The Last Judgment
Revelation 20: 11-21:4
The last book to be added to the Christian Scriptures, Revelation is an apocalypse: a vision of
the end of the world. It developed further the tradition of Jewish apocalypse, which was very
popular in the first century CE. Very little in the imagery quoted below would have been
unfamiliar to a 1st Century pharisee. It has been read in all ages as an urgent announcement
of an imminent end to the world. Its urgency is meant as a warning to convert, but was
probably also intended as a source of comfort to those suffering under Roman persecution.
This excerpt contains the grand climax of the book when the dead are resurrected to face
judgment and be sent to Heaven or Hell. This scene was what most Medieval Christians saw
depicted in stone or paint as they entered their churches.
Revelation is generally thought of as a terrifying book, but which aspects of this passage seem
designed to give comfort to the reader?
Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; (1) the earth and the heaven fled
from his presence, and no place was found for them. (2)
And I saw the dead, great and small,
standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book
of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. And the
sea gave up the dead that were in it. Death and Hades (3) gave up the dead that were in them,
and all were judged according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown
into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was
not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed
away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, (4) coming down
out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud
voice from the throne saying,
"See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
They will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away."
(1) Jesus as judge. This appearance is what Christians refer to as the "Second
(2) The writer's imagery frequently reduces the cosmos to an insignificant scale before God's
(3) The Greek name for the land of the dead, used as a name for Hell.
(4) The radical transformation of the earth was also a standard feature of Jewish apocalypse,
as was the establishment of Jerusalem as the capitol of the Earth.
New Revised Standard Version
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This is an excerpt from Reading
About the World, Volume 1, edited by Paul Brians, Mary Gallwey, Douglas Hughes, Azfar Hussain, Richard Law, Michael Myers
Michael Neville, Roger Schlesinger, Alice Spitzer, and Susan Swan and published by
Harcourt Brace Custom Publishing.
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