Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Universalism (or a Second Chance) in Revelation?

I finished G.K. Beale's The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text.  There are many things that I can discuss in my final post (for the time being) on this book, but I want to focus on universalism, the idea that all people will be saved.


Beale does not agree with the universalist argument that, in Revelation 20, the gates of the new Jerusalem are open so that the unsaved ones in hell can enter the city and become saved.  Beale appeals to Revelation 22:11, which says (in the KJV): "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still."  For Beale, that passage means that there will come a time when it is too late to repent.
I also note Revelation 21:27: "And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither [whatsoever] worketh abomination, or [maketh] a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life."

But will there be opportunities to be written in the Book of Life during the new heavens and the new earth?  Revelation 20:12-15 say the following: "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is [the book] of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.  And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."

I know some Armstrongites (or former Armstrongites) who argue that this passage is about people being written into the Book of Life during the new heavens and the new earth.  In this view, the Book of Life is being opened so that new names can be put into it.  People are being judged in the sense that they are living in a society that is ruled by God, or in that they are being given a fresh opportunity to live the right way and are being judged according to their actions for a period of time.  But I don't see that in this passage, to tell you the truth.  What it seems to me to say is that we have the last judgment and people are being judged according to how they lived their lives in the past and whether their names are in the Book of Life.  The Book of Life, in short, is being opened so that the judge can see whose name is in it, not to add more names to it.  And those whose names are not in it are cast into the Lake of Fire. 
 
Beale, in interpreting Revelation 20:12-15, refers to Daniel 7:10, where the opening of the books corresponds with judgment and precedes the destruction of the little horn and the rule of the Son of Man.  (But, for some reason, v 12 says that the lives of the rest of the beasts will be "prolonged for a season and time".  So, while the books being opened in Daniel 7 has something to do with final judgment, apparently the end of the other beasts is not immediate.)


I once heard Herbert Armstrong appeal to Revelation 22:17 to say that there will be opportunities for salvation in the new heavens and the new earth.  The passage says: "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely."  Herbert was saying that we do not currently live in a time when "Whosoever will may come" applies, for only those God calls are saved.  But Herbert affirmed that "Whosoever will may come" will apply in the new heavens and the new earth, as the resurrected are given a chance to accept God's way of life.

I don't think that Revelation 22:17 necessarily relates to the new heavens and the new earth, however.  Rather, it seems to be God's exhortation to those hearing the words of the Book of Revelation right now: to drink freely of the water of life.  Come to think of it, I don't really believe that Revelation 22:11 ("He that is unjust, let him be unjust still...") is about people in hell during the time of the new heavens and the new earth having no opportunities for repentance or salvation.  Rather, the passage seems to correspond with one of the interpretations that Beale presents (but does not really accept): the time of the end is soon, so there's really no time to repent.

So I'm not particularly convinced, at least right now, by attempts to see universalism in the Book of Revelation.  But I may do well to look at universalist interpretations of the passages I cited, to see how those passages are handled.

I would like to offer a couple of final thoughts in this post.  First of all, regarding Revelation 22:11, there are times in the Bible when God gets frustrated and says things that he doesn't really mean.  I write about that in my post here.  God in Judges 10:13-16 says that he will deliver Israel no more, but we know that God after this point does deliver Israel.  God is moved by their repentance, and perhaps also by his love for them.  Perhaps God in Revelation 22:11 is not saying that there will come a time when it will be too late to repent, but is rather saying in the heat of frustration something like, "Do you want to wallow in your filth?  Then go right ahead!"  But does God really want for people to continue to wallow in their filth?  I doubt it.  But God says all sorts of extreme things when he's frustrated.

Second, as Beale notes, God in the prophetic writings hardens Israel so that Israel will be destroyed while a remnant will be preserved.  My impression is that God destroys Israel to build her back up again----on a new foundation of righteousness.  That tells me that God often has a redemptive purpose even behind the hardening and destruction that he does.

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