Universalism in the Book of Revelation


#1

Among the universalist motifs in Revelation, these 2 texts stand out:
(1) Implicit universalist themes in NT Christian hymnody continue in Revelation 5:13:

"Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To the One who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’’”

Again, are we to assume that the damned worship God and Christ only to await a lever to be pulled that opens the gates of darkness and sucks them down, screaming back to Hell? Presumably their praise and worship are expressions of gratitude for their ultimate redemption. But how do John’s visions perceive the mechanism of their redemption?

(2) Rev. 21 portrays the descent of the New Jerusalem which never actually lands on Earth and which is therefore clearly an image of Heaven. Its gates remain eternally open:

“Its gates will never be shut by day–and there is no night there (21:25).”

This image of eternally open gates implies traffic coming and going. But coming and going for what purpose? On what missions? The answer must surely be sought from John’s vision of what lies outside the gates: “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood (22:15).”
So the traffic coming and going through the eternally open gates involves soul retrievals of the repentant damned, who are destined to join the heavenly chorus of 5:13.

The next 2 Christian apocalypses after Revelation reinforce this glorious hope in their depiction of the reaction of deceased saints to the absence of their damned loved ones from Heaven. These saints intercede for soul retrievals or outright reclamation of the damned from Hell and their petitions are granted (see Apocalypse of Peter 14 (125 AD); Sibylline Oracles II, 331-335 (150 AD)).

John’s imagery implies this glorious but never stated principle for God’s fulfillment of His redemptive purpose: Heaven cannot be Heaven for the redeemed whose essence is love as long as they remain aware of loved ones languishing in Hell. Your success is my success, but your failure is my failure.

More on universalism in Revelation in a future post.

1st resurrection (19:5)
2nd death (21:8)


#2

What are your thoughts on how early in Revelation this happens? It happens well before people are cast into the lake of fire. I don’t know what to make of the fact that universal worship is reported prior to punishment.


#3

Qaz,

You pose an excellent question that is hard to answer. Let me suggest 2 relevant issues:
(1) Revelation is a very angry book because it is written in a context of John’s exile to Patmos and in a context of both Roman and Jewish persecution. The seer’s longing for revenge and vindication may well blind him to some of the positive implications of his auditory and visionary experiences.

(2) An important aspect of (1) is the fact that John does not complete his expected sequence: first death (obvious) --first resurrection (19:6)–2nd death (21:14)–2nd resurrection (?). Nowhere does John refer to being “raised up” for the Last Judgment (see 21;12). Perhaps the 2nd resurrection refers to being redemptively raised out of “the lake of fire” to enter the gates of the New Jerusalem or Heaven (21:25; cp. 22:15).


#4

I’m not sure if you’re acquainted with Jason Pratt on this forum. One time he told me it was characteristic of John to rearrange the order of events in his writings, and that John did that here.


#5

Qaz,

One of the most important distortions in 2nd-3rd century patristic thought is its tendency to merge apostolic figures with the same name into one figure. Thus, the apostle Philip gets identified as Philip the evangelist in Acts, Mary Magdalene gets identified as Martha’s sister Mary, who gets identified with the prostitute in Luke 7 who anoints Jesus with costly perfume just as she does. The net result? The erroneous tradition that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. John the son of Zebedee (1 of the 12) gets equated with John the Elder (a disciple, but not 1 of the 12) and John the Seer of Revelation, when in fact there are 3 different Johns. This conflation of names helps explain why John is reputed to live to a very old age, when Papias’s report that he died a martyr seems more reliable. John the Elder is the editor of the Fourth Gospel (see 2 John 1; 3 John 1) and, whatever the true identity of the Beloved Disciple in John, the scholarly consensus is that he is not John the son of Zebedee. For 20 years I have been collecting evidence that the Beloved Disciple is in fact Jesus’ brother James, but that is a very big topic.