Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (LXVII)

July 23, 2010

Now, I’m going to move on to observing the progressive development in the Book of Revelation of the hugely-important concepts, “the earth-dwellers” and “the heaven-dwellers,” in chapters 2-3.  In the conventional outline of the book following 1:19, chapter (which I covered in the last post) is “the things you have seen.”  Chapters 2-3 are “the things which are.”  Starting in the next post, we will arrive at the beginning of “the things which shall take place after these things.”

In the chiastic outline of Revelation, chapters 2-3 are the front pair of the B layer.  They are parallel to 20:11-22:5.  In my inverted parallel outline, I am calling them:

B (chs. 2-3) God’s people in the seven churches on earth

B’ (20:11-22:5) God’s people in the eternal New Jerusalem

If you are having any trouble seeing how the two sections truly parallel each other, please notice the promise to the “overcomers” (i.e., conquerors or victors) that come at the end of each of the seven mini-letters in chapter 2-3.  Then, look at 21:7, where it is said that “the overcomer will inherit” basically everything promised at the end of the letters in chapters 2-3.  End of discussion–chapters 2-3 lay out Christ’s promises, chapters 21-22 reveal the fulfillment to those promises.

Chapters 2-3 is the section in which “the earth-dwellers” are formally introduced.  In 3:10, we read Christ’s promise to the church at Philadelphia (and every other church “looking over her shoulder,” so to speak): “Because you have kept my command to endure, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is going to come over the whole world to test those who live on the earth” (HCSB).

At this early stage of the book, all the reader can say for sure is that “the earth-dwellers”–a perfectly acceptable paraphrased contraction of “those who live on the earth”–would be the focal point of the Divine “hour of testing” that would, at some future point, come upon the entire world.  Since the believers in the church–and, by application, believers since–are promised protection from “the hour of testing,” the implication is that believers are in an opposing group to “the earth-dwellers.”

At this point in Revelation, there is no way to know that there is indeed a group called “the heaven-dwellers.”  But, as you reflect upon the development of both concepts side-by-side, that is the case, at least by fairly strong implication.

As we think further about “the earth-dwellers,” in retrospect, it seems that groups such as the Nicolaitians, those holding the teaching of Balaam and those closely associated with the false prophetess called “Jezebel” are almost surely to be understood as part of “the earth-dwellers,” since that group includes all the non-elect (13:8; 17:8).  The same is certainly true for those persecuting believers (e.g., throwing believers in jail in 2:10 and killing Antipas in 2:13) and “those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (2:9; see that wording in mirroring order in 3:9).

As we look at the other part of the “mirror” effect in 20:11-22:5, we come to realize that “the earth-dwellers” have been consigned to the eternal lake of fire (21:8).  Only “the heaven-dwellers,” called the “overcomers” in this context (21:7), will live on in the presence of the Lord forever (see also 21:27).  So, in the end–and I truly hope this is not taken as being a smart-aleck–“the earth-dwellers” end up being “the lake-of-fire-dwellers” and “the heaven-dwellers” end up being “the New-Jerusalem-dwellers” forever and ever, Amen!

There is only one other thing that I can think of that is worth mentioning at this point.  In chapters 2-3, the spiritual x-ray of Christ reveals the flaws and sins present in most of the churches.  In 21:9ff., the church is pictured as the spotless and glorious bride of Christ, the fulfillment of what Paul talks about in Ephesians 5:23-32, where the relationship between a Christian wife and husband is said to picture that of Christ and the church.

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