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Book of Revelation: Universalistic?

GregMacd.jpgThose who “like” or “find delight” in the Book of Revelation remind me of those who watched The Titanic and thought it was romantic and cute but failed to miss that thousands died a brutal, terrifying and tragic death. Robin Parry’s (aka, Gregory Macdonald’s) book The Evangelical Universalist  examines the Book of Revelation because, if truth be told, the guts of the Christian belief in hell and judgment emerge as much from this (violent) book as much as from anywhere else.

Can the Book of Revelation be read as universalistic? What do you think of Parry’s proposals?
I have the two major texts about hell after the jump. In this chp, which is too involved to do any more than just give some it here in summary form, Parry sketches (very well) two preliminary contexts: that judgment can be disciplinary and educative and lead to repentance and worship. Further, the texts John draws upon from the OT are texts that show the nations, after judgment, flocking to Zion to worship.
Parry’s argument is that both of these hell texts are followed (15:2-4 and then chps 21–22) by salvation texts and can be read as universal redemption. What is so noticeable about 15:4 is that “nations” refers to those who have previously rebelled. But they are now worshiping God properly. Parry: Those who are currently under God’s wrath for rebelling against God’s people will be judged but will also be the group that will come and worship God. 


And the City of Jerusalem in chps 21–22 has open gates … and there are only two kinds of people: those in the City and those in the Lake of Fire. Those gates are open, therefore, for the nations to have a chance to enter. 
Furthermore, Parry argues that the “forever and ever” of sulphur and fire are a “topos” drawn from Isaiah 34:8-10, the language used for the destruction of Babylon in the Old Testament. The language of “forever and ever” could be hyperbolic or perhaps does not refer to the judgment of humans but of the devil…

14:9 A third angel followed the first two, declaring in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and takes the mark on his forehead or his hand, 14:10 that person will also drink of the wine of God’s anger that has been mixed undiluted in the cup of his wrath, and he will be tortured with fire and sulfur in front of the holy angels and in front of the Lamb. 14:11 And the smoke from their torture will go up forever and ever, and those who worship the beast and his image will have no rest day or night, along with anyone who receives the mark of his name.”


15:2 Then I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and his image and the number of his name. They were standing by the sea of glass, holding harps given to them by God. 15:3 They sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb:


“Great and astounding are your deeds,

Lord God, the All-Powerful!

Just and true are your ways,

King over the nations!

15:4 Who will not fear you, O Lord,

and glorify your name, because you alone are holy?


All nations will come and worship before you

for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

20:7 Now when the thousand years are finished, Satan will be released from his prison 20:8 and will go out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to bring them together for the battle. They are as numerous as the grains of sand in the sea. 20:9 They went up on the broad plain of the earth and encircled the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and devoured them completely. 20:10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet are too, and they will be tormented there day and night forever and ever.


20:11 Then I saw a large white throne and the one who was seated on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. 20:12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. Then books were opened, and another book was opened – the book of life. So the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to their deeds. 20:13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each one was judged according to his deeds. 20:14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death – the lake of fire. 20:15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, that person was thrown into the lake of fire.


21:22 Now I saw no temple in the city, because the Lord God – the All-Powerful – and the Lamb are its temple. 21:23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God lights it up, and its lamp is the Lamb. 21:24 The nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will bring their grandeur into it. 21:25 Its gates will
never be closed during the day (and there will be no night there). 21:26 They will bring the grandeur and the wealth of the nations into it, 21:27 but nothing ritually unclean will ever enter into it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or practices falsehood, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

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derek leman

posted January 4, 2010 at 8:32 am

I will say that teaching through Revelation showed me that some of the older, cynical views of divine mercy I had heard from Revelation were baseless. There is a common teaching that those who take the mark are hopelessly doomed forever. Yet I noticed that repentance and forgiveness are still being preached in Revelation 18:4.
Yes, even those who have worshipped the Beast can repent and turn to God. That’s more radical mercy than I had heard before. God turns the impenitent even later than many think possible.
Derek Leman

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posted January 4, 2010 at 8:41 am

I agree that when you connect the OT prophetic literature, particularly Isaiah, with the NT apocalyptic, particularly Revelation, there is a sort of universalism in the treatment of “the nations”: i.e., that all “the nations” universally will recognize who God is and worship Him. However, in the ANE context of the OT literature and the Second Temple context of the NT literature, I’m not convinced that this “worship” will in every case be the joyful response of redeemed citizens of the Kingdom. Much of the imagery in fact seems to be martial — the defeated and humiliated foes of the true King being forced to acknowledge him. There is also the common missiological notion that all the “nations” (or “people groups”) will be represented by some of the redeemed in heaven.
Whatever you make of the “forever” in Rev. 20, it seems passingly difficult to me to make the final judgment pictured there into something redemptive.

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posted January 4, 2010 at 9:21 am

@ 2 Doperdeck,
It’s been a while since I read it but I believe Parry addresses the question of forced worship by asking questions of what it means to worship. If God is consistent throughout the OT and NT in rejecting worship that “goes through the motions” but isn’t a fundamental adoration at the center of the will/heart, why would he change at the end to accept begrudging tribute?
Another way to phrase it, can worship ever be anything but the joyous response of the redeemed?
Or, if obedience is better than sacrifice, how can anyone worship without being a follower of the Lord Jesus?

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posted January 4, 2010 at 10:55 am

@ 3 Richard: I hear you, but look specifically at our proof-text here, Rev. 15:3-4. It is about “the nations” finally acknowledging that Yahweh is the true God. It’s a song of victory over the enemies of Yahweh and His people. There is a sort of “worship” that is borne out of dreadful recognition as well as a sort of “worship” that flows from glad acceptance. In fact, isn’t there an aspect of dreadful recognition always present even in our worship as Jesus-followers who have tasted God’s grace?

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posted January 4, 2010 at 11:04 am

I don’t deny the “dreadful” aspect (i.e. fear of the Lord and his majesty) but that seems to be different than begrudgingly admitting defeat because they’ve been overpowered. I’m not sure that it’s able to be separated from the joyful response of the redeemed.
Especially because they’re response is in response to God’s righteous acts. Wouldn’t his ultimate righteous act be the judgment and mercy of the cross? Doesn’t grasping that compel and transform the hardest hearts?

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John W Frye

posted January 4, 2010 at 11:23 am

I am with David (#2) on the use of “all nations” in Revelation. We need not conclude that every individual within all nations is eventually, though painfully redeemed.
And what about the imagery of the books–apparently books of Death (though not called that exactly) and “the book of life.” Why all this book-keeping if we all are redeemed in the end? Busy work?
Thirdly, I tripped over the initial logic that with (eternal) hell the punishment does not fit the crime. This locks God into “an eye for an eye” model of justice. Yes, we celebrate that God’s mercy triumphs over judgment but not without a very real repentant response from human beings. Who are we that we can know specifically and assuredly that being created with Eikon-of-God-status does not render us extremely vulnerable to eternal consequences for entrenched rebellion against the One of whom we are Eikons? There is more to human beings than pure finitude. I think the universalistic view while compassionate is merely hopeful and not substantial. Stretching the category of God’s love, amazing and marvelous as it is, to render redeemed those who entrenched, unrepentant humans does not make Jesus’ atoning work more appealing, but pitifully weak. It takes hell to get some to repent. I don’t buy it…though I want to keep learning.

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Gregory MacDonald

posted January 4, 2010 at 11:51 am

I don’t see the language of ‘worship’ used in Revelation for a dreadful resognition of one’s just doom. The damned do not worship: they weep.
It might be that one can use systematic theology to propose an account of ‘worship-as-a-recognition-of-one’s-just-pubishment’ but this is to use the langauge differently from the way it is used in Revelation. Or so I think.
John (#6),
what do you make of the fact that ‘the nations’ in Revelation are always distinguished from the church? The church are people called “out of every nation” and the nations are those who oppose Christ and the church. Yet in Rev 15 and Rev 21 it is “the nations” that come to worship. In the symbolic universe of Revelation we cannot mistake the referent (unless our theology requires us to do so – [evil laugh]).
Now you are right that “all nations” does not require every individual in every nation so this does not ‘prove’ full blown universalism (I say as much in the book). However, does it not, at very least, suggest that the majority of those in the sinful nations will come to worship, washed in the blood of the Lamb AFTER suffering eschatological punishment? That in itself would be an interesting conclusion.

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posted January 4, 2010 at 11:58 am

Stretching the category of God’s love, amazing and marvelous as it is, to render redeemed those who entrenched, unrepentant humans does not make Jesus’ atoning work more appealing, but pitifully weak.
But McDonald/Parry, Talbott and other evangelical universalists specifically deny that salvation extends to the unrepentant. Talbott’s book, “The Inescapable Love of God” has a nice section on hell and repentance and what God may do to get those in hell to repent and acknowledge and accept His love.

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Chad Holtz

posted January 4, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Great topic!
I recently wrote a paper in my Revelation class on universalism.

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James Goetz

posted February 6, 2010 at 5:17 pm

I’ve dilligently studied and prayed about Revelation. And I see “the kings of the earth” getting slaughtered by the sword while opposing the return of Jesus Christ (Revelation 19:19-21) before “the kings of the earth” enjoy the bliss in the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21:24). I conclude that John the Revelator taught quasi-universalism. And I developed this idea into an article on my blog, which I linked to this reply.

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