Lots of Time Before the Wiping Away of Tears

At church last Sunday, the pastor offered an interesting interpretation of the Book of Revelation.

The pastor’s text actually was not from the Book of Revelation, but it was from the Epistle to James.  James 5:9 warns the recipients of the letter not to grumble against each other or they will be judged.  The text then says that the Judge stands at the door.

That led the pastor to talk about the judgment of believers.  Will God judge believers?  Does not John 5:24 say that whoever believes Jesus’ word will not be judged but has eternal life, having passed from death into life?

The pastor acknowledged that, yes, faith alone is required for salvation.  Believers will not experience the Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20:11-15, when God will judge the dead of the second resurrection according to their works and will throw them into the Lake of Fire if their names are not found in the Book of Life.  For the pastor, whether believers will go to heaven or hell is not in question: they believe, so they have eternal life, period.  And they can be certain right now that they have eternal life: they fulfill the requirement of belief, and they have eternal life.  There is no “might” or “maybe” about it.

Still, the pastor said that believers will experience some form of judgment.  This judgment will not be to determine whether they go to heaven or to hell, for that has already been settled: they have eternal life, since they believe.  Rather, the judgment of believers will be to determine what kind of reward they will receive.  The pastor referred to II Corinthians 5:10, which states: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (KJV).

This sort of message is not new to me.  It was not exactly the Christianity with which I grew up, but I have encountered this idea quite a bit.  This church that I have been attending for some time is Baptist, and many Baptist churches convey this kind of message.

What was new to me was when the pastor got into Revelation 21:4.  Revelation 21:4 states: “And 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: for the former things are passed away” (KJV).

The pastor said that a lot of time passes in the Book of Revelation before we get to Revelation 21:4.  And his point here is understandable.  Revelation 21:4 talks about what will happen in the new heavens and the new earth.  The new heavens and the new earth take place over a thousand years after Christ returns to earth (assuming one takes the millennium in Revelation 20 in a futuristic, literal sense, which not all Christians do).  So we have a thousand years after Christ returns when God will finally wipe all tears from people’s eyes.

The pastor was saying that his impression is that a lot of believers will be crying, for a long time, before God finally wipes tears from their eyes.  Why would they be crying?  For the pastor, it will be because so many of them failed to use their spiritual gifts and to serve God in this life, and God will be expressing disapproval of them for that and will deprive them of certain rewards at the judgment of believers.  God will let them into heaven, since they believe, but God’s attitude towards them at the judgment of believers will be a frustrated “Oh all right, come on it.”

My guess, and I could be wrong on this, is that the pastor believes in the pretribulational rapture, which would mean that believers would go to heaven and be judged prior to the Great Tribulation, the second coming of Christ, and Christ’s millennial reign on earth.  That will be a lot of time for them to weep!

The pastor goes into this spiel about using spiritual gifts quite a bit.  The reason that his interpretation of Revelation stood out to me is that I have struggled, somewhat, with Revelation 21:4.  Some people interpret that to mean that God will erase people’s memory in the new heavens and the new earth.  I have wondered how that could be.  It makes sense to me that there would be some connection between the next life and this life, otherwise why are we here, building character for the next life?  What would be the point of that if we would forget this life, anyway?  But suppose that a lot of time passed between believers’ resurrection and the time that God will wipe tears from their eyes?  What would make a little more sense.

 

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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