During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.
Tuesday, 22 December 2020 Revelation 20:11-21:8
11. I saw a great white throne. The earth and the heavens fled from the face of the one sitting upon it, but there was no place found for them.
12. I saw the dead who stood before the throne, both great and small. Books were opened, then another book was opened: the book of life. The dead were judged from what was written in the books based on their works.
13. The sea gave up the dead in it. Death and Hades gave up the dead in them. They were all judged according to their works.
14. Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death – the lake of fire.
15. If anyone was found not written in the book of like he was thrown into the lake of fire.
1. I saw New Heaven and New Earth, for the first heaven and the first earth vanished, and still the sea was not.
2. I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
3. I heard a loud voice speaking from the throne, “Behold, the dwelling of God is will human beings. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and he himself will be God with them.
4. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will not exist, neither mourning, wailing, or pain. They will no longer be, because the first has vanished.
5. The one sitting upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then he said, “Write! For these words are faithful and true.”
6. He said to me, “It is over. I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. I will give as a gift the water of life from the spring to the thirsty person.
7. The one who conquers will inherit these things. I will be his God and he will be my child.
8. But those who are cowards, faithless, desecrators, murderers, fornicators, magicians, idol worshippers, and all those liars their part is the lake burning with fire and sulphur. This is the second death.
First, let’s talk about verse 3. There are two textual difficulties and they make the reading of the text challenging. There is also a marvelous word association.
The textual variants are the word ‘people’. It has good authority, so I think it holds, but the meaning of the text is not changed — ‘they will be his’ and ‘they will be his people’ are no different, although I think the people was probably added later by someone familiar with the biblical material in the Old Testament. The real conundrum is an extra phrase ‘God of them’ at the end. The actual text we have goes like this, ‘and he himself will be God with them [God of them].’ I put the variant in the brackets. My gut tells me the harder reading, “God with them” is solitary, and a later scribe has added the ‘God of them’ as a teaching note to clarify anyone who might think human beings become a god alongside the One True God. Therefore, I have omitted the phrase in my translation. Check the study notes in your English Bible for more information on this.
The brilliant word choice is dwelling. Those following these Advent translations will remember I made a big deal about the use of the word ‘skin’ for dwelling in 2 Peter. Well, here, the dwelling of God is ‘skin’ again. In this context, it is definitely a reference to the Tabernacle and God’s dwelling. I think there a Christmas reference as well, as “Immanuel” means God with us, and that is the context of the dwelling of God here. The Lamb has arrived!
I could, I think, spend all day talking about this passage, but let me briefly point out seven things.
One–There are more than one book. There is the book of life, but there are others.
Two–People are judged, everyone, by what they do. I translate it works, the ESV translates it ‘what they had done.’ My translation is better. We are judged by our works. There is no way around it.
Three–Death and Hades give up their dead for judgment, then those two entities are cast, apparently void of people, into the lake of fire. I don’t know what that means, but that is what it says.
Four–People are thrown into the lake of fire after they are removed from Death and Hades.
Five–The old and new are contrasted — as the one on throne makes all things new. There is New Heaven, New Earth, and New Jerusalem. The old ‘vanished.’ I can’t even begin to imagine how that happens.
Six–Jesus says he is the alpha and the omega. These are simply the first and last letter of the Greek alphabet. The interesting part to me, and I don’t know I there is a technical reason for this or not, is that John spells out ‘alpha’ in the text in Greek but he just uses the letter omega.
Seven–Revelation 21:8 tells us who goes to the lake of sulphur and fire, and it is something we should all meditate on. The list begins with cowards and ends with liars.
Questions For Application
- Does it bring comfort or fear that there are record books in eternity?
- This ‘Great White Throne judgement’ seems to be the very very last, and it seems like it is a different kind of judgment that previous ones. How do you understand it?
- It is an unexpected emotional moment when the Lord wipes away tears and ends wailing, pain, and sorrow. How can we appropriate some of that emotional support now?
- In what area of your life are you most cowardly? What lies do you cling to?