We continue this study of Revelation chapters 20-22 here in Part 3 with the lengthy discussion in the middle of Rev. 20:12.
Excerpt from Section 2 of my paper "More Regarding God's Salvation Plans for the Nations" that deals with Psalm 87:3-7:
[This psalm is quite important for this study.] "Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God. [This speaks of Jerusalem (Zion), including spiritual Jerusalem (Jerusalem above, heavenly Jerusalem) and new Jerusalem (cf., e.g., Gal. 4:26, 27; Heb. 12:22; Isa. 2:2-4; and Rev. 21:1-22:5).] (4) 'I shall mention Rahab [Egypt] and Babylon among those who know Me; Behold Philistia and Tyre with Ethiopia: "This one was born there." ' [[During this present age, we can speak of Christians being born of Jerusalem above (cf. Gal. 4:26), but the birth into the fulness of eternal life won't be available until the end of this age. (On this completed birth for true Israel at the time of Christ's return, see on Rev. 12:5 on pages 314-316 of my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture.") This birth of Psalm 87, however, goes beyond the birth into the fulness of eternal life for true Israel and speaks of (or at least includes) this birth for (the elect of) the nations that will take place after the great-white-throne judgment, as the nations are given a place on God's new earth, with access to New Jerusalem, as pictured in Revelation chapters 21, 22. The nations begin to come to Jerusalem, and more importantly to God, at the beginning of the millennium, but they will not experience the birth into the eternal life of God's eternal kingdom until after the millennium.]] (5) But [I would translate "And" with the KJV, or "Indeed" with the NIV, or the equivalent.] of Zion [Jerusalem] it shall be said, 'This one and that one were born in her' [speaking of those mentioned in verse 4, not that the listing in verse 4 was meant to be complete]; And the Most High Himself will establish her [Zion]. (6) The Lord shall count when He registers the peoples [Hebrew "amim"], 'This one was born there.' [The final registering of the peoples won't take place until after the great-white-throne judgment. Compare the Lamb's book of life, especially Rev. 21:27.] (7) Then those who sing as well as those who play the flutes shall say, 'All my springs of joy [The words "of joy" were added in italics by the NASB. I would skip these added words, as do the NIV, KJV, and NKJV] are in you.' " [["You" here refers to Zion/Jerusalem, but it must be understood that all the life and blessings of Jerusalem, including new Jerusalem, come from God the Father, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. Revelation 7:17; 21:6 mention the "spring(s) of the water of life"; compare the "river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb" in Rev. 22:1, 2.]]
I'll give another example where some Christians have gone beyond what the Bible teaches about the status (saved, or not saved) of many who are not Christians. We desperately need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches about salvation. I'll start by quoting section 16 from the Roman Catholic Vatican II document titled, "Lumen Gentium," which means "Light of the Nations," This "dogmatic constitution on the church" was "solemnly promulgated by his holiness Pope Paul VI on November 21, 1964." I took this from www.vatican.va/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/...
"Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God. In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh. On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues.
But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohammedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.
Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel. She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life: But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, 'Preach the Gospel to every creature', the Church fosters the missions with care and attention."
You will get more than one interpretation from Roman Catholics regarding what this means for the status of Jews or Moslems and the other non-Christians this section 16 discusses, but this is clearly saying much more than Jews and Moslems and other non-Christians are invited to become Christians. All people have been invited to become Christians. I was quite surprised when I first read this document and even more surprised by some of the comments that Francis A. Sullivan, S.J., who "has taught theology for many years at Gregorian University in Rome," made on this topic, including some of his comments and excerpts dealing with Pope John Paul II.
I'll include several excerpts from Sullivan ("Salvation Outside the Church?: Tracing the History of the Catholic Response [Paulist Press, 1992]) that will help us understand this important topic. A few of these excerpts will enable us to understand something of how Pope John Paul II understood the topic discussed in Lumen Gentium 16. It is clear, for one thing, that he believed that people (even large numbers of people) can be/are saved through Christ who die without becoming Christians. I appreciate generosity, but I believe he is far too generous and that he misses the biblical balance with some of his statements on this topic. We desperately need the balanced truth of what the Bible, especially the New Testament, teaches regarding the all-important topic of salvation.
Regarding those "who in shadows and images seek the unknown God," Sullivan says, "presumably the council is here referring to those who belong to other non-Christian religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, although no religions are mentioned by name" (page 154).
I'll quote the "third eucharistic prayer," which was part of the fruit of the liturgical renewal mandated by the council, and reflects the doctrine of Vatican II, and what Sullivan said about this prayer. " 'Welcome into your kingdom our departed brothers and sisters, and all who have left this world in your friendship.' Here the 'departed brothers and sisters' are those who have been members of the Christians family of faith, and 'all who have departed this world in your friendship' would include those who, without Christian faith and baptism, have died in the friendship of God" (pages 159, 160).
I'll quote part of Sullivan's last paragraph in this chapter (chapter 9) titled "The Second Vatican Council." "It can hardly be denied that this council has marked a decisive change in Catholic thinking about the salvation of those 'outside.' Its opening to the ecumenical movement has introduced an altogether new understanding of the ecclesial status of the other Christian communities, and of their role in the salvation of those who belong to them in good faith. Perhaps even more striking is the optimism which characterizes the approach of Vatican II to the question of salvation for the great majority of the people of the world who have neither Christian faith nor baptism" (page 160).
I'll include a few excerpts from chapter 11, "Papal Teaching After Vatican II," that deal with Pope John Paul II. "It is significant that in this first encyclical ["Redemptor Hominis," issued by him March 4, 1979], John Paul already stressed the aspect of his thought about the non-Christians that would become the key element of his teaching in their regard. This is: respect for the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in non-Christians and in their religions - a presence and activity which is seen above all in their practice of virtue, their spirituality and their prayer..." (page 190).
On pages 192, 193 Sullivan says, "[In October] 1986, at the invitation of Pope John Paul, there took place at Assisi an event that was surely unique in the history of the world: a Day of Prayer for Peace in which representatives of the major Christian confessions and the major non-Christian religions of the world took part."
I learned from other sources that the participants at the prayer meeting included the leaders of non-Christian religions, including Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists (including the Dalai Lama), Japanese Shintoists, fire worshipping Zoroastrians, Baha'i, and animists (including Voodoo worhippers and a medicine man of the Crow Indians of North America). I'll include four brief excerpts from an Associated Press report: "Assisi, Italy - Chants, temple bells and pagan spells echoed around the Roman Catholic shrines of Assisi yesterday as Pope John Paul II and his 200 guests from the world's 12 main religions prayed for world peace...." "The medicine man of the Crow Indians (spirit worshippers), Chief John Pretty-on-Top, offered to cast out evil spirits. Many came forward, among them a young Franciscan monk." "In a chapel down the road, the head of the Zoroastrian church in Bombay prayed before a fire that symbolized his God." "African animists, their togas the envy of any designer, invoked the spirits of trees and plants to come to the aid of peace."
Here's part of what the pope said regarding this event (December 22, 1986, some two months after the day of prayer for peace). "At Assisi, in an extraordinary way, there was the discovery of the unique value that prayer has for peace.... ... Every authentic prayer is under the influence of the Spirit, 'who intercedes insistently for us...because we do not even know how to pray as we ought,' but he prays in us 'with unutterable groanings' and 'the One who searches hearts knows what are the desires of the Spirit' (cf. Rom. 8:26, 27). We can indeed maintain that every authentic prayer is called forth by the Holy Spirit, who is mysteriously present in the heart of every person" (still quoting from Sullivan; pages 192, 193).
I don't believe the apostle Paul, who wrote Rom. 8:26-27, would even apply this special ministry of the Spirit to the apostles of Jesus who lived in the days before the promised life-giving Spirit was given to true Christians, after the all-important atoning death of the Lamb of God, starting at Pentecost. And he certainly wouldn't have spoken of the Spirit exercising this ministry in the hearts of non-Christians. Note that Rom. 8:27 goes on to specify that the Spirit is interceding FOR THE SAINTS, from within their hearts, where He dwells. Also note that in Rom. 8:23 Paul speaks of (true) Christians as those who have received "the first fruits of the Spirit." In Rom. 8:1-17 Paul shows that it is only (true) Christians who have received the Spirit, and there are quite a few other passages that teach this same truth. In John 7:37-39, for example, Jesus spoke of the fact that those who believe in Him (which includes a commitment from the heart to live for Him) will receive the Holy Spirit after He is glorified. It's good to be as generous as we can with all people, but it won't work for good to go beyond what the Scriptures teach.
I'll quote from Sullivan again, "John Paul insists that while salvation is offered to all, it is always salvation in Christ.
'The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all. But it is clear that today, as in the past, many people do not have an opportunity to come to know or accept the Gospel revelation or to enter the Church. The social and cultural conditions in which they live do not permit this, and frequently they have been brought up in other religious traditions. For such people salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace, which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of His sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation.' (Sullivan quoted John Paul from "Redemptoris missio, n. 8, p. 15.")
Here we find an extremely important statement concerning the way in which non-Christians are saved: for 'those who are brought up in other religious traditions,' the grace which comes from Christ 'enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual' condition. Since their spiritual condition can be expected normally to reflect the religious traditions in which they have been brought up, it would logically follow that the grace they receive will also be accommodated to those religious traditions. ..." (pages 194, 195).
I'll include a final brief excerpt from Sullivan's Conclusion from page 203. He is discussing the factors that "have contributed to forming the positive attitude concerning the salvation of those outside the church, which is so striking a characteristic of the Second Vatican Council." "In the first place I would mention a development that exemplifies what Vatican II called 'remembering that in Catholic teaching there exists an order or "hierarchy" of truths' (UR 11). This involves recognizing the primary importance of the truth that God wills the salvation of every human being. To attribute to the universal salvific will of God the first place in a hierarchy of truths means giving a subordinate place to the necessity of such means of salvation as baptism and membership in the church. Such secondary truths, then, have to be understood and formulated in such a way as to confirm, rather than conflict with, the primary truth."
I would like to make a few brief comments based on the experiences I had while teaching (mostly teaching the Bible) among Roman Catholics during the early days of the Roman Catholic charismatic renewal, mostly in the late 60s and early 70s. I was quite impressed with much that I saw. I met large numbers of Catholics, including many of the leaders (including many nuns and quite a few priests), who were hungry to understand and to live basic Bible-centered Christianity, including the new birth, righteousness and the victory over sin, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Most of them fully accepted me, even though I wasn't Roman Catholic.
One major problem that surfaced on occasion was the fact that some of the leaders (and others) had picked up quite a bit of liberal (modernistic) theology, which means for the most part that they had been taught and accepted the idea that the Bible is full of errors and we must discard much that it teaches. Moses didn't really write the Mosaic Law; Daniel didn't really write the book of Daniel and the "prophecies" in the book of Daniel aren't really prophecies from God; the devil and demons don't actually exist and the primary thing that matters is that you love everybody; etc., etc. I could go on for a long time, but you have a dangerous combination when leaders who don't believe in demons (but may have studied psychology) are getting involved with supernatural things like healing and especially inner healing. Although problems didn't surface very often when I was teaching among Roman Catholic charismatics, we must recognize the dangers associated with traditions that don't line up with the Bible.
Now we'll continue with Rev. 20:12.]], and books were opened [As the following words show, these books contain the deeds/works of those people who are to be judged.]; and another book was opened [a REALLY important book], which is the book of life [[Those whose names are found in the book of life will inherit the eternal life of God's new heaven and new earth. They are, by definition, part of the elect (chosen) of God. They were chosen before the foundation of the world through God's foreknowledge, and their names were written in the book of life at that time (cf., e.g., Rev. 13:8; 17:8; 21:27; Rom. 8:28-30; Eph. 1:4; and 2 Thess. 2:13). In the last three passages listed, the apostle Paul was dealing with the names of members of true Israel, but the first three verses listed seem to clearly include the elect of the nations. The fact that it's the Lamb's book of life in Rev. 13:8; 17:8; and 21:27 makes it clear that all those saved are saved by God's grace through the atoning death of His Son. (None of us can earn/merit salvation.) On the book of life, also see Ex. 32:32, 33; Psalms 69:28; 87:4-6; Dan. 12:1; Luke 10:20; Phil. 4:3; and Rev. 3:5.
We desperately need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. We have a definite role in our salvation from the beginning to the end. God set it up that way. We are saved 100 percent by the grace of God in Christ, but God doesn't just give us saving faith to begin with, and He doesn't make us continue in faith to the end. See my papers titled, "A Paper on Faith" and "Once Saved, Always Saved?" And see the lengthy discussion of Rom. 8:28-30 in my paper on Rom. 8:16-39. The last two papers are available on this Christian article site and extensive excerpts from "A Paper on Faith" are on this site too. In Rev. 3:5 the Lord Jesus powerfully warned most of the Christians at Sardis that He would erase their names from the book of life if they didn't repent. See under Rev. 3:5 in my paper on Revelation chapters 2 and 3 that is available on this Christian article site.]]; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds [works]. [[Many verses show that all people will be judged according to their works (cf. Psalm 62:12; Prov. 24:12; Matt. 16:27; John 5:28, 29; Rom. 2:2-6; 14:11, 12; 1 Cor. 3:13-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; 11:15; Gal. 6:7-9; Eph. 5:6, 7; 1 Pet. 1:17; and Rev. 22:12). On these books, cf. Dan. 7:10. There is no contradiction between saying Christians are saved by grace through faith and saying that we will be judged according to our works. The works are produced by God's grace/Spirit as Christians cooperate with God's grace/Spirit, in accordance with His Word, through faith. No Christian can earn salvation through works, but the works demonstrate that the faith was genuine. Works demonstrate what is in the heart; faith is of the heart.
God's plan of salvation seems to be somewhat different for the elect of the nations. First let's discuss the elect of the nations who live on the earth, and die, before the millennial kingdom begins, assuming that there are such persons. Apparently we wouldn't classify these persons as believers at the time they lived on the earth, whether they lived in Old Testament days or New Testament days. I don't claim to have all the answers on this topic, but God is the Judge, and He will take care of the details. He knows what is in the hearts of all people, and He knows what is right and good - He won't make any mistakes - there won't be any rebels in heaven, guaranteed.
With regard to the elect of the nations who will live on the earth during the millennial kingdom, their works will clearly reflect their faith in God. However, as I mentioned, they probably wouldn't be classified as new-covenant believers/Christians (members of true Israel), at least not if, as I have suggested, true Israel will have been completed by the time the millennium begins.]] (13) And the sea gave up the dead which were in it [[Separate mention of the sea is included in that the bodies of these people were denied a proper burial, which was considered important in the ancient world (and it still is by many in our day). The souls of these people who died at sea are in Hades. For one thing, this mention of the sea helps emphasize that all the dead will be there for the great-white-throne judgment.]], and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds [works]. [As I mentioned, these are "the rest of the dead" of Rev. 20:5.] (14) And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. [[After all people have been resurrected, and the last enemy death has been abolished in accordance with 1 Cor. 15:26, there will be no more need for death (cf. Rev. 21:4) or Hades. These few words would fit the idea of annihilation (which is being taught by many Christians in our day, including some evangelicals) in that we could think of death and Hades being annihilated in the lake of fire, but many other verses show that the lost aren't annihilated in the lake of fire (cf., e.g., Isa. 66:24; Mark 9:43-48; Luke 12:5; Matt. 13:42; 25:41, 46; Rev. 14:9-11; 19:20; and 20:10). One primary feature of the lake of fire is that it involves eternal, complete separation from God, the only source of life, love, and everything else that's good.]] This is the second death, the lake of fire. (15) And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."
REVELATION CHAPTER 21.
SYMBOLIC LANGUAGE. The book of Revelation contains much symbolic language, including symbolic numbers; chapters 21 and 22 are loaded with symbolic language. Symbolic (figurative) language doesn't mean that we aren't dealing with reality; we are dealing with reality, but symbolic language can help describe the indescribable, like the glories of heaven. I'm confident, however, that the symbolic language used in this passage falls far short of communicating the glorious reality. Symbolic language, including symbolic numbers, can communicate much extra information. We need the wisdom of God to rightly divide and understand God's Word, including symbolic language. We don't want to overuse the concept of symbolic language, as some do, and take things in a symbolic (non-literal) sense when a literal meaning was intended by God, nor do we want to underuse this concept, as some do. We need the balanced truth that God intended!
Let's look at an important example of symbolic language from the book of Revelation. Revelation 5:6 speaks of "a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth." The "Lamb" is a symbol for the Lord Jesus Christ, who was slain, bearing our sins with the guilt and the penalties. John sees Him after He has been raised from the dead. It is interesting that in the preceding verse Christ is pictured as "the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah." Well, is He a Lion, or a Lamb? He's both, and many other good things too. Christ is a lion (which is another word used in a symbolic/figurative sense) in His power, authority, and dominion.
The number seven is sometimes used as a symbol for perfection/completeness. A week has seven days, Israel also had a seven-year cycle, and the book of Revelation has seven churches, seven stars, seven Spirits, seven seals, seven angels with seven trumpets, seven peals of thunder, the dragon and the beast with seven heads, seven angels with seven bowls of wrath, and a few other uses of the number seven.
For Christ to have "seven horns" is to communicate the all-important fact that He has perfect/complete authority, dominion, and power. For Christ to have "seven eyes" (cf. Zech. 3:9; 4:10) is to communicate the fact that He has perfect/complete knowledge of what is happening everywhere. We are further shown here that He has this knowledge through the "seven Spirits of God," which is a symbolic way to speak of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is perfect/complete in all of His work and manifestations. On the seven-fold Spirit, also see Rev. 1:4; 3:1; and 4:5. One last comment: We're not supposed to try to think of a picture of Christ, or a Lamb, literally having seven horns and seven eyes - these numbers are being used in a symbolic way here, but they certainly do communicate important information, don't they?
Now Rev. 21:1.
"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. [[These last words need not necessarily be understood to teach that there won't be any large bodies of water (or the heavenly equivalent of water) on the new earth. (Cf., e.g., Ezek. 47:1-15; Zech. 14:8; and Rev. 22:1, 2.) A more literal translation of these last words would be, "And the sea is no longer." These words could be understood in the sense that the first sea (which was awesome and fearful; cf., e.g., Isa. 27:1; Rev. 20:13) passed away with the first heaven and first earth. Verse 4 lists some other first things that will pass away. On the passing away of the first heaven and the first earth, see Psalm 102:25, 26; Isa. 34:4; 51:6; Matt. 24:35; Mark 13:31; 2 Pet. 3:7, 10-13; and Rev. 20:11.]]
We will continue this verse-by-verse study of Revelation chapters 20-22 with Rev. 21:2 in part 4 of this paper.