The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The nations and the kings do WHAT?

Hey Jason! So, I’m reading Robin Parry’s The Evangelical Universalist right now and I’m wondering about those verses in Revelation 21 about the nations and the kings of the earth:

“22 I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. 24 The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. 25 Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. 26 And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. 27 Nothing evil[f] will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.”

How have traditionalists interpreted these words historically? How would a universalist respond to those interpretations?

I myself am skeptical to the idea that ‘the nations’ refers to a host of peoples including all the individuals within that group, but then of course there is the specific reference to the kings of the earth coming in with their glory, which possibly clears some things up. Other thoughts I had:

  • Some traditionalists could interpret verse 24 (and indeed the wording itself) about the kings of the earth to mean that they’re simply coming to the gates and handing their glory over to the city and that they are not actually walking in.

  • Traditionalists could argue that the ‘nations’ simply mean that people FROM every nation are represented in the heavenly host. Parry argues directly against this in his book on pg. 112, but it seems to me the verses he cites (5:9, 7:9) could actually be used as evidence to the contrary. For example, in 5:9 it is indicated that the people from every nation are being ransomed by the blood of Jesus, and from there it could be argued that these standing before the throne are the TOTAL number of those that will be redeemed, and Jesus died not necessarily to save the nations in the sense of ‘all without exception’ but ‘all without distinction’. It could also be said that this definition of ‘the nations’ determines the definition of the ‘nations’ that are said to be dwelling in the light of the New Jerusalem.

I am a student in his early twenties who attends an evangelical university. I’m open to discussion and even the possibility that UR might be true, but after reading a few books and many articles I’ve realized that I haven’t fully paid my dues to my upbringing (i.e. I went on a craze through universalism without beginning with a through critique of the tradition I was taught and defending it first. I just assumed it was intolerable). This realization is reflected in my questions :slight_smile: I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t want to be easily convinced by anything. I’m skeptical about believing in universalism because I don’t think we should accept teachings just because they sound nice (although some versions of universalism could very well inspire terror)

Blessings, thanks and Shalom, :slight_smile:



Those are some accurate non-universalist interpretations (which also work for annihilationism, as I’ll show in a minute). And yes, it’s not a good idea to dump this or that non-universalist eschatology simply because the idea sounds intolerable. Although, my Teacher C. S. Lewis (in the sense that he honored MacDonald as his own Teacher, so I’m following in their rabbinic school, so to speak :ugeek: ) used to insist that “hell is intolerable” while talking about how people in hell choose to tolerate it after all, so that he could tolerate it as a doctrine after all. :wink: So there’s intolerable, and there’s intolerable, apparently. :laughing:

Don’t let anyone on any side of the aisle (of any aisle!) tell you the answer is easy and simple to get to. We’re talking about the Bible (and about metaphysical logic). It is freakishly detailed with lots of different kinds of details. No one should quickly come to a conclusion about what it’s teaching or not teaching in any direction.

So, keeping that in mind, and thus also in mind that trying to figure out the meaning of highly poetic dream imagery is not necessarily going to be easy, even by other Biblical standards :wink: : what, if anything, can be systematically analyzed about that passage?

1.) Are they entering into the city or not? The translation you gave is accurate to the language in Greek: they’re entering into the city where no one still fondling their sins can enter, such as those who are still practice idolatry and dishonesty – not unless their names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

The Greek at the end there however is a bit unusual; it’s more like a predictive condition. In English it would be more accurately translated something like, “not until their names are written”. This has some bearing on what’s happening toward the end of Rev 22 – since those currently outside the city are being evangelized to repent of their sins and come in, and they’re being at least compared to those in the lake of fire outside the city who are still fondling their sins. This is so very obvious that the only way not to get post-mortem salvation out of it is to argue that the evangelical call is not in the same ‘scene’ as those still outside the city after the descent of the NJ (but the Bride is the NJ, and the exhortation is clearly to come into the NJ, so it’s hard to suddenly dichotomize the call as though it cannot apply to after the judgment but only before the judgment); or to argue that the call simply always fails or is only some kind of useful legal fiction to go through the motions because that’s what good people do. I used to hear both kinds of interpretation when growing up (RevJohn interpretation being very popular in Southern Baptist churches since the late 70s, to say the least); it only occurred to me much later that they cancel each other out very neatly, and that the evidence each theory acknowledges points to post-mortem evangelism and salvation.

Anyway. Whether the Greek at the end of 21:27 is a predictive condition, also has some connection to who those kings of the earth are entering into the city, following the light of Christ. But they aren’t only coming up to the gates and throwing something in (their glory? their honor? the nations who are following them?), and then plopping forever outside or being annihilated afterward. They’re entering the city.

2.) Are the kings of the nations saved or not? Relatedly, are they are thus being saved or not? Well, yes, if they’re following the light of Christ and entering where no one can enter unless/until their names have been entered in the Lamb’s Book of Life, then they’re dang well saved. This is so obvious that you’re the first person I’ve ever heard of who considered a theory that they were only going up to the gates but not going in, only sending in their… whatever. (Not that I’m complaining; I very much admire the creative option of the attempt!) But they’d have to be sending in their own honor and glory, and that in itself would be (by Ancient Near Middle Eastern standards, and Mediterranean standards more broadly) an action of true loyalty declaration, like casting down one’s own crown at the feet of the high king or emperor (to borrow a not-incidentally connected image from earlier in RevJohn!) Ditto for the kings sending in the nations who were following them to the City, too. Ditto for the nations bringing their own honor and glory into the NJ.

3.) What was the relevant former status, if any, of those kings of the nations? That phrasing is only ever used in RevJohn elsewhere to talk about the worst human rebel leaders (under the Unholy Trinity, if any of them are human, as I expect at least two of the three are supposed to be.) The last time we saw them, before the descent of the NJ, they had been slain by the shepherding iron rod of Christ (using imagery that fits surprisingly well with the end of Psalm 23 by the way!) Who had scattered their bodies for the birds to feed on.

If even they are coming in, that not only counts as testimony for post-mortem salvation, probably even out of the Lake of Fire (since it’s hard to imagine they of all people didn’t go into the LoF judgment along with their unholy masters, and John says earlier that even mere minions wearing the mark, whatever that actually means, go into the LoF judgment, so again kings slain in their ultimate rebellion would be slated for that); it also points toward a greater-includes-the-lesser comparison. If even they are coming in eventually, that points to the totality of lesser sinners coming in, too, such as the nations who followed them in their rebellions.

And the prophetic OT imagery being drawn on here, confirms that rebel kings who once prosecuted God’s righteous people, are being reconciled with them and back into loyalty to God. Back in the OT imagery, that might only involve those rebel kings who happened to survive the coming of YHWH visibly (as in a millennial reign theory before the general resurrection and final judgment – for which I think there is quite a bit of testimony even in the OT, by the way). RevJohn makes it abundantly clear that rebel kings should not be expected to survive the coming of YHWH visibly, nor the zorching to come at the end of the visible millennial reign (if RevJohn 20 is talking about that).

Now, all that put together, so far as it goes, could still be short of universal salvation in a couple of ways. Maybe the greater-includes-the-lesser comparison is only a general expectation to which there will still be exceptions, some people who don’t follow the kings into the New Jerusalem after all – or those people have been annihilated already, and everyone not annihilated is coming in. Or, along a line more like what Iraeneus seemed to be teaching, maybe all humans will be saved even post-mortem (and post LoF judgment) but the rebel angels won’t be, being annihilated instead perhaps.

But that’s one way a Christian universalist could reply to Rev 21 and to non-universalist critiques of it. Yes, it’s the kings of the earth who were previously slain and sent into the LoF, and they aren’t impenitent dishonest idolaters anymore. No, it is the same “kings of the earth”; the phraseology (in an early RevJohn chapter) about some or all Christians being kings and priests is quite different and has a different topical thrust. Yes, of course following the light of Christ into the NJ and bringing one’s own honor and glory into the city, is a picture of them being saved, just like slaking one’s thirst and washing one’s dirty robes in the river of life which flows out of the never-closed gates. If even those kings are going in, leading the people who follow them, then we should expect post-mortem evangelization to be widely successful. No, that doesn’t mean that anyone can just traipse into the New Jerusalem (allegorically speaking or otherwise) on their own terms whenever they want: people who continue to impenitently fondle their sins and other idolatrous rebellions must remain outside, so long as they continue to do that. But they can obviously repent and come in, too; even if the evangelical activity of the Bride (the NJ itself) and the Spirit are discounted later, the light of Christ is leading them in, including the rebel kings who had themselves been slain by Christ as rebels.

Hi, Jason and company. While digging around the Internet, I came across ‘We’re the Lord’s elected few, let all the rest be damned’. It says this:

Has anyone ever encountered this hymn verse or can shed any light historically?

That’s if RevJohn, or the end of it anyway, is supposed to have a legitimate futurist interpretation. Some other possible non-universalist interpretations, then, and possible universalist replies.

1.) The full preterist challenge: RevJohn isn’t at all about final judgment, it’s only about the coming fall of Jerusalem. Consequently, it can’t be testifying to post-mortem salvation either, much less about universal salvation. (This is NT Wright’s position more-or-less, for example.)

Reply 1: full preterism is bosh. RevJohn is not only about the fall of Jerusalem, not even primarily so. It is, at least in some significant part, about a punitive judgment coming upon all people, which hasn’t yet arrived, and about a resurrection of all people (and a restoration of at least some large number of people), which also hasn’t yet arrived. Obviously this is a dispute about larger questions of RevJohn interpretation, though, not about whether it testifies to annihilation, universalism, or eternal conscious torment (or even a mix of anni/ECT).

Reply 2: RevJohn is indeed fully preteristic but still talks about universal salvation occasionally: there are preteristic universalists as well as non-universalists (and vice versa), and some of them do adduce testimony from RevJohn. Obviously this is a dispute between full preterists, and since I’m not a full preterist I’d rather not try to represent their arguments.

2.) The historical allegory challenge: RevJohn isn’t at all about the final judgment, it’s only a portrait of the long-term history of the church in allegorical code. Consequently, it can’t be testifying to post-mortem salvation either, much less about universal salvation. (This was a common Protestant position against Catholicism, if only up to a point.)

Obviously this is another debate about how basically to interpret RevJohn, and universalists can go either way on that, too, i.e. “Yes, but it still testifies thematically…” or “No, it’s clearly talking sometimes about final judgment, and the history of the church after final judgment (which even its proponents often agree) and that gets us back to what it’s saying about final judgment.”

3.) The idealist challenge: RevJohn is only a portrait of the themes of church struggle throughout history. Etc. (A common position of RC theologians, though sometimes they’ve gone for the long-term coded church history theory.)

Ditto, but with the extra problem of trying to make out that this doesn’t somehow include post-mortem themes of the church.

Whether or not the kings of the earth and the nations may be eliminated by any of these theories from consideration as testimony for post-mortem salvation, is dubious even for full preterism: full preterists often have to elide into heavy idealism to try to explain parts of RevJohn which, to be blunt, just don’t fit full preterism; but then those ideals might also involve post-mortem judgment and salvation, and we’re back to what the kings represent.

4.) The anti-canon challenge: RevJohn shouldn’t even be in the canon. This position is held (not counting sceptical liberal poofles :wink: ) by some ancient trinitarian communities, though the Syrian church is somewhat split on it. (Including RevJohn and some other typical canon texts, or not, is the major difference between the Aramaic Peshitta and Aramaic Peshitto (though I can never recall offhand which is which. :blush: )

Obviously if it shouldn’t be canonical, it can’t count in any direction for anything. But again it’s a debate on something very different than what it means.

No; but I’m not sure what it has to do with the kings of the earth at the end of RevJohn either. :mrgreen:

Randy, is this site the source of the information you already have about the song?

This is correct. It is the source link, Paidion.

Heb 12:22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. See to it you do not refuse Him who is speaking.

Isaiah 2:3 And many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways And that we may walk in His paths.” For the law will go forth from Zion And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

Heb 11:9 By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:10 For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

Revelation, as I see it, is primarily to the church(the ecclesia, the universal body of Christ) in this age. It begins with Jesus walking among the lampstands holding the stars in His hand. He repeats, “Let the one who has ears to hear, hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches”. IMO the rest is word pictures that are prophetically alive in every generation(the testimony of Jesus Christ is the spirit of prophecy), revealing truths about the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus that are always relative “Today, if you hear His voice”, in the “Now”, altho some of them are ultimately and historically fulfilled at the end of this age or beyond. It closes with “The Spirit and the Bride say Come” and some glimpses of ages to come.

The Bride “coming down out of heaven”, imo, is speaking of the revelation of the Heb 12 “great assembly” coming forth in the earth, can be metaphoric and prophetic and historic all at once, even as many prophecies of Messiah were. What we call “revival” or “reformation” are examples of periods of time were the Bride was “coming down out of heaven” and the glory of the Lord was flowing into the earth and the kings and many different people flowed into it in brief periods, like prototypical “wedding feasts”, foreshadowing and preceding the eventual great “wedding feast”. IMO the earth will be covered with the glory of God as the water covers the sea because the city of God will be set on a hill and all the nations will stream to its light- the Heb 12 general assembly of the firstborn registered in heaven “upon this rock I will build my church”…“Upon this mountain He will swallow up the covering that is over all peoples.”

IMO these prophecies all transfer to the “one new man”, the “olive tree” of natural and grafted in branches, the "“Vine”- the New Jerusalem.** They are universalist because the Lord is setting the whole creation free from futility into the glorious liberty of the children of God-** (the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come”) through that which Abrham was searching for- a city with foundations, “Beautiful for situation,** the joy of the whole earth is Mt Zion in the far north, the city of the great King.**”(Ps 48)

He is doing it through the dispensation of the fulness of times in ever widening concentric rings(abraham, Israel, the church, then the world). Jerusalem is the place of the dwelling of His feet, spirtually in the heavenly realms, in the Great Assembly, and in every generation as it unfolds more fully towards the consummation age- so it is also futurist and historical. “I will make you enemies a footstool for your feet”… “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell among the sons of Israel forever."(ez 43)

Many prophecies concerning Zion and Jerusalem were metaphorical, prophetic and futurist/historical all at once- some speaking to the immediate spiritual disposition of the people of God(historical), while at the same time speaking to the wider issue of the ultimate spiritual disposition of all people of God in any time(futuristic) or though out all time and beyond(metaphorical). They are all spiritual prophecies whatever the tense, revealing the heart and mind of God to anyone “with ears”.

The Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain;
A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow,
And refined, aged wine.
And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples,
Even the veil which is stretched over all nations.
He will swallow up death for all time,
And the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces,

And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth;
For the Lord has spoken.
And it will be said in that day,
“Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.”
For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain(Isaiah 25)

Psalm 48

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
In the city of our God, His holy mountain.
Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth,
Is Mount Zion in the far north,
The city of the great King.
God, in her palaces,
Has made Himself known as a stronghold.
For, lo, the kings assembled themselves,
They passed by together.
They saw it, then they were amazed;
They were terrified, they fled in alarm.
Panic seized them there,
Anguish, as of a woman in childbirth.
With the east wind
You break the ships of Tarshish.
As we have heard, so have we seen
In the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God;
God will establish her forever. Selah.


Apologizes for the late reply.

Thank you for your insights and knowledge. I was not actually trying to argue the point about the kings of the earth dropping off their clean laundry or something like that, I was simply pointing out that it could be argued that way by a traditionalist. I have read different translations that say the nations will bring their glory ‘to’ it but not ‘into’ it which is where I thought that argument could arise, but you quite blew it out of the water I’d say :laughing:

I will agree with you on 1. Yes, they are entering the city (the city into which NOTHING impure enters). Now, a traditionalist might say something like


Or something like that.

Needless to say, I find this argument rather faulty. I will agree with you that the last time we ever heard of the kings of the earth, indeed, was when they were reduced to entrees for the birds. This evidence, coupled with the passage later on that says the leaves of the tree of life will be used to heal the nations (Rev 22:2c, gives me good reason to hope that there is some sort of post-mortem opportunity.

However, I do have another concern with this final portion of revelation. I often hear arguments in favor of universalism that revolve around this passage:

12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

It is often noted that Jesus says that those who wash their robes are given access to the T.O.L and the NJ (V. 14). The interpretation is then reinforced by saying that it is the Spirit AND the Bride saying 'Come!" from inside the city. However, it seems to me that after verse 15 Jesus seems to move on to summarizing the scene. It just seems like verse 16 cuts off the image, as if Jesus has projected John back to the Island of Patmos and is giving an epilogue. So the Spirit and the Bride saying “Come!” could just mean a this-world call to repentance vs. a post-mortem invitation. What thoughts do you have on this? I’ve struggled with the logic of this passage being universalistic ever since I read Her Gates will Never be Shut by Brad Jersak (although he raises several other verrrrryyyy suggestive points that could lead to universalist interpretations in the prophetic books of the OT.

Thanks! :slight_smile:

Blessings, joy and Shalom,


p.s The traditionalist rant above was inspired from your series of reviews on Rob Bell’s Love Wins. I found them to be most entertaining. Appreciate your wit and humor :smiley:

Sorry for the delay; I didn’t realize there was a post here, somehow.

I’m not going to say verse 17 has nothing to do with present evangelism, because any evangelism is principally equivalent: it would be ridiculous for me to say that the invitation of the Spirit and the Bride, to the thirsty, to take the free gift of the water of life, isn’t an offer currently being made.

However, the Bride is a term that RevJohn had recently connected to being the New Jerusalem itself, or inhabiting the New Jerusalem (or both in different ways of looking at the same condition). And verse 14 is topically very much connected to verse 17: they aren’t washing their robes anywhere other than in the same freely given water of life which flows out of the never-closed gates of the NJ, and so obtaining permission or the right to go through the gates into the city (however analogical or literal that imagery may turn out to be). Who is it who is outside the city? Outside are the dogs etc. from verse 15.

Now, obviously the situation of verses 14, 15, and 17, already apply and are in operation today (and back in the day of RevJohn’s composition, and back beyond that to the days of Jesus’ ministry if not even farther in some ways). And those verses are interwoven with things like verse 12 and 16. But those verses are also topically connected directly to the relationship of the New Jerusalem and Christ to those still outside the city, whether impenitent and not coming in, or penitent and coming in.

And that situation isn’t only something already happening now; John is seeing that it is a situation that will somehow become more obvious in the future after the visible coming of Christ and the lake of fire judgment and the final overthrow of the Beast and the False Prophet and the Dragon and the Kings of the Earth (whatever all that may involve).

So it isn’t a question of whether those things (at least in regard to evangelism) are already happening now: they are definitely already happening now. The question is whether they are also happening then; and the themes and imagery (like the previously rebel kings of the earth repenting and coming in, which has to happen after they’re fed to the birds by Christ, whatever that means, which clearly hasn’t happened yet – and sure hasn’t happened yet on a fully preterist reading of RevJohn :wink: ) do indicate these things will also be happening then except more obviously happening (and more obviously than evangelism after the fall of Jerusalem which seems no more obviously obvious in any way than before the fall of Jerusalem. Besides which, rebel Jerusalem is threatened in RevJohn but is rescued by YHWH and doesn’t fall after all, which is a major evangelical witness to the rebels in Jerusalem. Which is also an OT prophetic theme.) Just like now, no one can enter the NJ unless and until (the conditional is actually there in the Greek though usually not translated as such in English) their names are written in the Lamb’s book of life – which other imagery indicates is equivalent to accepting the freely given water coming out from the never closed gates of the city (for slaking the thirst and washing the robes clean) just like the light of Christ by which the penitent kings of the earth will be walking and bringing those who follow them into the NJ.

If it’s both now and then, that also fits with the somewhat ecstatic piecemeal fashion in which the revelation ends, with Christ saying “Look I am coming soon” (which hasn’t happened yet in the sense He’s talking about) and “I have sent my angel to give you this testimony” which is presently happening at the time of the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John. The future and the present (and the past, compared to us coming afterward) are being combined in that way at the end; and that’s true of future, present, and past evangelism, too: the “eonian evangel” as the angel was shown proclaiming earlier over the climactic wrath of God.

That clears it up a little. Thanks JP once again :slight_smile: