Unveiling of Jesus Christ
The Concordant Version
And I perceived a new heaven and a new earth, for the former
heaven and the former earth pass away, and the sea is no more.
A GLANCE at the literary framework will show us that we have now arrived at the climax of the Unveiling of Jesus Christ. After the Introduction (Rev.1:1-3), we considered the Messages to the Ecclesias (Rev.1:4-3) in which He appears as Prophet. We have followed the Throne section (Rev.4:1-11:18), with its seals and trumpets and thunders, in which He is established as earth's Potentate. We have studied the Temple division (Rev.11:19-20:15), in which He becomes earth's Priest. The remaining two chapters are a reversal of this order. There is a short Temple division (Rev. 21), a brief Throne section (Rev.22:1-5), followed by another Message to the Ecclesias (Rev.22:6-17), and the formal Conclusion (Rev.22:18-21).
In traversing the Sierra Nevada or Snow Mountains, in California recently, we were graphically reminded of the structure of the Unveiling. At the point where we crossed, the range rises gradually to a pass with an elevation of nearly ten thousand feet. On the eastern side, however, it drops quickly to the lowlands. In ascending there are distinct zones of vegetation, from the grassy plains, the shrub-covered hills, and the mighty forests with giant trees which have been growing for the eon, to the bleak snow-capped peaks. In descending the order in which these come is reversed. From the rocky wastes we descended through forest glades and bushy hills down to the open country beyond.
So with our study of the Unveiling. We have reached its highest point and now drop swiftly back to the level at which we started. We have been in the highest, the Temple zone, so we continue our course, with our minds centered on God's worship (chapter 21). We descend to a brief Throne section in which the government of the new earth is put before us (22:1-5), to the Ecclesias (22:6-17), and end with a Conclusion, which parallels the Introduction, which was our starting point.
There are however, contrasts as well as similarities in the corresponding sections which we might miss unless we compare them with each other. The previous Temple section restores the worship of Yahweh to a literal house in the thousand years. Now there is no temple except the Lord God Almighty and the Lambkin. In the former Throne section lightning and thunder issued out of the throne and dealt out God's indignation. Now a river of life issues forth from the throne, distributing blessing. The Messages are, however, in the same tenor. The Introduction and Conclusion have both a likeness and a contrast. In the first there is a blessing on the reader. In the second there is a curse on the mutilator of the book. Both emphasize the swiftness of His coming.
THE DAY OF GOD
This crisis in the Unveiling introduces us to a different "day." The present is Man's Day (1 Cor.4:3). All of the action in the former half of the Unveiling was in Yahweh's Day (Rev.1:10). Now we enter the Day of God. At present man is supreme, for God is allowing him to prove his incapacity. Yahweh alone will be exalted in His day. He is the God of Israel. All blessing to the nations will come through them. As we shall see, the Deity comes much closer to mankind in the Day of God.
THE NEW HEAVENS AND NEW EARTH
In the Scriptures we are told of three heavens and three earths, of which John sees the third in this vision. We are living in the second. The first comes before us in the opening strain of Genesis. "In the beginning God creates the heavens and the earth." This was the original creation, which was not created the waste which it later became (Isa.45:18). A great cataclysm is indicated in the second verse. The earth became waste and sterile. This is followed by the renewal of the earth, the formation of its seas, the creation of its flora and fauna, including mankind. It is with this second earth that the greater part of revelation is concerned.
The fate of the second earth has already come before us. Both earth and heaven fled from the face of the One sitting on the great white throne (Rev.20:11). A more detailed account is given us by Peter in his second epistle (3:10). He tells us that the heavens shall be passing by with a booming noise, yet the elements will be dissolved by combustion, and the earth and the works in it will be discovered, or burned up. All these, then, being dissolved, he exhorts them to hope and hurry the presence of the day of God, because of which the heavens, being on fire, will be dissolved and the elements decomposed by combustion. Such is the outlook in the day of Yahweh. Then, according to His promise, they will hope for a new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness will dwell.
The two great cataclysms which commence and close the career of the present earth are the outstanding mile-stones in universal history. To grasp God's dealings with creation we must give them their proper place in the progressive unfolding of His purpose. They are the great monuments to the method of God's movements. Things have not continued as they were at the beginning of creation, nor will they run on as they are to the end. The great changes are not effected by gradual evolution, but by sudden cataclysmic catastrophes. So revolutionary are these two world disasters that from each emerges a new heaven and a new earth.
The present condition of the earth's crust is ample evidence that it has passed through tremendous convulsions. If all the strata were horizontal and all followed some standard order of deposition, there might be some faint evidence in favor of evolution. But the strata are in the utmost confusion. They are tilted at all angles with no regard to order. Moreover, the logical condition of the present earth, if it were the product of evolution, would be a uniform plain at the bottom of a universal ocean. Yet even this would not answer the demands of the hypothesis, for there could be no further deposits to continue the process.
Let us mark the contrast between the destruction of the first earth by water (Gen.1:2) and the incineration of the second by fire. The past was a physical regeneration. The future will be a chemical recreation. Both are purifying agents, but fire is far more effective than water. There was no water, in the form of seas, on the first earth. The word earth, in the original languages, always refer to the dry land. It was, therefore, a most unexpected means of destruction. The fluid may have been stored above the earth in the form of rings, like those of Saturn. The fire of the future is stored within the earth (2 Peter 3:7). It merely needs some mighty upheaval to put the planet into the crucible of the great Alchemist, to purge it and make it a permanent habitation for the human race.
The physical changes on the present earth are mostly due to these two elements, fire and water. Water alone would soon sink into the seas. The heat of the sun raises it to its ceaseless round. It draws the moisture into the sky and distributes it over the land. It disintegrates the rocks, and grinds down the mountains and washes the soil into the sea. All is impermanent, changing. This is a picture of God's present processes in the moral sphere. In the future earth there will be permanence. There will be no sea. The stones will be flinty, indestructible. All this is in keeping with the moral stability of the final creation.
The present controversy between modernism and fundamentalism, evolution and the Bible will arrive nowhere unless both sides get down to the facts. The man of faith rightly objects when the hypotheses and theories of science are presented as if they were truths. Yet it seldom seems to have occurred to him that he, too, is building on translations and traditions which have no more foundation than the speculations of materialists. What is needed is more real science in the study of the Scriptures. The Concordant Version may rightly be called a "scientific" translation, for it is based on the facts found in the ancient manuscripts, arranged and classified for study. This differs just as much from ordinary methods of translation as the experimental research laboratory of today surpasses the grotto of an ancient alchemist.
Scientists claim that the Bible is not "scientific." In reality it is too much so, that is, its translators have been too strongly influenced by the scientific opinions of their own day, and have altered its plain meaning to conform it to current conceptions. When the A. V. was made the popular theory was that all creation began with chaos. As it was a venerable and respectable superstition, handed down from the Greeks and the Egyptians, the translators seized on the apparent confirmation found in the first chapter of Genesis to make its cosmology acceptable to the intellectual leaders of their time. That, I suppose, is just what scientists would like us to do today. Their idea is to change the Bible so as to set it on the shifting sands of scientific speculation.
That our translators actually believed the scientific theory of primeval chaos, current in their generation, is evident from their translation of the two descriptive terms thohu and bohu in the opening verses of Genesis. The first they render "without form." I have striven hard to conjure up a mental picture of an earth "with-out form," but it seems quite impossible to do so. I can imagine all sorts of shapes, spiral, spheroid, or simply fantastic figures such as we see in cloudland, but I have come to the conclusion that an earth "without form" is a contradiction in terms, and that all the confusion and chaos was in the minds of the translators, rather than in the earth or in the sacred text. In rendering it "waste" I am simply following their example in Deuteronomy 32:10. They also render it vain, nothing, wilderness, empty place, thing of naught, vanity, and confusion.
So with the word "void." Try it over in your own mind. "The earth was void." What does it mean? We speak jocularly of mental vacuity as an "aching void," but this is not a joke. This is not a figure of speech. The earth became something, not nothing. Strictly speaking "without form and void" must imply annihilation (if such a thing be), and we have the illogical outcome that creation produced nothing as a foundation for further developments. The only void which a microscopical examination of the facts will reveal existed, not in the earth. Not in the text, but in the minds that imagined it to be necessary to conform God's word to the learned ignorance of the day. At a later time the prophet Jeremiah sees the land of Israel, and it was "without form and void," much as it has lain for many hundreds of years since his days. But if a traveller used such words in describing it he would excite suspicion as to his sanity. It has been waste and sterile.
What does "void" mean elsewhere? It occurs in the illuminating phrase "stones of sterility" (Isa.34:11). There are parts of Palestine, notably in the wild region between Jerusalem and the Dead sea, where the stones are so thickly strewn over the surface that vegetation cannot get a ground hold. They are called "stones of sterility" because they effectually hinder the growth of any plant life, leaving the ground a white waste of wilderness. So was the desolated earth. It was covered with water, which stifled all its life.
These two words are carefully selected by the Author, not to describe a mythical chaos, but as a contrast to the ensuing week of work. One half of the period of restoration is devoted to the repair of the "waste" by reducing the cataclysmic mixture of solids, fluids, and gases to their separate layers, or spheres. When the dry land, the waters, and the atmosphere find their proper levels the earth is no longer a "waste." The second descriptive term, "sterile," finds its corrective in the last days of the week. Verdure and soul life, flora and fauna, crowned by the advent of a human being, redeem the earth from being "sterile."
It is evident that a really scientific translation of this, the oldest and greatest of all cosmic formulas, definitely confirms the thought implied in the term cosmos, or world. God created a system, a world, not a chaos. He began with an earth, not a cloud of star dust. He inaugurated His grand designs with heavens which, though they still appear to be spread forth in careless disarray, are in reality the most stupendous exhibition of system and law which the human mind has ever been called upon to contemplate. Whatever may be the shifting, nebulous theories of science as to the beginning of the cosmic order of the universe, the records in the rocks and the stupendous upheavals in the strata are but the lower notes in the great hymn which celebrates a perfect creation followed by world-wide wreck and ruin.
True science, as well as revelation, is cataclysmic. It tells us that there were times when this earth's crust was subject to severe convulsions, so that the strata are jumbled together at all angles and positions. Let any geologist seek to fit Lyell's straightjacket on the tumbling mountains and heaving plains and he will soon find out how stubborn the strata are. They refuse to conform to the dogmatic geology of a few years ago, which is still taught by book scholars who worship at the shrine of obsolete, embalmed scientific lore. Ask an old prospector, a miner, or any delver into the heart of the hills. Ask one who has learned their secrets in their very bosoms. Ask the leading geologists, who have forgotten what they were taught and have learned afresh at the fountain-head. All will agree that the earth has been visited by great cataclysmic catastrophes. One occurred at the deluge, but the greatest is recorded at the forefront of revelation.
Astronomy confirms this conclusion. The earth should not be tilted at an angle of twenty-three and a half degrees to the plane of its orbit. The magnetic centers ought to coincide with the geographic poles. The earth is evidently staggering from two heavy blows. Perhaps, one occurred at the deluge, which tilted its axis about eighteen and a half degrees, but did not shift its interior or magnetic core. Yet there must have been a still earlier one which shifted its axis five degrees, and separated the mass of the moon, for the moon revolves just as if it were still a part of the earth, so that we can see only one side of its surface. We can imagine its history from its present abnormal state. First the earth is a smooth, sealess, perfectly rotating sphere. Then some great wandering star comes along and tears off the moon after tilting the earth to the plane of its orbit. Is not this what we have in the second verse of the Scriptures? Later, another heavenly visitant tilts its axis eighteen and a half degrees more, causing the deluge and the seasonal and other disturbances which still afflict mankind (Gen.7).
The story would be incomplete if we did not at least suggest its future history. There is a time coming, the counterpart of the deluge, in which there will be the greatest seismic disturbance this earth has ever known since mankind has been upon it (Rev.16: 18). The sea will roar (Luke 21:25), the islands will flee, the mountains will be removed (Rev.16:20). It is quite probable that the earth will be restored to electrical equilibrium, so that its axis will coincide with its magnetic pole. This will introduce the millennium with its marvelous cosmic and climatic conditions.
After this there will be another cataclysm, in which the earth will be refined as in an assayer's furnace. It should be restored, as in the beginning, and a city will descend, the same mass as the moon (Rev.21:10) bringing it to a state far more ecstatic than that primal perfection with which it started.
This is not put forth as a part of God's written record. It is merely an attempt to combine the facts of nature and revelation so as to harmonize them into a possible, if not probable, fragment of cosmology. Knowing that God's creations are perfect in their way, we should not start with a godless, deified, nebulous chaos, but a perfect planet, "hung on nothing," swinging around its course in perfect alignment with the plane of its orbit. The place to look for examples of earth's history is in the other planets. Their present state may help us to visualize the earth in some stage of its career. The fact that the Hebrew word for heaven is plural, meaning two or more, suggests that it was originally surrounded by rings, like the planet Saturn. In this way we may understand how God created heavens, for from the earth the sky would be divided into two by the circles surrounding its equator.
The moon circles the earth at an angle of five degrees to the earth's orbit. It has no real rotation of its own, but seems to retain that of the earth. Hence, it always shows us the same half. There is likewise a tilt to the earth's axis which exceeds the tilt of the magnetic pole by about five degrees. That there have been serious collisions of the planets with other heavenly bodies is evident, for one of them is broken into fragments. We know that there was a disruption which covered the sealess surface of the earth completely with water (Gen.1:2). This may all have occurred at the same time, under the impact or influence of some heavenly intruder. The wrenching of the earth's axis may have been accompanied by a partial destruction of the surrounding rings. Some may have flown off to form the moon, while watery belts might descend to bury the land, as it became on the first day preceding its restoration (Gen.1:2).
There must have been minor upheavals to bring the land above the surface of the water, but we have no knowledge of any further cataclysm until the deluge. The earth's axis is tilted twenty-three and a half degrees. Five degrees less than this is eighteen and a half degrees, the approximate distance of the magnetic pole from the geographical one. The earth is a vast magnet. Possibly many of its disturbances are due to the fact that it is not rotating on its magnetic axis. Possibly the long lives of the antediluvians arose from more stable and salubrious conditions when this was not the case. Slight electrical variations, such as occur just before a storm, seem to seriously affect our nervous constitution. The restoration of magnetic equilibrium may be one of the basic blessings of the thousand years.
The deluge and the abnormal position of the magnetic poles of the earth seem to be satisfactorily explained by the intervention of some celestial influence which wrenched the earth still further from its uprightness, but left its magnetic pole as it was. The falling rings of water would answer to the "windows of heaven" and the terrific swirl occasioned by the sudden change in rotation would sweep the water of the seas over the land with disastrous haste. This would account for the sudden change from tropical to arctic conditions which caught so many monsters in the higher latitudes, and froze them in a few moments as they stood.
It is not until the deluge that we read of seasons. Then the promise is made that, while the present earth remains, cold and heat and summer and winter shall not cease (Gen.8:22). These seasonal changes have affected mankind far more than we realize. They are not normal, and seem to have shortened the span of human life. They are known only on the present, the second earth. They may be much modified in the millennium. The rendering "seasons" in the first chapter of Genesis (1:14) is misleading. The heavenly luminaries do not produce the seasons. The word means appointments.
The third earth, we may surmise, will restore the creation perfection of the first. We know that this is true in one particular, for the sea is no more (Rev.21:1). This will multiply its habitable area. If the polar axis is normal, this will add vast belts near the poles to the use of mankind. Indeed, we have little doubt that almost everything which at present hinders humanity's fullest enjoyment of its earthly home will be absent in this new creation. The physical is a parable of the spiritual. The sea, today, pictures the turbulent unrest of the nations. Its absence in the day of God corresponds with their solid rest in Him. This leads us to consider the spiritual aspect of this new creation, of which the material is but an intimation.
Strange as it may seem, the special blessings of the new earth arise from the fact that there is no temple. God no longer hides Himself from mankind. Christ's Melchizedek priesthood was for only one eon, not "for ever." The nations no longer have a hesitant approach through the mediacy of Israel. In the thrilling words of the throne, "Lo! God's tabernacle is with mankind, and He will be tabernacling with them, and they will be His peoples, and God Himself will be with them. And He will be brushing away every tear from their eyes. And death will be no more, nor mourning, nor clamor, nor misery: they will be no more, seeing that the former things passed away" (Rev.21:3,4).
The passing of priesthood is prophetic. If God can do away with the divine means of approach to Him, why cannot He also dispense with the regulation of human conduct? If intermediaries are no longer needed for worship, why should it not be possible to govern without delegate authority? The Unveiling does not lead us to this goal. It is beyond its scope. But we know that the throne of the Son of God is only for the eon of the eon (Heb.1:8), at the end of which He hands over the kingdom to God, at the consummation, when all sovereignty and authority and power are abrogated (1 Cor.15:24). Meanwhile, the great glory of the final eon is God's conciliation of mankind. In spirit, we have this now. But then He will remove all barriers between Himself and all mankind. Israel's priestly functions cease. God no longer needs intermediaries between Himself and the race.
As if in anticipation of the skepticism which refuses these glorious predictions, John is assured of their future fulfillment (Rev.21:5-8). This paragraph is an interlude, a statement of facts from the standpoint of Patmos, rather than a continuation of the vision. These things are faithful and true because they are spoken by Him Who is the Origin of all and Who will be the Consummation of what He begins. Figuratively, He is the first and last letters of the alphabet, the Alpha and Omega of the Greek, the A and the Z of the English. He, therefore, promises the water of life gratuitously to the thirsty, and the enjoyment of the blessings of the last eon to those who conquer. But the timid and unbelievers, and the abominable, and murderers, and paramours, and enchanters, and idolaters, and all the false—their place is in the second death.
It is evident that the list given here refers to the past. Such people will not be found in the new earth. There is nothing to conquer. There is no need of faith, for all is open to sight. This paragraph is a warning to Israel and the nations (whose salvation is not based on pure grace, as at present) that only those of approved character will find their place in this paradise. All those who are unworthy are segregated and spend this final eon in the death state in the lake of fire.
What a flood of light is thrown upon the cause of our sorrows and our miseries by the method of their cure! The absence of God is the real reason for all our woes. Then, when God tabernacles with mankind, their tears will be brushed away. His presence will banish death, with all its fears and heartaches. No mourning for loved ones, no clamor of the bereaved, no misery or loneliness. All these pass away because God will come down to men and they will be in touch with Him.
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