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Two Kinds Of Heaven In Revelation


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The book of Revelation describes two scenes of heaven, one at the beginning of the story and the other at the end of the story. The two scenes of heaven are completely different, almost opposites of each other! Here are my thoughts about the differences and what they mean.

 

The first heaven is in chapter 4. (Chapters 1-3 are introductory material. The main "action part" of the story starts in chapter 4.) The second heaven is in Rev 21:1-22:5. John of Patmos, the author of Revelation, calls the second heaven "new Jerusalem."

 

Let's look at a few of the differences between the two heavens. I'll use "1H" and "New J" as shorthand for first heaven and new Jerusalem, the final heaven.

 

What comes from God's throne?

1H: "And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices" (4:5). God is powerful in a fearsome, potentially destructive way.

New J: "a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God" (22:1). God is powerful in a loving, nurturing way, giving us the water of life.

 

 

What does God do in heaven?

1H: In all of chapter 4, God doesn't do a single thing except sit on His throne. He doesn't even give any kind of acknowledgment to the 24 elders and four beasts/creatures that worship Him day and night forever. Then in chapter 5 as the story moves on to the next episode (the seals plagues, including the famous "four horsemen of the apocalypse), He hands a sealed scroll to the Lamb, which unleashes all sorts of horrors on the earth.

New J: "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain" (21:4). "I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely" (21:6). "and the leaves of the tree (of life) were for the healing of the nations" (22:2). There are several more things in New J which show God as loving, nurturing, caring, helping His people rather than being fearsome, dangerous, and threatening.

 

 

Where is heaven?

1H: "...and a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard...said, Come up hither" (4:1). Heaven is up in the sky somewhere.

New J: "I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven" (21:2). Heaven comes down to earth. If you're planning to fly off into the sky to get to heaven, you're planning to go the wrong way.

 

 

What is the relationship between God and people like?

1H: God sits anthropomorphically on a throne in the sky, separated from people by a "sea of glass" around the throne (4:6). The 24 elders worship God continuously, day and night, and God makes absolutely no response or acknowledgment of them. Nobody else is in the throne room, except for the four beasts.

New J: There is no sea of glass; what happens to it is a very surprising twist in the story, but way too complex to explain in this introductory post. "God himself shall be with them, and be their God" (21:3). "And his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face" (22:3-4). Instead of being separated from people and isolated on His throne in sky, God dwells among His people here on earth, and people even see His face.

 

In these two descriptions of the relationship between God and people, Revelation dramatizes Paul's statement, "Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face" (1 Corinthians 13:12). (Side note for any scholars in the house: The Greek words that are translated as "glass" in Rev and in 1_Cor are two different Greek words. It is really only a fluke of English translation that makes this contrast so easy to see in English. In fact, John of Patmos alludes to scripture dozens of times in Rev but almost never uses the exact words of scripture.)

 

 

More generally, these two scenes of heaven describe two different kinds of religion with two different kinds of God.

1H: fear of God, who is fearsome; separation from God; authority and hierarchy (only "elders" are able to be in God's presence, and even they are separated from God by the sea of glass.

New J: love, healing, and nurturing come from God, who dwells among His people; people are close to God and see His face; equality without hierarchy--there are places that honor the patriarchs of Israel and the apostles of Jesus, but even those people do not stand out in any way from ordinary people.

 

What is the point of these completely different descriptions of God, of heaven, and of religion? The whole rest of the Revelation story tells how the religion of the Judeo-Christian tradition has changed, is changing, and will change in growing from its ancient Bronze Age origins in a religion of fear of a wrathful God, tribalism among people, and separation from God into a future religion of love, closeness between God and people, and all people as God's people.

 

One very simple example of the many changes and transitions that happen between the two heavens is this one: In 1H, thunder, lightning, and voices come from God's throne. In New J, the river of the water of life comes from God's throne. In a brief scene in the middle of the story (14:2), John hears a "voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder." At this point midway in the story John is hearing a mixture of sounds from the first heaven (thunder) and from the second heaven (many waters, the river of the water of life). This example is a simple, purely symbolic example of the transition from the first heaven to the final heaven. The whole story is a much more complex and sophisticated story of that transition.

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wow, that is fantastic and thought provoking....something I never considered before!

 

Thanks, Zaida. I'm not aware of anyone having noticed any of those contrasts between the two heavens before now. Soon (this weekend, I hope) I'll make another post with some more thought-provoking ideas, this time about Armageddon. Preview: It isn't even a real war, but it is about how God's truth overcomes the human institution of war.

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The book of Revelation describes two scenes of heaven, one at the beginning of the story and the other at the end of the story. The two scenes of heaven are completely different, almost opposites of each other! Here are my thoughts about the differences and what they mean.

 

This is very interesting, David. Now I'm going to have to read the book again. Damn it! I've always hated Revelation. I was raised in a fundamentalist house, so I would often have nightmares associated with some of the imagery. Seriously! And then, there was that I Thessalonians description of what they called the Rapture. Whenever I couldn't find my parents on a Saturday morning, I would FREAK OUT.

 

BTW, I still believe the author of Revelation had access to some righteous mushrooms.

 

NORM

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Hi, NORM. I grew up with fear of Revelation and doomsday and all that, and it wasn't even in a fundamentalist family. In fact, we went to a UCC church, although fifty years ago the UCC was nowhere nearly as progressive as it is today. Plus, it was in a very conservative area. So my experience was similar to yours but far less intense.

 

When I started studying Revelation, I couldn't read more than one or two chapters at a time because the imagery was just too brutal. Fear was the main reason to study it and try to figure it out. As I began to question things--why the God of love would condemn people He loved to eternal torture for the Orwellian thought crime of wrong belief, for instance--fear kept coming up. What about Revelation? What if Revelation is true? I had to know.

 

Since I've figured it out and it all now makes sense to me as a complete, organized, sensible story, I can comfortably read it straight through and just notice how the story is changing and developing as it moves along and how all the seeming nonsense (mortal wounds that heal, a beast that is not and yet is, one woman who has the blood of every person ever slain on the earth, etc.) makes sense. Every event happens at exactly the right place in the story, every character appears at exactly the right time for that character, and some of them change in ways that are perfectly appropriate for the place in the story when they change. For example, the two beasts (from the sea and from the land) in the central part of the story get merged together into "the beast" in the later Babylon part of the story, and it makes sense that they are separate in one part of the story and both the same in the other part.

 

Anyway, if I have any mental visual imagery as I read, it tends to be more like an animation of a classical tale of characters that are larger than life, archetypal as well as historical events, in something like an epic universal morality play, with grand themes about human suffering and ways out of the suffering, about human spiritual growth over the centuries, about where we've been and where we still have to go, about developing big themes and questions of spiritual life such as the nature of God, the human situation, our proper relationship with God, and our destiny.

 

I hope that one day you'll be able to read it without it bringing up fear but rather bringing up how to replace the fear with love, light, and truth.

 

Oh and BTW, I don't think mushrooms had anything to do with Revelation. The story is too organized and sensible with too many details that fit precisely, and is done in such a psychologically masterful way as to conceal in plain sight what he has to say but so that the people from whom he's hiding his message can't see what is in the words right in front of their eyes--well, it's just too masterfully done to have been written under the influence.

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Hi, NORM. I grew up with fear of Revelation and doomsday and all that, and it wasn't even in a fundamentalist family. In fact, we went to a UCC church, although fifty years ago the UCC was nowhere nearly as progressive as it is today. Plus, it was in a very conservative area. So my experience was similar to yours but far less intense.

 

When I started studying Revelation, I couldn't read more than one or two chapters at a time because the imagery was just too brutal. Fear was the main reason to study it and try to figure it out. As I began to question things--why the God of love would condemn people He loved to eternal torture for the Orwellian thought crime of wrong belief, for instance--fear kept coming up. What about Revelation? What if Revelation is true? I had to know.

 

Since I've figured it out and it all now makes sense to me as a complete, organized, sensible story, I can comfortably read it straight through and just notice how the story is changing and developing as it moves along and how all the seeming nonsense (mortal wounds that heal, a beast that is not and yet is, one woman who has the blood of every person ever slain on the earth, etc.) makes sense. Every event happens at exactly the right place in the story, every character appears at exactly the right time for that character, and some of them change in ways that are perfectly appropriate for the place in the story when they change. For example, the two beasts (from the sea and from the land) in the central part of the story get merged together into "the beast" in the later Babylon part of the story, and it makes sense that they are separate in one part of the story and both the same in the other part.

 

Anyway, if I have any mental visual imagery as I read, it tends to be more like an animation of a classical tale of characters that are larger than life, archetypal as well as historical events, in something like an epic universal morality play, with grand themes about human suffering and ways out of the suffering, about human spiritual growth over the centuries, about where we've been and where we still have to go, about developing big themes and questions of spiritual life such as the nature of God, the human situation, our proper relationship with God, and our destiny.

 

I hope that one day you'll be able to read it without it bringing up fear but rather bringing up how to replace the fear with love, light, and truth.

 

Oh and BTW, I don't think mushrooms had anything to do with Revelation. The story is too organized and sensible with too many details that fit precisely, and is done in such a psychologically masterful way as to conceal in plain sight what he has to say but so that the people from whom he's hiding his message can't see what is in the words right in front of their eyes--well, it's just too masterfully done to have been written under the influence.

 

Well now you've done it!

 

{walks over to shelf and dusts off copy of New Testament}

 

Now I'm going to have to read it all over again. Maybe I'll draw some cartoons along the edges to illustrate the stories.

 

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

 

NORM

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  • 1 month later...

Some very interesting thoughts, Dave. I'm reading a bit of the pdf excerpt, and I have to say that I agree 110% that people interpret verses based on their own expectations. The symbology of Jesus with a sword coming out of His mouth should make us think of something symbolic. But I think many Americans don't like or don't understand symbology. They want things clear-cut, literal, logical, easy-to-follow. Things that are symbolic require "work" and "reflection" and "meditation." Things that are very valuable traits, certainly to be cultivated, I'm sure you'd agree.

 

(The rapture theology is similar: no need to reflect or meditate on the scriptures, just take it all at face value: and so now we have lots and lots of people who are expecting Jesus to fly down on a cloud out of the sky.)

 

This type of "symbolic illiteracy" speaks volumes about Americans and how they think (or don't think). (My apologies if this is getting off-topic; I think the book of Revelation is only a clear as the minds of those who read it. It's a serious issue, imo.)

 

Blessings,

brian

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For a long time I have had the impression that the author of Revelation was writing for a people who were experiencing severe persecution, and intended to help them endure their trials. So the emphasis being on the idea that in the end the bad guys will get theirs is consistent with that. But it also makes sense that the author might eventually turn to a vision similar to Isaiah's peaceable kingdom.

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  • 5 weeks later...

Might what may seem here "different" descriptions of heaven and of God's relationship to people actually be symbolic representations of the different aspects of heaven and roles of God is different situations and realms of contact and influence?

I mean, would a psysical natural description of the Arctic sound like the same Earth as that of an equatorial jungle? And, would the relationship a man may have with other people he deals with in his capacity as corporate exective at his place of employment have much in common with the relationships he has with his wife, children, extended family, and neighbors in his private life? Or, even with the same individual, would his interaction with one of his children in a leisure activity be quite different than when addressing that same child when the matter is that of the child having used very poor judgement in some unnacceptable activity?

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I also tend to think "heaven" is not a "place" located somewhere in the material reality we know and can explore and observe, but of a different "dimension" of reality that we do not and (at least normally) cannot.

This idea would suggest to me that when people are said to have "heard God speak out of heaven," what they experienced was a disembodied voice seeming to come out of thin air, rather than one shouting down from ther sky...a phenomenon, perhaps, of a communication emanating from within another dimension, a realm of reality not normally accessabel to us, but on those occasions, breaking into our material realm of reality.

 

But then, that redirects to the thread elsewhere about whether one believes God actually speaks, or ever spoke, to humans, or not, doesn't it?

 

Jenell

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I like the way you think, looking for a different explanation of the same phenomenon. Could the seemingly different descriptions of God, heaven, roles, and relationships actually be descriptions of different aspects of those rather than different kinds of those?

 

Quite possibly so. My claim that they are different kinds depends on my observations of changing answers to what I call the big questions of spiritual life in successive stages of the Revelation story and the fact that those changing answers become more progressive as the story unfolds. However, I've also found that there are sometimes multiple overlapping, multi-layer (or perhaps "multi-dimensional") meanings in numerous places in the story, and it would not surprise me if there is an additional, parallel strand of meaning throughout the story.

 

Here's one example of why I think that it is primarily about kinds rather than aspects: In the first heaven, God is completely aloof from people, never showing any kind of involvement with people or making any kind of response to the people who worship Him continuously. Then in the next section of the story (the seals plagues), He sends all sorts of pain, destruction, and devastation on earth for no apparent reason, or at least no reason that is stated; finally at the end of the seals episode, it says that it's all about the wrath of God but still there is no explanation for the wrath. Then in the next section of the story, the trumpets plagues, it says that the reason for all the destruction and pain is God's wrath about unrepentent sin.

 

That sequence--no involvement with people, hurting people because of unexplained wrath, then hurting people because of wrath for a reason--suggests to me that it is more about aspects of our beliefs and perceptions than about aspects of God and relationships. No involvement, unexplained wrath, and wrath for a reason seem to me not very tenable as different aspects of God--God is not completely aloof, unaccountably wrathful, and accountably wrathful, exhibiting different aspects of Himself--but are tenable as different understandings of how God is or isn't involved in the world.

 

Just to be clear: When I speak of change and kinds, I'm not saying that God changes. I'm saying that our perception and understanding of God change over time and that Revelation is talking about that kind of change. Another way to say all this is that it's talking about aspects of our understanding of God, not so much about aspects of God.

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Just to be clear: When I speak of change and kinds, I'm not saying that God changes. I'm saying that our perception and understanding of God change over time and that Revelation is talking about that kind of change. Another way to say all this is that it's talking about aspects of our understanding of God, not so much about aspects of God.

 

Yes, That is a most insightful observation of the Book of the Revalation of Christ.

Joseph

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I like the way you think, looking for a different explanation of the same phenomenon. Could the seemingly different descriptions of God, heaven, roles, and relationships actually be descriptions of different aspects of those rather than different kinds of those?

 

Quite possibly so. My claim that they are different kinds depends on my observations of changing answers to what I call the big questions of spiritual life in successive stages of the Revelation story and the fact that those changing answers become more progressive as the story unfolds. However, I've also found that there are sometimes multiple overlapping, multi-layer (or perhaps "multi-dimensional") meanings in numerous places in the story, and it would not surprise me if there is an additional, parallel strand of meaning throughout the story.

 

Here's one example of why I think that it is primarily about kinds rather than aspects: In the first heaven, God is completely aloof from people, never showing any kind of involvement with people or making any kind of response to the people who worship Him continuously. Then in the next section of the story (the seals plagues), He sends all sorts of pain, destruction, and devastation on earth for no apparent reason, or at least no reason that is stated; finally at the end of the seals episode, it says that it's all about the wrath of God but still there is no explanation for the wrath. Then in the next section of the story, the trumpets plagues, it says that the reason for all the destruction and pain is God's wrath about unrepentent sin.

 

That sequence--no involvement with people, hurting people because of unexplained wrath, then hurting people because of wrath for a reason--suggests to me that it is more about aspects of our beliefs and perceptions than about aspects of God and relationships. No involvement, unexplained wrath, and wrath for a reason seem to me not very tenable as different aspects of God--God is not completely aloof, unaccountably wrathful, and accountably wrathful, exhibiting different aspects of Himself--but are tenable as different understandings of how God is or isn't involved in the world.

 

Just to be clear: When I speak of change and kinds, I'm not saying that God changes. I'm saying that our perception and understanding of God change over time and that Revelation is talking about that kind of change. Another way to say all this is that it's talking about aspects of our understanding of God, not so much about aspects of God.

 

I think you are onto something there, the differences may also represent different perspectives, beleifs, interpretations, of a phenomenon by different people....the differences being in the eye of the beholder....a demonstration of that whuich comes immediately to mine for me (perhaps becasue it has given me some problems with misunderstandings lately!) would be that like many people, I tend to assume facial expressions when I am deep in thought that some misread as my being angry, or in a bad mood.

 

The variations in different people trying to find an acceptable meaning, some seeing wrath without reason, that is capricious, a character of the wrathful one, vs others, finding that inacceptable to their own 'God schema" have to find reasons for it that transfers the reason or cause to something/someone outside of God, and that seems to justify the wrath with a percieved punishable offense.

 

I think most likely, a combination of these and others...

 

Something that seriously complicates the use of symbolism to communicate anything is that accuracy and success in the transmission of meaning is entirely dependent upon the consistency of how others interpret the meaning within any symbol....even our most used use of symbol, that we give so little thought to as to forget it IS merely a symbol, language....and meanings attached to symbols are generally very fluid and unstable. The unit of study in the sociological/psychological paradigm of "symbolic interactionism" is that very point of contact between any individual and society...if there isn't consistency in what meaning different people asign to any symbol, even a word in language, the intent of the communication breaks down. And with so much symbolic imagery and language in the bible, Revelation especailly, with not only the vast difference of the culture of the time and place it was composed and ours now, but also translators and expositors in between, and the influence of doctrines on those teachers we've encountered in our own life religious experiences, trying to pin down what any of those symbolic meanings is a guessing game at best.

 

As to multiple layers of meanings, I'd absolutely agree. I have found so much within scripture that can be considered, interpreted, and applied at different levels, most commonly it seems, in sets of threes, I have to think that it a deliberate and planned device on part of the writers. Commonly those three levels correspond in some fashion to our superficial life, actions, behaviors, and habits, then to our mental, cognitive state and function, and thirdly, to our most inner nature, general attitude, personality, and/or spiritual level. Sometimes, the different levels seem to correspond to different levels of cognitive and psychological development.

 

Jenell

Edited by JenellYB
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