SOME>> Is Revelation 21-22 about The Church, The Last Age, or Eternity?
ME>> Excellent question. Revelation 21 begins,
1) I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth have passed away, and the sea is no more. 2) I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. 3) I heard a loud voice out of heaven saying, "Behold, God's dwelling is with people, and he will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4) He will wipe away from them every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more. The first things have passed away."
5) He who sits on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." He said, "Write, for these words of God are faithful and true." 6) He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give freely to him who is thirsty from the spring of the water of life. 7) He who overcomes, I will give him these things. I will be his God, and he will be my son. 8) But for the cowardly, unbelieving, sinners, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their part is in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."
Revelation 21:1-8 (WEB)
Most Christians understand this Scripture as the commencement of eternity after the final judgment. However, some Universalist Christians understand Revelation 21-22 as instead the final age or eon before eternity. Others from a Full Preterist viewpoint even understand these chapters to be about the New Covenant Church and not about either final judgment or eternity.
Full Preterists have concluded that all Old and New Testament prophecy is already completely fulfilled. The term Preterism comes from the Latin praeter, meaning "past." Thankfully Preterists have observed that there are New Testament prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. that are in fact past. Unfortunately Full Preterists have gone too far in concluding that all prophecy is fulfilled including the return of Christ and the resurrection. They miss the "blessed hope" and promise of Christ in Acts 1:11, John 14:3, and Titus 2:13. Thus they interpret the images in Revelation 21-22 as only about the Church during the present New Covenant Age.
Alternatively some Universalist Christians understand Revelation 21-22 not as the beginning of eternity, but instead as the final age of purification for mankind, after which salvation is then realized. The final judgment described in Matthew 25:31-46 and Revelation 20:11-15 appears to sentence unbelieving mankind to the second death in the Lake of Fire. Yet, since 1 Corinthians 15:55 promises the end of death they conclude that there is also salvation from the second death. Thus if human beings are sentenced to the Lake of Fire, the common Universalist position must find proof that they are safely extracted from the Lake of Fire later. To accomplish this they consider Revelation 21-22 as a chronological account of an age beyond the Church Age. Revelation 22:12-17 (WEB) is then understood as further appeal for repentance after the Great White Throne Judgment to those suffering in the Lake of Fire.
12) "Behold, I come quickly. My reward is with me, to repay to each man according to his work. 13) I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. 14) Blessed are those who do his commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city. 15) Outside are the dogs, the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. 16) I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify these things to you for the assemblies. I am the root and the offspring of David; the Bright and Morning Star."
17) The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" He who hears, let him say, "Come!" He who is thirsty, let him come. He who desires, let him take the water of life freely.
This common Universalist understanding seems strained to me. First, there is not one other Scripture that suggests an age of fallen existence beyond the Church Age. Instead Revelation 21-22 paints a summary picture of both our glorious eternity when every tear is wiped away and our present glorious church. Thus, I join most Christians in understanding the Bible's final chapters to speak about the commencement of eternity after the Great White Throne Judgment. Consider, I Corinthians 15:55 (WEB) says "Death, where is your sting? Hades, where is your victory?" Paul is forecasting the end of Hades and death as also recorded in Revelation 20:14 and 21:4. This is the promise of the end of death and the end of punishment in Hades for mankind! However, there is no mention of the end of the second death for those not listed in the Book of Life.
So how then can I hold to the Universal salvation of all mankind? What is missed by traditional Christians and also by many Universalist Christians is that the Lake of Fire is not prepared for mankind, but is prepared for the Devil and his angels as indicated in Matthew 25:41. Fallen angels are held for judgment, extracted from Tartarus / Thalassa, and are also present on that Great Day as shown in 2 Peter 2:4, Jude 6, and Revelation 20:13. The fallen angels are the goats on Jesus' left, not mankind!
So I agree with those who see elements of the New Covenant Church in the images of Revelation 21-22. The angel says to John, "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb!" (Revelation 21:9 WEB). The angel also shows John the river of the water of life and the tree of life which is for "the healing of the nations" (Revelation 22:2). These things appear to be a picture of the Church and healing grace during the Church age. What healing would be needed in glory? Yet, the New Heavens and New Earth also promise in Revelation 21:4 (WEB),
He will wipe away from them every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more. The first things have passed away.
I also agree that Revelation 21-22 explains our glorious eternity when every tear is wiped away. Yet, we do not need to look too far to see that tears are not yet wiped away. The Old Covenant has passed away, but the effects of the fall still remain. We are too often faced with the painful realities of death, mourning, crying, and pain. The final chapters of Revelation give us both hope and help. The description of eternal glory with every tear wiped away gives us hope, Revelation 21:4. The description of the New Covenant church also gives us help until Jesus returns, Revelation 22:7-21. God's Word concludes with hope for the now and the not yet, but soon. The end of Old Covenant Jerusalem and the birth of the New Covenant Jerusalem, the Church, brings hope now beginning in the first century. The victory of Christ reigning in every situation brings hope now to Christians of any time period. The promise of glory in the New Heavens and New Earth in Christ's presence when every tear is finally wiped away brings hope for the not yet, but Christ is coming soon.
Jesus himself introduces the Revelation of the past, present, and future saying, "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty," (Revelation 1:8 WEB).