Read: Revelation 21
At last, again we have reached the end. But this time…it’s really it. Chapter 19 showed us a vision of the end. But that was merely the end of the world. Now comes the ending that is the new beginning…the heavenly Jerusalem come down from heaven. If ever you are feeling beaten and blue, this is a chapter in the Bible to turn to. The power of this final vision is overwhelming and brilliant. The text really speaks for itself and requires little illumination from me.
There is, though, one detail that I would like to comment on.
You will note that within this chapter there are 2 references to those who are shut out from the heavenly Jerusalem. Is this to be deciphered as definitive proof that there’s going to be, at least, somebody in hell.
I don’t think such an interpretation is necessitated by the text, and I think that such a notion is at least worth hoping against.
I believe that what is being indicated by the exclusion of these nefarious characters (the thieves, and murderers and liars and such…oh, and aren’t all men liars?) is simply that the new, heavenly Jerusalem is too fine a place to be spoiled by anything rotten.
So who are the bad guys who are kept out? Aren’t all men sinners?
How about this: everyone of us has some good and some bad in us. The bad we call the old Adam. The good is the New Man. Yes, the old man is cast out. He cannot enter. But the New Man can.
I don’t think that we have to give up hope for anyone. I can’t assert anything definite. I am not in charge of the final judgment. But if we human beings are merely spectators to the work of God, then neither are human beings in a position to assert anything definite that would exclude hope. What we can say is that our Lord is boundless in love and mercy; that he has the proven capacity to work beyond the precincts of death and to obliterate all dead-lines. He has shown that even dead flesh is not too dead for him to raise.
If we keep in mind the scriptural picture of every person as being a composite of these two contradictions: old man and New Man, then the difficulty is erased for us. Yes, a part of each of us cannot be welcomed into heaven. But another part can.
Now, you will ask, is it possible that there is someone who is so far gone that there is not a redeemable shred in his body? Could someone be so monstrous and evil that he is not even human anymore?
I suppose it is possible. But I wouldn’t want to rush to that judgment. And I would kind earnestly hope that such should never be the case.
I have come to believe that too much theological reflection rests upon the certainty, the finality and the vengefulness of hell, and that such is a bad thing. There surely is a hell. But maybe it’s not everything that you thought that it was. I believe we must start our thinking with the gospel of our gracious and loving Lord, in which case there is good reason to believe that no hope should ever be cast away.