Blessed: The Theology of the Book of Revelation with Tom Schreiner (Episode 4)

This article is part of the Blessed: Conversations on the Book of Revelation with Nancy Guthrie series.

The Meaning, Purpose, and Theology of Revelation

Join Nancy Guthrie as she talks with scholar and author Thomas Schreiner about how our reading of the book of Revelation is impacted by our theology of the Trinity, judgment, and eschatology.

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Blessed

Nancy Guthrie

Blessed, by bestselling author and speaker Nancy Guthrie, gives individuals and small groups a friendly, theologically reliable, and robust guide to understanding the book of Revelation.

Topics Addressed in This Interview:

01:33 - Why We Desperately Need the Message of Revelation Today

Nancy Guthrie
Dr. Schreiner, thank you for being willing to help us to hear the book of Revelation.

Tom Schreiner
It’s great to be with you today, Nancy.

Nancy Guthrie
I’m talking with Dr. Schreiner because he is such an expert in the book of Revelation. As I arrived in his office, he’s got a stack of I don’t know, how many books do you think that is, Dr. Schreiner, on your desk here?

Tom Schreiner
Maybe forty.

Nancy Guthrie
Maybe forty books! He says he’s not going to read them cover to cover, but these are books he’s using because he’s actually working on yet another effort—another commentary—on the book of Revelation. I imagine people listening to this may be looking for resources on Revelation, so maybe they will look at this new book you’ve written called The Joy of HeariNancy Guthrie A Theology of the Book of Revelation, which I’ve read. It’s not a long book. But I’m guessing by that big, tall stack that maybe this next book on Revelation is going to be a bit longer. So, tell us what the difference is between these and how do both of them work to help us understand Revelation?

Tom Schreiner
I also wrote a shorter commentary in the ESV Expository Commentary

Nancy Guthrie
Which is so helpful for someone, especially if they’re trying to teach through the book of Revelation. There are some concise helps on tricky things in Revelation in that expository series.

Tom Schreiner
That’s a shorter version. It was great fun to write. And then The Joy of Hearing is sort of the central theme. It’s not very long, maybe 55,000 words.

Nancy Guthrie
I’ve read Richard Bauckham’s The Theology of the Book of Revelation. It’s similar and different. How would you compare those to someone who might be familiar with that book?

Tom Schreiner
Richard’s book is amazing. Richard himself and everything Richard does is outstanding. But I would say Richard's book, in terms of scholarship and technicality, is just a cut above mine. It’s a little more challenging. Mine is intended to be a summary that I think any interested Bible reader could follow. I think they could read Richard’s book, but I think probably Richard’s book is for people who are students somewhere.

Nancy Guthrie
And how about this Revelation book that you’re working on now?

Tom Schreiner
That’s in the Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament. I worked on Romans in that series, and now I’m doing Revelation. It’s been a great challenge and great fun. It’s going to be about 400,000+ words and probably 800–900 pages.

Nancy Guthrie
So this is going to be the kind of thing for someone who wants to dive in deep and really understand all of this imagery and allusions and meaning in the book of Revelation. It sounds like it will be a great help.

Tom Schreiner
I hope so! I pray so!

Nancy Guthrie
I am quite sure it will be.

Tom Schreiner
After all this time, I hope so.

Nancy Guthrie
In this new book, The Joy of Hearing, you contend that we desperately need the message of Revelation in today’s world. Why do you say that?

Tom Schreiner
One of my motivations in writing this book is to say, Look, the book of Revelation is practical.

Nancy Guthrie
I think most people don’t think about Revelation as being practical.

Tom Schreiner
Exactly.

Nancy Guthrie
Why do you say it’s practical?

Tom Schreiner
I was a preaching pastor for seventeen years at our church, and I preached through it. That was my motivation in preaching through it because I said this book has a message for our people today. I think maybe people would sense this more than perhaps ten or fifteen years ago: we’re in a cosmic battle with the dragon and the beast. I think the beast stands for totalitarian government—and I’m not thinking of any particular political system here—but I think Christians sense that we’re in a battle with the world. In Revelation believers are a minority. They’re a small minority in conflict in this world with a great opposition, and I think they’re a little bit discouraged. In Revelation they’re even being put to death, at least some. So, there’s a temptation to compromise—economically, spiritually. There’s a temptation to offer food sacrificed to idols because you would fit in with the society and with the trade guilds. You see that economic pressure.

Nancy Guthrie
We don’t get that specific pressure, and yet there are ways that businesses, even today, want to force some compromise, don’t you think?

Tom Schreiner
Yeah. I don’t know his personal faith, but you think of what happened to Brandon Eich at Mozilla. It came to light that he stood for a biblical view of marriage, and he lost his job. So, I think Christians do face those pressures today.

Nancy Guthrie
And it’s not going to go the other direction.

Tom Schreiner
Unless there’s a great revival. But the pressures are against us and I think the ordinary Christian senses, in a way that I didn’t sense as a child at least, the world is opposed to us. I think that was always true, but maybe we didn’t perceive it as clearly.

07:00 - The Trinity in the Book of Revelation

Nancy Guthrie
Exactly. For our conversation, I have picked seven words or phrases—and anyone who is familiar with Revelation will kind of get why maybe I would choose seven—that I think are key in the book of Revelation. I’m hoping to just throw them out and us talk about them a little bit. The first one is just the idea of the Trinity—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—in the book of Revelation. In Revelation we hear God called the One who is, who was, who is to come. We hear Jesus identify himself as the Alpha and Omega. When John sees a vision of the risen Lord Jesus in Revelation 1, some of the ways he is described by John kind of sound like God the Father. Then we get to Revelation 4. We see God on the throne of the universe, but it’s really a drama in chapter 4 and 5 because then the Lamb enters the throne room and takes that scroll from God the Father. In your book, The Joy of Hearing, you’ve got a whole chapter on the role of the Holy Spirit in Revelation. Would you just talk to us a little bit about why, in studying Revelation, we might even want to be thinking about what we’re reading in terms of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

Tom Schreiner
One of the things I like to say when I teach and preach on Revelation is it fits with what you read in the rest of the New Testament. We don’t have something really novel here. It’s clothed in a different garb (in the images), but it’s fundamentally Trinitarian. What do we find out about our God? Our God sits on the throne. He is the sovereign God. Revelation 4 is such a fascinating chapter because, as you pointed out, we’re in that throne room, we have this vision, and what’s happening in that throne room? There is a massive thunderstorm taking place. It is glorious. It’s terrifying in that throne room. You have these strange creatures (we won’t talk about these right now, unless you want to), the twenty-four elders, and the four living creatures. The four living creatures are saying, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord!" That goes back to Isaiah 6. We see a picture of God in Revelation 4. Interestingly, when you see God on his throne, very much like Ezekiel 1, he’s ineffable. He’s indescribable. He’s described in terms of these stones: jasper, emerald, or rainbow. But we really don’t have a direct vision of God. I think John is saying our God is transcendent. Yet, Nancy, as you pointed out, at the same time we have this tremendous emphasis on Jesus Christ as the Lamb. It is striking. I just challenge the hearers, if you haven’t done this, go through and look at every place the Lamb and God are placed together. Equal in stature, equal in being; clearly, the Lamb is fully divine. Or, as you pointed out, in chapter 1 some of those features that are used to describe the Son of Man (that’s the vision in chapter 1) are used to describe Yahweh in the Old Testament. For example, if you look at Daniel 7, the Ancient of Days has white hair. But in Revelation 1, it’s the Son of Man who has white hair. John’s actually talking about the Son of Man in the very same chapter. That’s not a mistake. You might think, Did he slip up? What happened here? No, he didn’t slip up. He is telling us that Jesus, as the Son of Man, is fully divine. And then the Holy Spirit. There’s not as much in the book on the Holy Spirit, but then the Holy Spirit is especially the Spirit of revelation. Do you know those seven letters to the churches in chapters 2 and 3? Every one of those letters are the words of the Son of Man, but every one of those letters also closes with "let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." The Son of Man speaks, the Spirit speaks. The Spirit and the Son of Man, though two different persons, are the same divine Trinity. The Spirit speaks as a Spirit of revelation—the Spirit who discloses the truth. Then, there are so many places the Spirit speaks in the book: key junctures in the book, John’s in the Spirit in Revelation 1:10, he’s in the Spirit in Revelation 17:3 when he has the vision of Babylon and then the bride and wife of the Lamb, he’s in the Spirit when he’s taken up in the throne room in Revelation 4. I think one of the most interesting references is to the seven spirits in Revelation 1:4 because you have "grace and peace from the one who is, the one who was, and the one to come"—which is an allusion back to Exodus 3:14 when it says, "I AM WHO I AM." Then, you have a reading from the seven spirits, and then from Jesus Christ. But who are the seven spirits? Some interpreters say they’re angels, but I think that’s very doubtful. First of all, the number seven is used symbolically for fullness and perfection, totality and completeness. And we have to recognize—it’s interesting to me that some interpreters don’t even comment on this, and they’re very good interpreters. I won’t name them. But you have grace and peace from the one who is, the one who was, and the one to come, then from the seven spirits, and from Jesus Christ. So I think it’s very clear that the seven spirits refer to the Holy Spirit. There’s not seven Holy Spirits. It’s referring to the perfection of the Spirit. But what a remarkable text on the full deity of the Spirit. Grace and peace—they don’t come from angels. You don’t read, "Grace and peace from God and the archangel Michael." You never read, "Grace and peace from God and the apostle Paul." No, grace and peace only comes from God. So, you have grace and peace from the Father, the Spirit, and the Son. What a remarkable Trinitarian text. What a remarkable text on the full deity of the Father, the Spirit, and the Son.

Nancy Guthrie
What I love about that passage is I think about what’s about to come in Revelation, which there is a lot of challenge and hard words for especially the original audience of this book in terms of what they’re going to need that grace and peace for. They’re going to need it for patient endurance. But it’s a beautiful picture to me at very the beginning of the book that the whole of the God-head is getting in on providing to these believers exactly what they’re going to need to overcome, conquer, or persevere.

Tom Schreiner
I think that is so true. Just two features: it says Jesus is the faithful witness. That’s what believers are called upon to be as well. Jesus is our exemplar; he’s our example. Later, Antipus (who was put to death [Rev. 2:13]) is also called a faithful witness. Of course, Jesus is the faithful witness par excellence, but he functions as the example and call to believers. When we’re called to suffer, he’s gone before us. Our God knows. Job says somewhere, Do you have flesh? Do you feel what we feel? Well, the New Testament answers that question because in the second person of the Trinity, God took on flesh. So, that’s the first thing. The second thing it says is that Jesus is the ruler of the kings of the earth. They have great opposition, and what does he remind the readers of from the beginning? In all your suffering, all your pain, and all the difficulties you’re going through, Jesus rules the kings of the earth. Later in the chapter he says, "I was dead, but now I’m the Living One." That’s something else. All of us, unless Jesus comes back first, are going to die. We probably won’t die by martyrdom, but perhaps. We will all die, but Jesus knows death. But he promises us, I’m the Living One. I conquered death. I hold the keys now of death and Hades. That’s what I mean about the pastoral function of this book. What great comfort is there. Death hangs as a specter, a shadow over all of our lives. But the New Testament constantly reminds us that Jesus has conquered death.

Nancy Guthrie
The promise in Revelation is not, I’m going to keep you from physical death or harm in this life, but it’s, You can count on resurrection life even after death. That’s good news.

Tom Schreiner
Absolutely.

16:36 - Seven Beatitudes

Nancy Guthrie
Let’s go on to another term. You mentioned this number seven, and it’s interesting that in the book of Revelation, seven times we’re told about a person who is blessed. I mentioned at the beginning of the podcast the book begins and ends with this promise of blessing, but in the whole of the book there are seven what we would call beatitudes. For most of us, when we think of beatitudes we think of Matthew and the Sermon on the Mount. But Revelation, we can say, has its own set of beatitudes. In The Joy of Hearing you say that all of these beatitudes, or blessed statements, are radically eschatological (I have a hard time saying that word). What do you mean by that?

Tom Schreiner
Well, you’ve already pointed this out, but I just wanted to say that it’s no accident that there is seven in the book of Revelation. Let’s just think about them for a moment. He says in Revelation 1:3, "blessed is the one who reads and those who hear and those who keep, for the time is near." That’s what I mean by eschatological—the time is coming. Revelation 14:13: "Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on." That’s the end of life.

Nancy Guthrie
That’s so different than the way that people think about being blessed today, right? We think about blessing as being in the here and now, I experience good things in life. So, Revelation’s presentation of the blessed life, when it says, "blessed are those who die in the Lord," it should be telling us that this is very different.

Tom Schreiner
Yeah, that’s a shocking word to our culture, isn’t it? Revelation 19: "Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage feast of the Lamb." Again, that’s coming, isn’t it? Revelation 20: "Blessed are those who experience the first resurrection." Of course, that’s very debated about what that is, and we won’t get into that right now. Revelation 22: "Blessed are those who have access to the tree of life." so, every one of the sayings focuses on the future. Obviously, God blesses us now, right? We have his presence, we have his Spirit, we have the joy of the church of Jesus Christ. But the greatest blessing is before us, and it’s easy to forget that, especially if we’re prospering some in our everyday lives.

Nancy Guthrie
We can expect this world to provide all of the blessing that we ever want, and yet it always disappoints us. Revelation just keeps elbowing us in the ribs saying, Don’t be looking for it here. The blessedness that you long for, as you say, is radically eschatological. It’s in the future.

Nancy Guthrie
I loved what you said earlier, that you see this as a practical book. In fact, studying Revelation myself has been profoundly challenging to me personally, to figure out what it’s going to look like to live this out, to refuse to compromise, to have courage, to patiently endure. I think that’s incredibly practical. What would you say it looks like for a person to hear and keep what they read about in the book of Revelation?

Tom Schreiner
I titled my book The Joy of Hearing because I think John is saying, Be sure you don’t close your ears. Don’t become deaf to what’s being said here. These people that he’s writing to are already Christians, but he’s saying, Watch out! Be sure to hear. But it’s not enough to hear, right? We all know this, but reading, hearing, and studying the Bible is not a magic vitamin pill. It has to be observed. James says that in James 1. I think you touched on it, that in Revelation the temptation is especially compromise. The church is being pressed, so there’s a temptation to compromise with the world, probably for economic reasons in particular. That’s tied in with the call to endure until the end. One of the things John is saying very practically is, Hang in there. Don’t forsake Jesus. Stay true to him. Of course, we can’t do that on our own. We don’t have the strength to do that. We need God’s strength. We call upon him to help us. But those admonitions remind us—and it's another way of saying, which we read often when we talk about the end—to be alert. Be vigilant. That’s not a call to know the prophecy chart; it’s a call to be faithful to the end.

21:35 - The Call to Conquer

Nancy Guthrie
That’s related to the next word, or phrase, that we hear over and over again, which is this call to conquer, as some translations put it. Other translations might put it as overcome. Those two words are also related to this other repeated idea in Revelation of patient endurance. What do you think Revelation means when it talks about conquering or overcoming?

Tom Schreiner
I think Revelation finally, at the end of the day, is asking, Who are those who don’t conquer? Those who don’t conquer are those who commit apostasy. So, conquering isn’t perfection. None of us fulfills that. But conquereing is what every true Christian does. No true Christian commits apostasy. I believe the Bible teaches God keeps us, but there’s also a call. If we believe that God keeps us and strengthens us, there’s a danger of saying, Well, I don’t have to do anything. I can just relax. God’s going to keep me. That’s not the biblical picture. There’s always a tension in the Scripture.

Nancy Guthrie
That’s a key word, isn’t it? There’s a tension.

Tom Schreiner
Yes. You can fall off on one side or the other, right? You can so emphasize that we’ve got to conquer that you become nervous, have a lack of assurance, and you’re not trusting in God. But if you so emphasize God’s promise to keep us, you can ignore these admonitions to conquer and to overcome and to be vigilant until the end. Revelation fits with all of Scripture. What Peter says in 1 Peter 5 that the devil walks about as a roaring lion; resist him. I think that’s what Revelation is saying in conquering. Resist the dragon. Resist the two beasts. Resist the prostitute, Babylon. They are pressing on you. They want your loyalty. They want your all. Don’t give it to them.

Nancy Guthrie
The other night we had a guest at our home, and we were talking about a number of high-profile Christians in our day who are doing what they would describe as "deconstruction." Perhaps sometimes deconstruction leads to a reconstruction of a more biblical faith, but oftentimes I think what we’re seeing is it leads to the word you used: apostasy. He said, What do you think about that? And I said, I think we have to use the biblical word for it, which is apostasy. It’s interesting to me that people think that this is a very modern and recent thing, but actually, Revelation is speaking to it because it was a reality in their day. Maybe the particular pressers that were pressing them toward that were a little bit different, but it’s an issue today.

Tom Schreiner
I think the same person wrote 1 John, and you know this verse very well, Nancy: "They went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they were of us they would have remained with us. But they went out in order that it might be plain that they all are not of us." That’s what John is warning them against: Don’t leave the faith. It has terrible consequences. God says that out of love to his people. Stay true to Jesus.

Nancy Guthrie
It is a loving message. There is a warning of what will happen if you do not conquer or overcome or persevere, but what’s so beautiful in so much of Revelation is also these promises of the incredible reward that will come. It’s a beautiful picture of motivation, isn’t it? It’s kind of similar to Hebrews. I know you wrote a whole book on perseverance that focused a lot on Hebrews, which it does the same thing. It has warnings. But here in Revelation, it seems like the heaviness is also, especially in those letters, is here’s the promise for the person who overcomes. I think that’s meant to motivate us.

Tom Schreiner
Those promises are amazing, and I’m preaching on it this Sunday at Third Avenue Baptist Church. I’m doing Revelation 21 and 22 and the glorious new creation that awaits us. He motivates us with the promises that are before us. The world that’s coming—this is how I understand Revelation 21 and 22 in short—it’s so beautiful that it’s indescribable. It is so entrancing and delightful. Of course, what does Revelation say? We will see his face. What makes the new creation most delightful is fellowship with God himself. We will see God, we will see the Lamb, we will have fellowship with the Father, Son, and the Spirit.

26:37 - The Kingdom of Our Lord and of His Christ

Nancy Guthrie
Maybe a way we keep some of those promises that may not seem very practical is to relish them, to focus on them, to feed on them, that that is our future. An image that is very prominent throughout the book of Revelation is that of a throne. "Thrones" (plural) and certainly "king" and "kingdom" are all the way through here. We hear that the kingdom of this world is going to become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ. A lot of these promises that are held out to us is this idea of reigning with Christ. Help us with that imagery throughout the book of Revelation.

Tom Schreiner
I don’t have the exact statistics, but I think "thrones" is used of God like thirty-seven times.

Nancy Guthrie
I wrote this down. In your book you said the word "throne" appears in the singular forty-one times in Revelation, and thirty-seven of those times refer to the throne of God.

Tom Schreiner
You think of that throne room vision in chapter 4 and 5. Why does he use the word "throne" again and again? When we read the Bible, it’s always a good question to ask, Why is this word so prominent? Because God rules. God is King. God is always in charge. Nothing is happening out of his control, and he assures the church of this, and sometimes you wonder today what’s happening in our world. God
reigns. God rules. Christ rules at the right hand. And, as you alluded to, we’re not God and we’ll never be God (we’re not Mormons), but we will reign with Christ. There is a reign and a rule awaiting the saints. It goes back to Daniel 7: the Son of Man receives the throne and he shares that rule with the saints. That’s part of the reward. There are exciting tasks before us—we don’t fully grasp what they are now—where we will rule with Christ in eternity forever and ever and ever, with Christ and God, over a renewed universe.

Nancy Guthrie
This has been challenging for me to understand because, like I said, to keep this we need to relish these promises. So I kind of scratch my head and ask, What does that mean to reign? This has kind of helped me, and tell me if you think I’m on the right track here, that part of what is being said is we think back to Genesis 1 and 2 and how Adam was given that original instruction to exercise dominion. So, is part of what’s being said there a sense of fulfilling what God had always intended with his people, to rule over a world-wide kingdom filled with glorious image bearers? We live in a world that’s been so impacted by the curse that we have a hard time grasping what that might be like, but maybe we just have to settle into understanding this is what we were created for. When I read that, that’s the way I begin to think of it, that we will live in this world in the way that we were created for.

Tom Schreiner
I think that’s exactly right. I think in a way that’s the storyline of the Bible. You’ve got Adam and Eve who are to rule under God’s lordship, they sin, and then there’s a whole plan by which that original rule will be restored. We think of Psalm 8, too, right? What were human beings intended to do? To rule the world for God. Of course, that promise is finally fulfilled through the Davidic king. The fulfillment of that Davidic king is Jesus, and we’ll reign with him. I think that’s a very full and good understanding of the whole story.

30:21 - Judgment

Nancy Guthrie
Alright, let’s talk about judgment. You can’t spend much time in Revelation without dealing with judgment. In fact, I think maybe that’s one of the reasons that a lot of people avoid the book of Revelation. There are these strange images of judgment, and most of us would rather talk about God’s love than to talk about God’s wrath. What seems to really stand out to me in the book of Revelation in regard to judgment is that we’re shown over and over again that in heaven—from heaven’s perspective, God’s perspective, and even the perspective of saints who have died and are with Christ—God’s judgment is something to be celebrated. It’s presented as punishment that fits the crime. How would you summarize the main message that we should be getting from all of these passages and images of judgment in the book of Revelation?

Tom Schreiner
I love what you said there because it’s striking and perhaps a bit disconcerting when we read that when Babylon is judged, what are the saints and the angels doing? They’re crying out, "Hallelujah!" Our response is, What? That doesn’t seem very—

Nancy Guthrie
I thought we were supposed to love our enemies.

Tom Schreiner
That doesn’t seem very right. But I think, clearly, when we look at all of Scripture, we pray and long for the repentance of all who don’t belong to God while we’re in this life. But Revelation is looking at the end. Revelation is looking at when everything is set right. There is evil in this world. God is holy. Why do we struggle with judgment? Why do I struggle with judgment? Because we’re very used to sin. We take it for granted. We begin to think it’s not that big of a deal. But it is a big deal. God’s intense, white-hot holiness is such that sin deserves eternal punishment. Revelation is very clear on that. Eternal, conscious punishment. That is something, however, that if you’re not a Christian, it’s a call to repentance, isn’t it? But finally, the saints rejoice because evil defaces and deforms and destroys the world. We look at history and at contemporary events, and what does evil do? Evil is destructive. We actually see in Revelation 17 that evil implodes upon itself. It’s even self-destructive. We can see that in individual lives. If you give yourself to evil, it will destroy you. So, there’s a call to rejoice because it’s analogous to Hitler falling. There was a joy when the Nazi regime fell. Virtually everyone recognized that this regime is destroying human beings and life on earth. It’s inimical to human flourishing. So, too, when Communism fell in 1989. At least most people said, This is something to rejoice over. That’s what’s happening. Evil has crashed. It’s over. It’s not just crashed; God has judged it, right? That is something we should actually look forward to and recognize at the same time that we deserve such judgment apart from the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. We’re not saying we’re better than other people. We’re not longing for people to be judged now, but we recognize that the kingdom can only come when evil is removed from this world.

Nancy Guthrie
Perhaps a way that we would hear and keep that might mean not that we celebrate judgment now, but that we plead with people to become joined to Christ and thereby be protected in the judgment. But that we also find a place we can have peace in the midst of a world where there is so much evil, because we have this rock-solid confidence inside us, based on what we have heard in the book of Revelation, and we know this is not the way it will be forever and we know that the day is going to come when the all-righteous judge of the earth will do what is right. When we look at what he’s done, we will not think, Well, I would have done that differently. I could have done that better—which is what we think now, I think. But when we have the perspective of eternity, we will say, God, you have done exactly right!

Tom Schreiner
Amen! I think we can say if believers are suffering under a Vladimir Putin or a Xi Jinping, or even the Uighurs suffering under Xi Jinping, we can warn such people (and even Christians) and say, Look, such evil will not finally triumph. We can begin to feel that there’s nothing we can do and that this is going to last forever. No, it is not. It’s going to come down. So yes, it’s a call to repentance, and it’s also a warning to people in the world: don’t live without reckoning with God. His judgments are slow. He’s very patient with us, thankfully, but his judgment will come.

36:09 - Babylon and the New Jerusalem

Nancy Guthrie
My final image in the book of Revelation that I want you to talk about is that of these cities that are very prominent. I don’t guess Rome is actually named in the book, but perhaps it’s pictured. The city that keeps coming up is Babylon, which is so fascinating because when we see Babylon we realize that it is an ancient city, and yet he sees Babylon. We’ve got these two pictures: a picture of Babylon and the New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven. When we get to Revelation, we’ve got to figure out what is being presented here in terms of Babylon, as well as what’s being presented in terms of the idea of a New Jerusalem. How do they relate to each other? What do they mean? Talk to us a little bit about those.

Tom Schreiner
Babylon really goes back to the Tower of Babel. I think Augustine got it right. I think Babylon does stand for Rome, but I think it stands for the city of man, generally. The city of man against the city of God. In Revelation 21:2 and Revelation 21:9, the city of God is also described as the people of God, the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And Babyon is described as the harlot, the prostitute. John is setting forth the two destinies of people. The prostitution isn’t talking fundamentally about sexual sin but about idolatry. Who do you worship? Do you finally align yourself with the city of man, or do you align yourself with the bride—the city of God? Do you worship political power, totalitarian power, self? Or do you worship God and his Christ? Those are the two choices. Baylon looks attractive. She’s beautiful in many ways. But at the end of the day, John says there’s a mystery. She’s actually the mother of harlots. She’s actually drinking a golden cup which is full of blood, which is disgusting. The world looks attractive. It looks like it will offer something beautiful and enticing and fulfilling, but at the end of the day it’s not beautiful. But the bride—the wife of the Lamb—has the white garment. She’s as beautiful as a bride on her wedding day. As Paul says, she is without spot or wrinkle finally. So, I think John is saying to his readers, You want to be part of that city—that New Jerusalem that’s coming! I think we can also say that New Jerusalem represents the whole of creation. It represents the whole new universe. I think it’s a physical universe, a whole new world that is coming. John also picks up the language of Ezekiel 40–48, that the New Jerusalem (Greg Beale has argued this very wonderfully in a lot of places) is God’s temple. The whole universe is God’s temple. God doesn’t just dwell in the most holy place, he doesn’t just dwell in us as believers or as a church, but now he dwells in the whole universe. The whole universe—John uses this image—is the holy of holies, so to speak.

Nancy Guthrie
Dr. Schreiner, thank you so much for giving us, in a sense, the joy of hearing in this book of Revelation. We really appreciate it.

Tom Schreiner
It’s been my delight, Nancy.



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Introducing the Blessed Podcast with Nancy Guthrie

In this new podcast, Nancy Guthrie—author, Bible teacher, and podcast host—leads listeners to a deeper understanding of the book of Revelation through conversations with respected Bible scholars, pastors, and other Bible teachers.


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