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.
(2) Both the severe judgment in 20,11-15 and the extreme theocentrism in 21,1-8 could wrongly suggest the absence of human action and responsibility. As elsewhere in Revelation, the radical separation between bad and good appears to be fixed. One might suspect a sort of determinism, a certain predestination, in these visions. Moreover, in the book of Revelation little or nothing is said about the conversion of the inhabitants of the earth. Time and again the absence of repentance is recorded53. Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy (22,11).
John, however, is more nuanced. First of all, one should remember that in 20,1121,8 John describes the end of history, i.e., final damnation and eternal salvation. Then changes will no longer be possible. Moreover, significant details in the text certainly point to human accountability. The dead will be judged according to their works (20,12d and 13c). One has to remain faithful and to conquer in order to receive the inheritance (21,7a). Before the end compromise, infidelity and all sorts of sin remain possible.
Johns addressees are the Christians in Asia. The depiction of the future judgment is certainly also intended as warning and encouragement, as threat and exhortation during the present life on earth.
(3) What John announces in 20,1120,8 final judgments and ultimate blessings is not seen in a distant future. After 21,922,5 the interpreting angel says to John: Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book; for the time is near (22,10). In 22,12 Jesus speaks of his return: See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyones work (cf. 22,20). As is commonly assumed, in the book of Revelation the linear time-line of the prophecies is more than once interrupted by proleptic scenes (cf., e.g., 7,9-17; 11,16-18; 16,5-7). The future thus becomes present to some extent, all the more so since the very announcement of a near future by itself heightens its impact on the present. But above all there is the Christ-event; Christ has become the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth (1,6; cf. the Lamb in 5,6-14). Salvation is an already present reality in history, on earth. The servants of God in Asia experience not only the not yet but without a doubt also this already54.
Modern Christians no longer look forward to the imminent return of their Lord; most of them cannot be convinced that the end is unmistakably near. But they can and should look forward to their personal encounter with the Lord at the moment of their own death. Perhaps, in a sense different from that in Revelation, this encounter may be called a first resurrection. Like the souls of those who have been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they have given we, too, hope to find ourselves under the altar in heaven (cf. 6,9), at death to enter immediately and safely the city by the gates (22,14) and become inhabitants of the new Jerusalem. All this does not, of course, exclude the parousia of the Lord and the final judgment whatever it means and the gathering in of all the saints, the end of the age and the consummate fulfillment of history.
No annihilation perhaps but a transformation of the cosmos, not only Gods intervention but also human responsible activity, and most probably not a near end but a still open future for human beings whose life span in world history is but a brief breathing space: the conclusion to each of these reflections refers to the need of daily care for this earth and its inhabitants, as well as to the testimony to Jesus and the proclamation of the word of God (cf. 20,4).