Dr. Larry Chapp and Universalism – Part Two

The Bible is a finished narrative.  By this I mean that it is a complete story of creation, fall from grace, and redemption. There is nothing left to happen.  No “Rapture of the Church” and “Seven Years of the Great Tribulation.”   The whole idea of a pre-millennial Rapture began with a wee Scottish lassie named Margaret MacDonald who in 1830 had a series of visions that were picked up by John Darby, Edward Irving, and John Pusey. [1]  From her vision, a popular eschatology arose, particularly amenable to the Protestant listeners because it vilified the Roman Catholic Church and the pope. Once in the United States, it roared through the theological landscape like fire in gasoline-soaked dry grass. Strange how heresies seem to spread like viruses.

This bizarre eschatology was aided in no small part by wretched translations of the Bible in which the Greek word αἰών (aion) is translated “world,” giving rise to the thought that the verse in which it exists are speaking of the end of all things.

Matthew 13:39 The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.

Matthew 13:40 As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.

Matthew 13:49 So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just,

In each of those verses, the translation lends itself to thinking that our Lord is speaking about the end of this world in which we live. And since this has not happened yet, we being obviously still in the world and having not seen its destruction, there must be a final end to all things in which Christ will come and cast all the wretched sinners into eternal hell. This certainly must be what Jesus is speaking about.

But that is not what Jesus was speaking about. These verses correctly say:  “the harvest is the “end of the AGE.”  “so shall it be in the end of the AGE.”  “so shall it be at the end of the AGE.”  In each of these verses, the Greek word aion has been translated as “world.” In Matthew 24: 3 we are given clarity regarding the end of the age. The disciples ask Jesus about the end of the age.  The way the question is framed makes it clear that they have understood that this event is coterminous with the destruction of the Temple. They are the one and same event.

Where else do we find a description of this event?  I am convinced that it is in the Book of Apocalypse.  While I have neither the space nor the inclination to go into a detailed presentation of the whole book, there is something important at the end which “Bible scholars” have utterly missed in the presuppositional manner in which they read this book.

Revelation 20:12 “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. 14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

For Infernalists, this section is speaking about the end of the world and throwing sinners into eternal hell, aka “the lake of fire.” If you take these events chronologically, something happens after this passage which throws everything out of order for them.

Revelation 21:1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 4 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. 5 And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. 6 And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. 7 He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. 8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

Verse 1 In Jewish Apocalyptic Language, “heaven and earth” are a reference to the Old Covenant kingdom passing away. As discussed earlier in the book, the reference is to the Temple in Jerusalem, the very heart of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is precisely what happened in 70 AD, prophesied by Christ when He spoke the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:1–9. The fig tree, national Israel, had borne no fruit. The owner of the vineyard gave it one more year to bear fruit, then it would be cut down. The added year ended in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem, which according to Matthew 21:33–46, was the end of national Israel as the special husbandmen of the vineyard of God, the kingdom on earth. Not understanding Jewish Apocalyptic Language, it was not too long before Greek and Roman Christians began seeing this as a prophecy of the destruction of the visible earth and the heavens above us.

Verse 2 Some important wording here is totally missed. The New Jerusalem comes down from heaven. What is this New Jerusalem? The verse itself tells us. It is the bride. Who is the bride of Christ but the New Covenant church? God gives to the world the church in all Her beauty to bring salvation to us. How can the church come down to the world if this is the end of all things? The church came down to the world in fullness on the day of Pentecost.

Verse 3 The tabernacle is the dwelling place of God among men. Everything is changing now with the end of the Old Covenant. There is a new Jerusalem, the church, come down to be among men. Within each parish of the church is a tabernacle where God dwells in the Eucharist. Everything Judaism had is found new in Christianity.

Verse 4 This could be one of those “Ah hah! Gotcha!” verses for those who believe this is speaking of the end of all things. In discussing verses six and seven, I will show you why this is impossible. Those who believe that this chapter is speaking of the eschatological end of all things will snidely ask, “No pain? No sorrow? Who are you kidding? Look around you!” At first, I was a bit stumped by this until I realized that this passage is speaking of the celestial view of reality and not of this illusory life. For the Christian, there really is no pain or sorrow. We have been redeemed. Our 21st century lazy and self-indulgent lives have entirely missed what it means to be a Christian. This verse is speaking of the spiritual reality for the believer. Death no longer has dominion over us. Look at the joy of the martyrs as they die with hymns of praise on their lips. Truly suffering has no hold over them.

Verse 6 This verse has a time indicator showing that this passage cannot be the end of the world. At the end of all things, according to Infernalists, your eternal state is settled. Either you are in Christ, and thus not thirsty, or are separated from Him, and will be thirsting but will get nothing to drink forever. This is not what the verse says. It says those who are thirsting may come and drink freely. This cannot be a believer, since he already has rivers of water flowing from within, quenching his spiritual thirst. It can only mean the unbeliever who comes to recognize his thirst for the living water of Christ and appeals for a drink. This is the promise of the Gospel, which went out to all the world and made millions of converts. The message of God’s love made men and women thirst to experience that love. If this passage in Revelation is about the end of all things, this invitation is ridiculous because the wicked, according to Infernalist teaching, will never have their desire (thirst) for God satisfied.

Verse 7 Another time indicator showing this is about things that are yet to come. How does Jesus say “he that shall overcome (future tense) shall inherit all things” if this passage is about the end of the world, and the issue of inheriting eternal life or being disinherited is completely settled? If you think this is the end of the world, then there is no “shall inherit” because those who are in heaven with Christ have already inherited and those who you assume are in hell forever cannot inherit. The way Infernalists read Revelation 20, everything is finished, and you are either redeemed with Christ or damned in the eternal lake of fire, with no opportunity to overcome. Instead, here is an invitation open to all: overcome your passions, overcome the sin that binds you, and you shall inherit that which has been prepared for all my children from the beginning of all things.

Verse 8 Infernalists teach that this verse is speaking about casting sinners into an everlasting fire of hell. It is not. It is a warning to those who shall remain stubbornly attached to sin. They shall not only experience the first death, that of their physical bodies, but also the second death of being cast into the smelting furnace, described here as the lake of fire. Again, remember that we are speaking of symbolic language here. It is not a literal fire as described by the warped imaginations of some Western theologians. There is only one fire in the next life and in the ages of ages to come–the passionate fire of God’s love, of which early fathers such as St. Isaac the Syrian spoke. Our God is a consuming fire, and what is consumed is all that is His enemy–death, the grave, and all evil. We are not His enemies. We are all of us His children. Some have been, and many are to this day, extremely sick with evil, but that does not make them not His children. It makes them sick and in need of bitter medicine to become well. We can either take it now, or take it later, which will be much, much more unpleasant. The choice is yours!

Reading the rest of chapter 21 verifies this. From verse ten on we see a description of the church as the bride of Christ. We are given a description of how it appears as a celestial reality. And notice that the gates of it are never shut. The Gospel invitation remains open to all, even after death. The only restriction is that in this beautiful celestial city, no one may enter who is defiled with sin. This is the whole purpose of the fire of God’s love. It is to cleanse the impurities and bring the soul to repentance. This is the splendor of God’s love.

I will need to answer one more objection which I already can hear from those Infernalists who are determined to make this book a book of God’s eternal condemnation of sinners. It is from the closing chapter of Revelation.

Revelation 22:10 “And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand. 11 He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. 12 And, behold, I come quickly; [2] and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.”

God insists to John that the wicked remain wicked and the just remain just. Infernalists will point to verse eleven as a proof text that there is no repentance after death. But in their zeal to damn souls, they cruise right by yet another crucial time indicator which shows a shift in the action. Here the action returns to earth away from visions of the heavenly city. Christ speaks to John in the here and now with instructions about the coming destruction of Jerusalem. The time is at hand, coming quickly–not two thousand years down the road. At hand. Quickly. These are important adjectives which show that the time for all this was about to happen. The focus of Christ has shifted back to what is about to happen to Jerusalem.

And what is about to happen to those in Jerusalem whose future is destruction? Christ says let the wicked remain wicked. They are going to reap the reward of their evil and there will be no turning from it. This is the true meaning of election. Jesus spoke about the Pharisees as having been blinded by God so that they might not see what He was teaching and be saved. He goes on to say that this is not from some dreadful decision of God made before the foundation of the world, but because this is what they have chosen and now God honors that choice and does not give them ears to hear and eyes to see. It is not about some plan of God to damn people out of the mystery of his will, but about the choices we make.

This is a fearful pronouncement that all should take to heart. Just like Pharaoh, there comes a time when God says, after you have refused and refused and refused to listen, “Okay. Have it your way. Reap what you have sown.” After the Crucifixion, national Israel was symbolically given one more year as the fig tree to repent, turn to Christ, and bear fruit. Not only did they utterly fail, but they also filled up the measure of their fathers who killed the prophets by persecuting to death Christ’s people. Now the full reward for their evil would be given, starting with their deaths in Jerusalem and their falling into the chastening fire of God’s scourging love. There would be no turning back. God now declares their hearts shall be hardened just as Pharaoh’s heart was. Behold I come quickly, Christ says, and to give every man in this wretched nation what they have earned according to their deeds.

The only mercy of this terrible proclamation is that God’s justice is not eternal conscious torment. As discussed before, in lex talionis, you are scourged in proportion to what you have done. Once your measure is filled up, justice is served.

Matthew and Revelation, so often quoted as proof-texts for a future Great Tribulation and eternal damnation of souls, are about national Israel. The focus of Christ is on the coming destruction. His warnings on how to be saved are focused on this event. He warns both the nation and individuals of what will happen if they repent–and what will happen if they do not. He weeps over Jerusalem, His beloved city as He has come to realize their stubbornness has sealed the fate of this once magnificent city. Yet the last book of the Bible closes with the promise of something even greater. The New Jerusalem appears to all, her gates never to be shut, and the eternal invitation is this: “Come all you who thirst, and drink freely of the water of life.” 

I hope what I have written shows you that The Book of Apocalypse is not a description of the end of the world, but rather a description of the end of the Old Covenant and the entrance of the New Covenant and the New Covenant Age in which we live. The gates of the New Jerusalem (the Church) are ever open and all who thirst may come and drink freely. The Lake of Fire is metaphorical language for the love of God, which the early fathers described as fire. They taught that far from being a retributive fire, it was a healing fire, albeit most painful in accord with the depths of our sins. Such an understanding completely ties together the damnation verses and the universal restoration verses without conflict. The damnation verses are pointed to those Jews, such as the Pharisees, who would not enter the new age because of the hardness of their hearts. Their chastisement would be “age-long” or “age-during,”  as Dr. Illaria Ramelli has pointed out in her massive work on Apokatastasis. 

One other thing that I need to add.  I just heard Brad Jersak mention this in one of his videos. The Bible speaks of “ages unto ages.”  The common misunderstanding of both Roman Catholics and Protestants is that the next thing that is to happen is the final age. In this understanding, Revelation is speaking about the final wrap-up, the Judgment Seat of Christ, and the beginning of eternity for all mankind.  I disagree, based on what I have shown above. We are in the next of what are an unknown number of “ages unto ages.”  The Jewish Age ended in AD 70, ushering in the new age, the Age of the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:13). After this, who knows?  But the understanding of “ages unto ages” yet to come gives us hope that these ages are ages of correction for the recalcitrant and hard-hearted to come to repentance after death. Some repent in this life. Some are going to take a long, loooooooong time, both in chastening within God’s justice, as well as in coming to realize that outside of Christ, they are nothing.

Dr. Chapp is right to mention the tension between these verses, but it is a man-made tension which comes from misunderstanding what the Bible is saying, who it is talking about, and the two-fold picture of salvation found within.  The first salvation is from the destruction of Jerusalem itself.  It is being saved into the coming Kingdom of the New Covenant.  History records that when the Roman armies of Titus pulled back from the walls of Jerusalem, those within who remembered and believed the words of the Lord escaped to the nearby city of Pella under cover of night, and thus saved themselves. 

The second salvation, spoken of as the Lake of Fire, is being saved from the chastening that comes after you die. The Lake of Fire is not hell.  Oh, hellists will see it that way, for every mention of fire to them looks like hell, just like when a man owns a hammer, soon everything begins to look like a nail.  There is a new age coming.  Jesus speaks about it and warns His listeners to flee the coming chastisement which will fall on the wicked.

Dear Dr. Chapp – this is the answer to your quandary. I hope my explanation makes sense. When you realize that Christ’s warnings (and St. Paul’s) have to do only with the destruction of Jerusalem, you can make sense of them being in the same book that contains 73 verses promising God’s complete restoration of all things.  You are a brilliant man. I would urge you to your own study, using the paradigm I have set before you as a template.  I think it will answer your questions.

[1] A transcript of her memoirs is found at http://openingtheseals.com/appendix/margaret-macdonald-the-origin-of-the-rapture/.  Reading them you can see that she was theologically illiterate and given to emotionalism.  In other words, a prime candidate for delusion, or what the Orthodox Church refers to as “prelest.”

[2] In Greek, the word is tachý, takh-oo’ and means quickly, speedily (without delay). 2,000 years of waiting for the coming of the Lord hardly meets the qualification of quickly or speedily.

2 comments

  1. Just had to say – another fine post. With the Jello-like amorphous shapes that (our interpretations of) the Revelation can take, we have great latitude on how our brethren may differ as to exact interpretation. But the Preterist (at least broadly speaking) makes so much more sense of the apocalyptic. Yes – there remains the Truth that “He will come again to judge the quick and the dead”. But the millennialists perspective (which I was raised with) loses all sense of proportion where every prophecy future to the stance of Paul has to be our future as well. But, there are times, I still have to admit, that I can wish that the councils had erred on the side of caution and left Revelation out of the canon! Too easily the handling of it devolves into merely a theological Rorschach test!

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  2. I do need to prayerfully be careful of becoming a snide judge over others who see Revelation in the more traditional light. After all, for over 40 years, I saw it in the same manner. I just recently “saw” what I shared here as I was finishing up my book, so I am hardly one to criticize others for their lack of theological accumen.

    I do think that the Preterist view puts all the puzzle pieces together in a rather nice way. I just hope that Dr. Chapp is not offended by the way that I roughly handle the Roman Catholic Church in my posts. I have a profound respect for him. I think his posts are charitable and balanced.

    My posts, on the other hand, sometimes drip with venom as they crash off the walls of the asylum!!

    Liked by 1 person

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