Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Revelation 21 & 22

These two chapters of Scripture, in my limited experience, have been futuristically applied. I cannot count the number of well-intentioned people (for whom I am infinitely grateful) who used verses from this section of the Bible to comfort me after the death of Holly.

I think that to apply these verses to heaven is a severe mutilation of the context.

The context of Revelation quite simply is the first-century church: it is stated in no unclear terms throughout the book. Should you be interested in pursuing a study on its context further, simply start reading it. Read it through several times, then read Ezekiel. Then go back to Revelation with a sober commentary: I would advise Kenneth Gentry, Gary North, James Jordan, and--somewhat hesitantly--David Chilton (he reaches a bit more than is perhaps advisable).

But that is something that can be argued for many repetitions of a time, two times and half a time without any fruit. So, let me turn to a much narrower topic: the text in two of the most hopeful chapters of Scripture.

This is my question: What does the raw text of these two chapters say? Is it speaking of a new heaven and earth after the second coming of Christ; is it speaking of heaven after we die, or is it speaking of the here and now?

Let us now go to the text and note things that will eliminate some of these options.

1. There is no temple: "for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple". Yes, this can go either way; this could be earth now or it could be heaven after death. What it cannot be is before 70 AD, and this book (despite liberal "commentators") was written slightly before Anno Domini 70. So the time frame is some time after 70 AD, and the location is heaven or earth. Let us narrow down the time frame.

2. A few verses from chapter 22: "...the things which must shortly take place", "the time is at hand", "I am coming quickly", and "Surely I am coming quickly. If these verses are to be taken at their face value, then the only question left is where these things take place: heaven or earth? "Some time" after AD 70 just became "soon" after AD 70. Let us now address the location, which is more difficult.

3a. The city (which is the church) is itself a temple. Where do we find promises of God's people being His temple? Heaven? Or was it rather true of the first century church on earth? " are a temple of the Holy Spirit..."?

3b. "The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations". This is something that will be unnecessary after the great Judgment. This cannot be heaven.

3c. Evangelism is still taking place. Look at 22:17: "And the Spirit and the bride (that's us) say 'Come!'...And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely". This cannot be speaking of heaven.

To sum up: these verses are speaking of earth shortly after AD 70. We live on earth, and yes, it is after AD 70. This should be obvious to any person or even a reasonably intellignet trout. Do we need a calendar? A map? The text interprets itself without any difficulty--the only difficulty comes when we apply a wooden and literalistic hermeneutic to the Scriptures across the board, regardless of the nature of the text, as though we had no brains. Yes, that has been known to cause problems.

To briefly address objections: it is obvious that not all of this has been fulfilled. Keep in mind, however, that this is, as has been brilliantly stated, an "already not-yet" type of thing. Are you saved? Yes. Are you justified? Yes. Are you sanctified? Yes and no. This last is a process, not an event. So it is with the church, and so it is with the church's filling and purifying the world.

Let us then live in such a way that the process is sped. Let us love one another, and let us remember: "He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk even as He walked".

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