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.
daughters of God, divinely renewed and transformed. Such an attractive, triumphant view of the eschatological future must bring encouragement to those who still suffer on earth. God himself, however, in a rather astonishing way, at once adds a severe warning: the place of the compromising unfaithful, the lot of sinners, will be in the lake of fire, which is the second death.
The compact vision of 21,1-8 is then further elaborated in 21,922,5 by the angels expansive interpretation which, of course, maintains and even further heightens the climax.
2. Hermeneutical Reflections
There is hopefully no longer any need today to warn the alert reader against a literal, fundamentalist interpretation of the whole imagery of the last two visions. In this concluding paragraph attention will be given to three problematic items: the lake of fire, theocentrism and the expectation of an imminent end.
(1) In 21,4b it is said that (physical) death will be no more. This means its definitive disappearance and annihilation. The same may apply to the misery mentioned in v. 4a and 4c and to the inimical sea of v. 1c. But this is likely not the case as far as the first heaven and the first earth in v. 1b are concerned. John possibly sees the new heaven and new earth (v. 1a) as a renewal of the old, not as a completely new creation (cf. v. 5b). And what about all those thrown into the lake of fire: false prophet, beast and devil, as well as the people not written in the book of life? According to Revelation they do not appear to be annihilated. They will be tormented in hell forever; their damnation is eternal.
A number of apocalyptic data should be interpreted in due manner. Hell is not to be localized. Fire and bodily pain are not to be taken as real. Hell must be thought of as a state of complete frustration, absence of love, definite separation from God. Should hermeneutics go further? Nowadays, more than before and notwithstanding the traditional creed, critical Christians not only doubt the existence of devil and demons but also seriously ask themselves whether total lack of love in a human being will not end in his or her non-existence, a second death, and, moreover, how one can imagine a merciful God who in his justice condemns human beings, his creatures, to an everlasting doom. However, a study of Revelation alone can hardly endorse such radical criticisms52.