I share here in blog form my original manuscript of this week’s (March 24-30) Sabbath School Adult Teacher’s Edition for people to compare with the edited version. The changes were not massive or disruptive in most cases. I share my analysis of the changes in the next blog. These comments are related to the standard quarterly edition written primarily by my friend Ranko Stefanovic.
“I MAKE ALL THINGS NEW”
Part I: Overview
Key Text: Rev. 21:5.
Study Focus: Revelation nineteen through twenty-two begins with final events just before and during the Second Coming of Jesus (Rev. 19) and then gives readers a glimpse of the future beyond that event; through the millennium (Rev. 20) and into eternity (Rev. 21 and 22).
Introduction: The last 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.
Lesson Themes: The lesson and the Focus passage introduce the following themes:
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?
Life Application. The Life Application section explores God’s purpose for both the thousand years of Rev. 20 and for biblical prophecy. The final Life Application explores how to respond to the teachings of Revelation.
Part II. Commentary
See Introduction of Part I for brief summaries of Rev. 19-22.
Main Themes of Lesson 13 Elaborated:
1. Will God Transform the Old Earth or Make a New One?
Rev. 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, Wednesday’s lesson points out that “new” in Greek (kainos) means something new in quality rather than in origin or time (see 2 Cor. 5:17, but notice also Mark 2:21, where new in time is also implied).
Related to this, it is interesting that Genesis 1 describes the creation of the original earth as a recycling project rather than something built from nothing (Gen. 1:2-3). In conclusion, the total evidence related to the new earth falls short of certainty on this matter. What we do know is that God is not indebted to pre-existing matter, yet He seems rather fond of recycling.
2. Relation of Babylon’s Fall to the Fifth Seal. Sabbath afternoon’s lesson states: “With the destruction of Babylon, the prayer of God’s people, in the scene of the fifth seal, is ultimately answered.” How so? Rev. 19:1-2 makes a strong allusion to Rev. 6:10. In that verse, the souls under the altar cry out to God: “How long will it be before you “judge” and “avenge” our blood. . .” (Rev. 6:10, NRSV)? What the Greek literally says is “How long. . . not judging (Greek: krineis) and not avenging (Greek: ekdikeis)?” The verb “is” or “will be” is understood in the original and can be appropriately inserted into a translation. From the perspective of the souls under the altar, there is no evidence that God is judging or avenging their cases.
It is striking, therefore, that Rev. 19 uses the same two judgment words (“judging” and “avenging”) in the past tense to describe the fall of Babylon. The great multitude in heaven celebrate the fact that God has “judged (Greek: ekrinen) the great prostitute. . . and has avenged (Greek: exedikêsan) on her the blood of his servants” (Rev. 19:2, ESV). There is a clear relationship between the prayer of the fifth seal and the fall of Babylon.
3. Three Views of the Millennium. 1) Pre-millenialism: the Second Coming of Jesus is before the thousand years. 2) Post-millennialism: The Second Coming of Jesus is at the end of the thousand years. 3) Amillennialism: The thousand years are simply a metaphor for the entire Christian age, there is no literal thousand years. The latter view requires that the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4-5) at the beginning of the millennium be a spiritual one, the new creation that comes with the gospel (John 5:22-25; 2 Cor. 5:17).
What is the biblical evidence for pre-millennialism, the Seventh-day Adventist position on the thousand years of Rev. 20? 1) The structure of Revelation. The dragon (chapter 12), beast (13), false prophet (13) and Babylon enter the end-time picture in that order. They then exit in reverse order: Babylon (18), false prophet (19), beast (19) and dragon (20). If the beast, the false prophet and Babylon have passed off the scene by Rev. 20:3, the millennium must be after the second coming. (2) The normal meaning of “came to life” (Greek: ezêsan, Rev. 20:4) and “resurrection” (Greek: anastasis, Rev. 20:5) is bodily resurrection not a spiritual one (John 11:25; Rom 14:9; Rev 2:8; 13:14). (3) The resurrection of people who have been “beheaded” (Rev. 20:4) must be more than just a spiritual one. 4) The “beheaded souls” suffered the beheading because they had accepted the gospel, their resurrection is not when they received the gospel, it is after their beheading. There is no spiritual meaning for the word “beheading” (Greek: pepelekismenôn).
4. Will Eternity End Up Boring? What Will God’s People Be Doing With All That Time? The Bible indicates three significant roles which redeemed sinners will play throughout eternity. They will be kings, priests, and scholars. 1) Revelation indicates that redeemed sinners will join God in rulership over the universe (Rev. 3:21; 7:15-17). Sitting with Jesus on His throne means that they will be part of the government of the universe.
2) They serve not only as kings but as priests. In the ancient world there were two kinds of high status people. The highest status in the political realm was the king. And the highest status in the religious realm was the priest. Power corrupts, but those who have been humbled by suffering can be trusted with power. To be a priest in eternity includes taking an active lead in worship (Rev 5:9-13) and bearing a unique testimony based on earthly experience with sin and its consequences (Rev. 14:3). He who is faithful in little things will be put in charge of big things (Matt 25:21).
3) While school can sometimes be a chore, real learning is never a chore. God has ingrained curiosity into the core of our being, and there are few joys as meaningful as discovery. When we learn at our own pace, when we learn in our areas of interest, when our curiosity peaks our attention, learning is the most joyous possible experience. And there are so many things in the universe to learn. We will spend an eternity learning and growing, and it will be truly a delight.
5. The Backgrounds That Explain the New Jerusalem. The vision of the New Jerusalem is grounded in the rest of the Bible. The waters flowing from the throne (Rev. 22:1) and the tree of life (Rev. 22:2) recall the Garden of Eden. The radiance of the city and its cubical shape (Rev. 21:11,16) recall the tabernacle and the temple (Exod. 40:34-35; 1 Kings 6:20; 8:11). There are only two cubes in the Bible, the Most Holy Place in the sanctuary and the New Jerusalem. The very name “New Jerusalem” brings to mind the capital city of David’s kingdom. Many parts of the design of the city also recall Ezekiel’s visionary temple (Ezek. 40-48). And many details of the New Jerusalem recall the promises to the overcomers in the seven churches portion of Revelation (for example, the tree of life– Rev. 2:7; 22:2). So the vision of the New Jerusalem doesn’t arise from nothing, it is a blending of many allusions to the history of God’s leading throughout the Bible.
6. The Shape of the New Jerusalem, Pyramid or Cube? The length, width and height of the New Jerusalem are all the same, suggesting a perfect cube (Rev. 21:16). But there is another shape whose length, width and height are the same, and that is the pyramid. Should we envision the New Jerusalem as a cube or as a pyramid? Most people envision it as a cube and this is probably correct. The description of the New Jerusalem makes abundant use of the number twelve: twelve gates, twelve foundations, walls 144 cubits high, dimensions measuring 12,000 stadia (Rev. 21;12-21). A cube has twelve edges, but a pyramid has only eight. While the text does not specify the shape, a cube would be consistent with the symbolism and recall the Most Holy Place.
Part III: Life Application
1. Why is the millennium necessary when the Second Coming seems to have brought all things to an end? 1) Recovery time for the righteous. While there will be no conversions in heaven, there will be an ongoing need for personal and relational growth. Rev. 22:2 speaks of the leaves of the tree of life being for the healing of the nations. There may be people there you didn’t like or didn’t expect to see in heaven. Others you expected to see are missing. The thousand years will provide a safe space to learn and grow and transition into eternity. 2) Examination time for the righteous. The redeemed will be free to explore the “books of heaven” getting answers to questions about God, about those we loved who are not there, about issues in the Great Controversy. There will be many questions to answer. 3) Demonstration time for Satan and his followers. At the close of the millennium, Satan and his followers will demonstrate one final time the destructive nature of their characters. This final demonstration will secure the redeemed in loyalty to God throughout eternity.
2. What ultimately is the purpose of the Book of Revelation? The purpose of prophecy is not to satisfy our curiosity about the future, it is to teach us how to live today. Revelation was designed to prepare people for the challenges of the end and in the process has brought hope, meaning and purpose to millions throughout the Christian era (Rev. 1:3).