letters to surfers

Q In your model how do you explain the books , the judgment and the lake of fire in Revelation 20:4-15?

by Robert Brow - July 1999 (Web site - www.brow.on.ca)

When I wonder about the meaning of words in the New Testament I always try to learn the language game for those words in the Old Testament.

Revelation 20:4-15 is obviously connected with Daniel 7:9- 27. There the books of judgment are opened and the evil empire is "burned with fire" (Daniel 7:10-11). But those books and that judgment refer to wrath consequences in this life. It is not the end of the world, but a preparation for God's people to reign with the Messiah in his kingdom (Daniel 7:18, 22, 27). There is no mention of any kind of eternal damnation.

Jesus pointed out there is a keeping of records with a judgment in this life. "That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon earth . .  . all this will come upon this generation." And that actually happened when the ascended Messiah toppled the temple and the religious establishment of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:2). And Jesus went on to use the exact metaphorical language of the fall of Babylon from Isaiah 13:6-13 for the destruction of a nation (Matthew 24:29-34).

I realize that the Jesuits have not always been on the side of the angels, but they have just made an interesting model shift from the idea of a literal hell of burning fire. Today's National Post (July 16, 99) features : HELL IS NOT A PLACE. Vatican City. There is no fiery furnace in Hell, which is not a place but simply a condition in which God is absent, the influential Jesuit magazine -Civita Catolica- said yesterday. It is not a place, but a condition, a form of existence for those who suffer the pain of being deprived of God. Hell is eternal not by God's will, but because men condemn themselves in rejecting God." (Agence France-Presse)

That seems to fit the model in C.S.Lewis' Great Divorce, which I view as a commentary on the implications of John 3:17-21. It also fits the model offered by Pinnock and Brow in Unbounded Love, 1994, chapter 8 on HELL: Rejecting Love. Hell is not a judgment based on any kind of works or cerebral faith decision but an expression of the freedom of humans to reject the light and love and joy of heaven. Rejecting all those is not a torment inflicted by a loving God, but the free choice of eternal death or nothingness.

I therefore view the Book of Revelation as a symbolic and very metaphorical picture of the continuing reign of the Messiah-Lamb-King first among the churches (chapter 1-3), and then in interventions again and again among the nations. Satan keeps being silenced, then emerges to take power again.

The books of judgment therefore refer to the account that the reigning Messiah keeps of the behavior of nations, cities, churches, and individuals and the eventual judgment that He assigns here on earth. This seems to fit the imagery of Babylon (Jerusalem or Rome or both) being consumed with fire (Revelation 18:8-9, 19:3, 15, 20, 20:10, 15).

That suggests that the thrones of judgment in Revelation 20:4 refer to the vindication of martyrs, the books of Revelation 20:12 & 15 refer to the account the Messiah keeps of each nation's behavior, his judgment is by way of wrath consequences in this life, and the thousand years is symbolic of a long period of time of church growth till the next eruption.

If that model is what the OT prophets, Jesus in the Gospels, and the Book of Revelation had in mind, then there is no literal place called a lake of fire.

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