire can only mean that in this new heaven and new earth there is no more death.

@Andrew Perriman:

To my mind, the language and link between these apostles seem unmistakable…

Rev 21:4-5 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

2Cor 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

Thus the tears, death, sorrow, and pain were all realities associated with what they knew of life under the old covenant mode of existence… all of which within the LIFE of the burgeoning NEW would no more be brought to mind (Isa 65:17-19). For Paul… as glorious as the old covenant was—which glory was fading and passing, becoming obsolete and ready to vanish away (Heb 8:13), it was none other than… “the ministration of condemnation and death” (2Cor 3:7, 9, 11, 18) — it needed to go.

That as I understand it was ‘the death’ being swallowed up (1Cor 15:56) in Israel’s covenant renewal; thus Israel’s resurrection from covenant exile—aka death. This then fits in with Paul’s language of Rom 8:18-23 where ‘the creature/creation’ being Israel in covenant transition (resurrection) from old to new, with… “the redemption of our body” [Gk. singular] being the old covenant body of Israel redeemed in the new covenant body of Christ (Rom 11:26-29).

I should add… this latter take is ‘a’ prêteristic take and not necessarily ‘the’ prêterist view.


The language is similar, but the context is completely different. Paul has presumably adapted the language from Isaiah, where it is used with reference to Jerusalem, and reapplied it to the individual believer. But there is no judgment of all the dead, and there is no destruction of death and Hades. Paul seriously entertains the possibility of his own death in this passage.

John has also adapted Isaiah’s language, but pushes it in a different direction. His new creation is not a metaphor for renewed Jerusalem but the context into which the new Jerusalem will descend from God; and not only death as a human experience but the place of the dead has been eliminated. John has not gone out on an apocalyptic limb here. We find the same distinction in Jewish apocalyptic writings: the God who restores and reestablishes his covenant people in the midst of the nations must also be affirmed as the creator God who, in some fashion, will ultimately remake the whole of sinful creation. There is nothing theologically inappropriate about this.

1 Corinthians 15:56 is a reference to the defeat of death through the literal resurrection of the body—either the resurrection of the dead in Christ, or the martyrs, at a “first resurrection” at the parousia, in conjunction with the inauguration of Christ’s reign over the nations; or, less probably, the final resurrection of all the dead for a final judgment of humanity. It’s inconceivable that this passage is only an elaborate figure for the renewal of the covenant. A significant number of Jews in the first century expected a literal resurrection of Israel’s righteous dead when YHWH overcame their enemies—Paul and John among them.

Your reading of Romans 8:20-22 looks like allegorising. How is Israel both “creation” and the “body”. The singular is odd, but there is no basis in Paul, surely, for speaking of Israel according to the flesh as “our body”? And again, to maintain your position, you need to deny that Paul expected or hoped that he and the dead in Christ would share in the resurrection and “life after death” that Jesus had experienced. Far too much of Paul’s writing has to be allegorised to achieve this.

@Andrew Perriman:

How is Israel both “creation” and the “body”. The singular is odd, but there is no basis in Paul, surely, for speaking of Israel according to the flesh as “our body”?

I could have made that better, what I meant by that was… the firstfruits saints, i.e., those having obtained “the firstfruits of the Spirit” are the Body wherein ‘the creation’ is renewed; the firstfruits doing what firstfruits do, that is, sanctifying the whole. Israel had been subjected to vanity/futility, i.e., the law, imposed until ‘the revealing of the sons of God’ wherein Israel would be ‘delivered from the bondage of corruption’ i.e., the law. Paul elsewhere speaks about ‘putting off the old man’ (old covenant) and putting on the new man (new covenant) which corresponds to Paul’s corruption giving way to incorruption etc. At least that’s how I’m presently seeing it.


But this is what I mean by allegorising. You assert that “creation” = Israel, “vanity” = the Law, the “old man” = the old covenant, the “new man” = the new covenant. But none of this is evident in the texts. It sort of works as an allegory, but there is no way of determining that this is how Paul meant it to be understood.

Paul doesn’t say that the “creation” is renewed in the “firstfruits of the Spirit”. He says that creation hopes eventually to attain the same freedom from corruption that the “sons of God” will have when they are revealed to the world.

The possessive pronoun “our” makes it very unlikely that the singular body (sōmatos) in Romans 8:23 is the corporate body of the firstfruits. We would expect “the redemption of the body”. The same construction is found in 2 Corinthians 4:10-11 and is presumably idiomatic:

…always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body (en tōi sōmati hēmōn). For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

In this case, the parallel with “in our mortal flesh” (en tēi thnētēi sarki hēmōn) makes it clear that the reference is to the personal body.

When Paul speaks about putting off the “old person” and putting on the new (Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9), he is primarily addressing Gentile believers, who cannot be said to have put off the old covenant.

@Andrew Perriman:

I always tend to look more at what I do have than what I don’t have, and so I may just have to settle for your tepid agreement, as per…“Indeed, that’s the preterist view, and I have some sympathy for it” and “It sort of works as an allegory, but there is no way of determining that this is how Paul meant it to be understood.” I think there is at least some scope for reading Paul as I have in terms of the examples he himself gives along a similar vein here…

Gal 4:21-31 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children— but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written:

“Rejoice, O barren, you who do not bear! Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children than she who has a husband.”

Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.

As I understand it… the persecution against early believers was coming from Israel “according to the flesh” more than it was Rome. Thus those engaged in such were those predominately in mind with regards to being cast into John’s ‘the lake of fire’… which for mine equates with Jesus’ ‘gehenna’ — both of which speak to the coming end as per the destruction of Jerusalem. Again, that’s my take of which you no doubt do not agree… along with plenty of prêterists who likewise disagree. It’s all grist for the mill.

peter wilkinson | Wed, 10/31/2018 - 15:06 | Permalink

Your take on the New Jerusalem being the the state church establishment that arose out of the end of the pagan Roman empire (at least, that’s what I assume you are saying), is a perspective, but it runs up against some major difficulties, apart from whether it is historically credible.

I think the references to those outside the New Jerusalem continuing to have a separate existence from those within the New Jerusalem as a fulfilment of Zechariah 14 is overdone, the resonances of Revelation with Zechariah notwithstanding. For instance, “the kings of the earth” (21:24) come into the city, but there is no mention of an annual visit of them or of “the nations”, as in Zechariah. They might equally have gone in and stayed there! There is anyway no longer a temple for them to go up to annually with its old covenant feasts, to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. There is no longer a city that can be visited annually.

It’s the absence of these elements of Zechariah which make the finality of the vision of 21-22 compelling. Likewise the exclusion from the city of sinners (21:8, 22:15) does not suggest their continuing separate existence. Rather, what has happened to sinners in 21:8 (the lake of fire/second death) is logically the fate of sinners in 22:15 also, not a continuing existence. This is a future reality, not a first century phenomenon.

This raises another question about your interpretation. There is no mention of the lake of fire (19:20, 20:14-15, 21:8) in your opening piece, which presents the New Jerusalem of 21-22 as the continuation of the church in history. In your exchanges with Davo, the lake of fire has become the end of history: at least, I think that’s what you are saying about its appearance in 20:11-15. If the New Jerusalem is the church in history, then the realities of 20:11-15, which echo the fate of the beast and the false prophet in 19:20 and the fate of sinners in 21:8, as well as the end of death in 21:4, have already taken place. That seems unlikely, even allowing for apocalyptic hyperbole.

These are strong arguments for placing 21 and 22 in the future. However, Revelation being what it is, there is a case to be made for the New Jerusalem and the ultimate future realities of 21 and 22 already having arrived in part. This would make sense of the power of the ministry of Jesus in the gospels, and account for the effectiveness of the early church in Acts, and the meaning of the letters. There is concrete evidence in history of what is to be completed in the future.

@peter wilkinson:

What Zechariah describes is a coming and going of the nations to restored Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel. Even if the kings of earth bring their glory into John’s new Jerusalem and stay there, we still have the nations walking “in its light”—and the obvious reading is that the kings bring their glory to the city and then return to rule the nations. A normal political arrangement is envisaged. No temple is needed: the kings bring their glory in honour of God and the Lamb. The church will be the priesthood for this new temple-less reimagination of the prophetic vision.

As I said to Peter Simmonds, it’s an option to think that sinners are excluded because they no longer exist, but it’s hardly the natural reading of the text, not with all the other coming and going and the continued existence of nations that need healing.

It’s like telling someone not to let their children go out and play because they won’t be eaten by dinosaurs. Of course not. Dinosaurs no longer exist. You just wouldn’t say that.

There is no mention of the lake of fire (19:20, 20:14-15, 21:8) in your opening piece…

Yes, there is. It’s mentioned in the opening paragraph and in the section on the thousand years and the putting right of creation, where you’d expect it: “Then John sees a second resurrection, this time of all the dead, not only of the martyrs, a final judgment, and the destruction of all workers of evil, along with death and Hades, in the lake of fire, which is the second death.”

If the New Jerusalem is the church in history, then the realities of 20:11-15, which echo the fate of the beast and the false prophet in 19:20 and the fate of sinners in 21:8, as well as the end of death in 21:4, have already taken place.

How do you arrive at that? John inserts a thousand year period between the destruction of the beast and false prophet of pagan Rome in the lake of fire and the destruction of all wickedness and death in the lake of fire. Nothing suggests that these two destructions are actually the same.

@Andrew Perriman:

I think your explanation of kings coming and going as part of a normal political arrangement is an over-reading of Rev 21. You can infer it, but the passage doesn’t say it. The same is true of the nations (as non Jews, not our modern concept of political nation states). They walk by the light of the New Jerusalem, as they are part of it in the new creation which Rev 21 has introduced. If they weren’t part of it, they wouldn’t walk in its light. What other options are there?

I don’t think Rev 21 & 22 as a whole encourage the view that sinners continue to live alongside but outside the city, and the passages certainly do not explicitly say so, just as they do not say that non redeemed kings and nations will come and go in and out of the city. If that were so, what is the city in and out of which this traffic would take place? A church down the road which includes saints and sinners, which they visit every Sunday?

As regards the three references to the lake of fire, I was drawing attention to what is otherwise a hiatus in your presentation of continuous early church history, which would suggest to me the need for seeing it as a single past occurrence in this unified roll out. The 1000 years may be, as you say, an insertion, but perhaps a better way of reading it is would be as a recapitulation, of which there are several in Revelation. This argument is lent credibility by other references to ‘a short time’ and the binding of Satan elsewhere in the NT. In this way, it would describe early NT history, not a literal 1000 years. But it anticipates in 20:11-15, as do 19:20 and 21:8, possibly the same event: the lake of fire.

Perhaps most of Rev 21-22 is non literal. The challenge is that no single comprehensive interpretation is by itself entirely convincing — idealist, preterist, historicist, futurist, or your own. Invariably, to put all your eggs in one basket ends up with the basket dropping and the eggs being broken.

For instance, although Rev 21 & 22 (let’s be honest) encourage a future (ie non 1st — 4th century) interpretation, yet clearly the New Jerusalem as the church started to come down at Pentecost. Kings, or rulers, did become part of it. Hebrews 12:22 says “You have come” to the heavenly Jerusalem. The nations, or non Jews, not modern political entities, also became part of it and walked in its light. To an extent, Christendom arose out of this New Jerusalem ‘coming down’. But do Rev 21 & 22 describe Christendom? It’s an interesting viewpoint, but — Hmmm. But all this is a long way from the starting point of your original post, which in itself deserves more attention.

@peter wilkinson:

Based on some of the material I’ve read, it seems some first-century Jews really believed Jesus was going to return in their lifetime and destroy Yahweh’s enemies. Some (or all) Jews would be resurrected to live forever in God’s kingdom. And Yahweh would dwell with his people in this new sin-free environment.

I think this is what John believed and is writing about in these last chapters of Revelation. I think it’s also what the writer of Hebrews believed.

I don’t think there was consensus among Jews on details concerning exactly who would be resurrected, who would be destroyed, and what a final judgment would look like. (I suspect even the writers of the New Testament would have had disagreements over some of these points.)

Preterists are right when they say these events were supposed to have already taken place, and futurists are right when they argue that these events have not taken place.

Our job, I believe, is to ask what the Ninevites must have asked themselves on the 41st day after Jonah’s pronouncement, “Well, now that the prophecy came to naught, how should we move forward?”