Jan Lambrecht, «Final Judgments and Ultimate Blessings: The Climactic Visions of Revelation 20,11-21,8», Vol. 81 (2000) 362-385
Rev 20,11-15 and 21,1-8 contain the last two vision reports. The first does not deal with a general resurrection followed by a general judgment with respectively reward and condemnation. Attention is negatively focused on the final judgments of Death and Hades, as well as of those whose names are not found written in the book of life. In the second vision John sees a new heaven and a new earth and, more specifically, the new Jerusalem, i.e., the church universal of the end-time. The voice from the throne and God himself climactically proclaim final blessings. The covenant formula announces God's dwelling among the peoples, the adoption formula even a divine filial relationship: these are the main content of the ultimate blessings. Hermeneutical reflection on annihilation or transformation, on theocentrism versus human responsibilty and on the expectation of Christ's imminent parousia conclude the study.
of 21,8 (the cowardly...); their place is the lake of fire and this is the second death2.
The text of Rev 20,1121,8 is not without its difficulties and uncertainties. Does 20,11-15 depict a general judgment of all the dead, good and bad, or only the final judgment of the sinners? Is the lot of those condemned annihilation or eternal torment? Does the mention of a first resurrection in 20,5 announce a second resurrection to be found in 20,13? Are the new heaven and the new earth in the second passage (21,1) a completely new creation or should one rather assume a renewal, a transformation of the first heaven and the first earth as 21,5 (See, I am making all things new) seems to suggest? Furthermore, to what extent is the author dependent on Old Testament Scriptures and/or Jewish as well as extrabiblical traditions? Last but not least, can one detect a really climactic conclusion in these final visions and what is the trustworthy content, negative and positive, hidden in their wealth of images and allusions?
A close reading of 20,11-15 (I) and 21,1-8 (II) will gather elements for answering those questions. For each pericope three aspects will be focused upon: the line of thought (the narrative), the influence of the main Old Testament passages, and the function of the text within its context. In the concluding part of this study (III) special attention will be given to the last double question, i.e., the climactic character of 20,1121,8, more in particular 21,1-8, and the contemporary hermeneutical approach.
I. The Final Judgment and the Second Death (20,11-15)
This is the translation of Rev 20,11-15 given in the NRSV:
11aThen I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; b the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, c and no place was found for them. 12a And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, b and books were opened. c Also another book was opened, the book of life. d And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. 13a And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, b Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, c and all were judged according to what they had done. 14a Then Death and Hades