Monthly Archives: June 2018

Will God Transform the Old Earth or Make a New One? (New Earth 2)

Revelation 20:11 states that the old earth and sky “fled away” from the presence of the one seated on the great white throne (ESV, RSV). Good synonyms for “fled away” (Greek: ephugen) are “vanish” and “disappear.” Since “no place was found for them” after they vanished, it could imply that when God makes “all things new” (Rev. 21:5, NKJV) He will build a brand, new earth rather than “recycle” the materials of the old earth into the new one. On the other hand, “new” in Greek (kainos) means something new in quality rather than in origin or time (see 2 Corinthians 5:17, but notice also Mark 2:21, where new in time is also implied).

Which of the two options makes the most sense? Perhaps the original creation story can help us decide. In Genesis 1 the first verse seems to describe the creation of the whole universe (Gen. 1:1). The second verse focuses on the condition of the earth after the original creation (Gen. 1:2). Verse three commences the creation of this world and describes it as more of a recycling project than something built from nothing (Gen. 1:2-31). With the exception of the light on the first day (Gen. 1:3-5), God’s creative work with the planet itself was largely shaping the environment out of pre-existing matter (Gen. 1: 6, 7, 9, 14).

In conclusion, the total evidence related to the new earth falls short of certainty on this matter. But we do know two things. God is not indebted to pre-existing matter, yet He seems rather fond of recycling.

The Millennium and the New Jerusalem (New Earth 1)

Revelation chapters nineteen through twenty-two begin with final events just before and during the Second Coming of Jesus (Rev. 19) and then give readers a glimpse of the future beyond that event; through the millennium (Rev. 20) and into eternity (Rev. 21 and 22). These four chapters of the book of Revelation offer the clearest and most detailed account in the Bible of events just before, during and after the Second Coming. While there are hints of a millennium elsewhere in the Bible (1 Cor. 15:20-22; Isa. 26:19-22), this is the only place where such a time period is clearly laid out. The account of the thousand years comes between the Second Coming of Jesus and his third and permanent return to this earth.

These chapters of the book of Revelation introduce the following themes and issues:

1. Will God Transform the Old Earth or Make a New One? The meaning of the term “new” earth.
2. Relation of Babylon’s Fall to the Fifth Seal.
3. Three Views of the Millennium.
4. Will Eternity End Up Boring? What Will God’s People Be Doing With All That Time?
5. The Backgrounds That Explain the New Jerusalem.
6. The Shape of the New Jerusalem, Pyramid or Cube?

In addition to the above, I plan to explore God’s purpose for both the thousand years of Revelation 20 and for biblical prophecy. I will conclude with some thoughts on how to respond to the teachings of Revelation.

Some spiritual Lessons from Rev 17 and 18 (Judgment 6)

In a passage to focused on the events of the end-time, life applications can be difficult to find. The following suggestions may be helpful.

1. What are the implications for today in the fact that God has His people in the midst of Babylon almost to the very end (Rev. 18:4)? The realization that end-time Babylon has a Christian face should not lead us to harsh and disparaging statements aimed at Catholics or others (see statements from Ellen White in Evangelism, 575). While the Jewish religious leaders and the Zealots both opposed the mission of Jesus, He nevertheless dealt graciously with individual representatives of those groups (Luke 6:15; Mark 12:28-24). Even the evil system of ancient Babylon had a Nebuchadnezzar in it!

2. What are the similarities and differences between the women of Revelation 12 and 17? What can we learn from these comparisons? There are startling similarities between the women of Revelation 12 and 17. Both are women located in the wilderness (Rev. 12:6,14; 17:3). Both are religious in nature (prostitute Babylon is dressed like the High Priest in 17:4). But the woman of Revelation 12 is the church as seen in the middle period of Christian history, the 1260 day/years. What causes John amazement is that the end-time opponent of God and His people wears a Christian face! This should sober all who follow Jesus. Our pride and stubbornness (unwillingness to change even when things aren’t working well) can lead us to destruction even when we think we are following God (John 16:2).

The Narrative of Revelation 17 (Judgment 5)

As I have shown in a previous blog, Revelation 17 understands there to be three worldwide alliances that develop in the end-time; an alliance of religious institutions in opposition to God, an alliance of secular political power, a true united nations, and an alliance of the saints. All three are precipitated by the final worldwide proclamation of the gospel (Rev. 14:6-7) and its evil counterpart (16:13-14). The world is divided into those who accept the gospel (saints), those who reject it (Babylon) and those who are indifferent (secular).

Through the counterfeit gospel of demonic angels (16:13-14), Babylon (demonic trinity—16:19) gathers the secular/political powers of the world to its cause (16:14, 16). She “rides” the beast (17:2-7). For a short time, united institutions of religion dominate the world’s governments, turning their fury against the saints (17:6; 13:15-17). But God intervenes (17:17), drying up Babylon’s support system (secular/political powers—16:12), and they end up turning on her and destroying her (17:16). By this means God saves His end-time remnant from destruction (17:14). After the fall of Babylon, the secular powers of the world are destroyed in the context of the Second Coming itself (19:17-21).

Crucial to the above scenario is the discovery that many of the symbols of Revelation are multiple way of saying the same thing. For example, the seven heads of the beast turn out to be seven mountains and seven kings, three images of secular, political power in the world. Earlier we noticed that the remnant of Revelation 12:17 is elaborated as the 144,000 in 14:1 and as the saints in 14:12. Similarly, the prostitute of 17:1 is the same as the woman who rides the beast (17:3) who is the same as Babylon the Great, mother of prostitutes (17:5). The three great alliances of the End-time are all named by many names.

The Identity of the Seven Kings of Rev. 17:10 (Judgment 4)

The difference between visions and explanations helps us solve one of the most vexing problems in the whole book of Revelation. Who are the seven kings of Rev. 17:10? They are clearly sequential, but where do they begin and when is the “one is” of the angel’s description? It is a power in John’s day, one at the very end of time, or is it somewhere in the course of history? Various Seventh-day Adventist scholars have drawn each of these three conclusions.

One popular option among non-scholars is to see the seven kings as seven consecutive popes, usually beginning with the year 1929, when Mussolini restored Vatican City to the sovereignty of the Roman Catholic Church, and the very last pope of earth’s history. This view has frequently suggested that a current pope is either the last or the next to last. So this view has led people into date-setting and is now stretched to the limit as pope after pope continues.

A second view is quite popular among SDA scholars. It suggests that the time of the sixth king (the “one is” of 17:10) is the time from 1798 to 1929, when the papacy had no temporal power. The five fallen kings would then be Babylon Persia, Greece, Rome, and the medieval papacy. The one that is would be the time when the church has no temporal power. The seven kings would be the situation today, the restored Vatican power. This view fits well with the overall Adventist view of the end-time.

But seeing this text as part of an explanation rather than a vision would rule out both options if applied here. The passage about the seven kings is not in the vision (Rev. 17:3-6), it is in the explanation of the vision (17:7-18). In order to make sense to John the explanation needs to be from his standpoint in history. So the “one is” king would have to be present at the time when John himself received the vision in order to make sense. If the “one is” kingdom is the pagan Rome of John’s day, the five who are “fallen” would be the five super powers of the Old Testament world; Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia and Greece. The seventh “king” would be the medieval papacy and the “eighth” (Rev. 17:11) king, who is one of the seven, would be the revived Babylon of chapter 17, an entity that in its fullness is still in our future.

The Difference Between Visions and Their Explanations (Judgment 3)

In the Jewish apocalyptic tradition (represented in the Bible particularly by Daniel and Revelation), there is an important distinction between visions and explanations. In a vision, the prophet can travel anywhere in the universe and to any point of time, all the way to the end of the world. The events of the vision are not necessarily located in the prophet’s time and place. But when the vision is explained to the prophet afterward, the explanation always comes in the time, place and circumstances of the visionary.

For example, in Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar is taken down to the end of time in his vision of the great image and the stone that became a great mountain that filled the whole earth (Dan. 2:31-36). The explanation of the vision by Daniel, however, is firmly grounded in the time and place of Nebuchadnezzar. The interpretation begins with a straightforward, unambiguous assertion, “You are that head of gold (Dan 2:38).” Nebuchadnezzar is then told that the series of kingdoms that follow are “after you” (2:39) in point of time.

As was the case with Daniel 2, the apocalyptic prophecy of Dan 7 is divided into two parts; a description of the vision, in which the prophet is transported through time and space to view various entities and events, mostly in his future (Dan 7:2-14 and 21-22), and an explanation of the vision, given in the language, time and place of the prophet (Dan 7:15-20, 23-27). Even though Daniel experienced all elements of the vision, including the final events, the explanation clarifies that the vision is essentially about the future experience of Daniel’s people (Dan 7:17-18, 23-27). The explanation comes for the benefit of Daniel first. It, therefore, explains things in terms of his location in the world and in history, in terms he can understand. The same pattern can be seen in Daniel 8 and Zech 4:1-14.

This makes logical sense. For an explanation to make sense to me it needs to be framed in terms of my language and location in time and space. Prophets don’t usually seem to understand the revelation from visions alone. An explanation is necessary for the revelation to be understood. Since that explanation is given for the benefit of the prophet, it is based on the time, place and circumstances in which the seer lives. This principle has profound implications for the interpretation of difficult apocalyptic texts like Rev 17:7-11, as we will see in the next blog.

With regard to Revelation 17, verses 3-6 clearly portray a vision in which John sees and reacts to a number of things. Verses 7-18 then go on to explain a number of things. It makes sense, then, if in the explanation John is told that some things are in the past, others are present and others are future, that the point from which to understand all three concept is the time in which John received the vision and hears the explanation.

Three Great End-Time Alliances (Judgment 2)

A close examination of Revelation 17 indicates that the relevant images and powers of the end-time unify into three great alliances; (1) religion in opposition to God (Babylon), (2) secular/political power, and (3) a looser confederation of the saints, God’s faithful, end-time people. In the scenario of Revelation 17, Babylon gains the support of the secular/political alliance for its war against the saints (Rev. 17:6) for a short time. After the End-Time spiritual battle (Rev. 17:14), but eventually the secular powers of the world turn on Babylon and destroy her (Rev. 17:16). Rev. 18 expresses their three-fold regret afterward for having done so (Rev. 18:9-19). While the fall of Babylon is mourned by the world, it brings rejoicing to the saints (Rev. 18:20).

Let’s drill down a little deeper into this scenario. At first glance, Revelation 16-18 contains a bewildering variety of images describing end-time powers and groupings. But upon closer analysis it becomes evident that many of these images are different ways of describing the same thing. For example, the seven heads of the beast are also described as seven mountains and seven kings (Rev. 17:9-10). Likewise, the great prostitute (Rev. 17:1) is clearly the same as the woman who rides the beast (17:3) and Babylon the Great (17:5). Similarly, we have noticed earlier that God’s people are also named by many names in the book of Revelation.

The resulting conclusion is that the variety of images in these chapters can all be linked to three great, worldwide alliances that develop in the final period of earth’s history. 1) There is a great worldwide alliance of religious institutions that join together in opposition to God and His faithful people. This alliance is named by many names: Babylon, the great prostitute, the great city, the woman that rides the beast. End-time Babylon comes together with the rise of the unholy trinity of Revelation 13 and 16:13-14. These make up the three parts of Babylon (Rev. 16:19).

2) There is a great worldwide alliance of secular, political and military power. This alliance is also named by many names in Revelation: the Euphrates River (Rev. 16:12), the kings of the whole inhabited world (16:14), the cities of the nations (16:19), the many waters (17:1), the kings of the earth, the earth dwellers (17:2), the beast (17:3), the seven heads, the seven mountains, the seven kings (17:9-10) and the ten horns (17:12-13). These secular powers are also represented by the kings (18:9), merchants (18:11) and sea-farers (18:17) of chapter eighteen.

3) There is also a worldwide, end-time alliance of the saints, which is named by many names: the sealed (Rev. 7:1-3), the 144,000 (7:4-8), the great multitude (7:9-12), the remnant (12:17), the saints (14:12; 17:6), the kings of the east (16:12), those who keep their garments (16:15) and the called, chosen and faithful followers of the Lamb (17:14). In the very last period of earth’s history, this alliance is probably not so much institutional, as we know religious institutions today, but a coming together of kindred spirits out of every nation, tribe, language, people and religion. In a following blog we will briefly explore the narrative of these three alliances in the final days of earth’s history.