Volume 48 - Issue 1

What Shall We Remember? The Eternality of Memory in Revelation

By Jared M. August


This essay considers the concept of the eternality of human memory and what the Christian may expect to remember after death. Although numerous resources address the topic of the resurrected life, few consider the Bible’s teaching on the permanence of memory. By considering key passages from the book of Revelation, this study attempts a brief overview on the topic. It is proposed that Revelation depicts the believer’s eternal memory as consisting of details, corresponding to objective reality, experienced by community, and comforted by God.

One of the prominent themes of both the Old and New Testaments is the importance of memory, in its various forms. The examples are numerous: Moses called the Israelites to remember the mighty acts of God they witnessed (Exod 13:3; Deut 5:15; 8:18), the Psalms exhort God’s people to praise the Lord by remembering his continued faithfulness (Pss 77:11; 103:2; 143:5), and the NT authors plead with their readers to remember how they ought to conduct themselves (2 Tim 2:14; Titus 3:1; Jude 5). The Christian faith itself is, after all, built on the necessity of remembering the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 11:23–25; John 14:26; Luke 22:18–20). For the Christian, this focus on memory raises the question as to what the believer will remember after death. Put simply, for the believer, is memory eternal?

Although there are numerous treatments of what the Bible teaches about heaven and the resurrected life,1 few resources consider the Bible’s teaching on the permanence of memory at any length.2 In one of the most extensive discussions available on the eternality of memory, Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology, answers this question in the affirmative:

The Bible clearly teaches that man is to retain all his faculties in the future life. One of the most important of those faculties is memory. If this were not retained there would be a chasm in our existence. The past for us would cease to exist. We could hardly, if at all, be conscious of our identity. We should enter heaven, as creatures newly created, who had no history.3

Hodge’s reasoning is clear and straightforward: Since one’s memory makes a person—in part—who they are, memory must be carried into eternity. It is one thing, however, to acknowledge that memory continues past death, yet it is quite another to consider what this memory involves. Building upon Hodge’s assertion, the aim of this paper is to offer some initial thoughts on what the Bible teaches about the eternality of memory.

Some limitations are inherent. Given the extensive nature of any study on memory, this paper attempts something quite modest in scope. It does not offer a philosophical, psychological, or physiological evaluation of human memory, though each of these would be of considerable value in and of itself. Furthermore, I do not attempt a biblically exhaustive study on the topic, which again, would be of immense value,4 but intentionally limit my focus to analyzing one biblical book, Revelation.

In view of its eschatological focus, key passages from Revelation are considered in an effort to develop John’s view and understanding of what memory after death entails. In so doing, the hope is that this study might serve as a starting point for further research on the Christian perspective of the eternality of memory. Ultimately, I propose that the book of Revelation depicts the believer’s eternal memory as consisting of details, corresponding to objective reality, experienced by community, and comforted by God.

1. Eternal Memory as Detailed

Revelation 6:9–11 provides a description of the opening of the fifth seal, in which the martyred saints call out to God for vindication and God provides an answer. As the clearest example of a prayer of supplication in Revelation, this passage plays a prominent role in the book as a whole, as the Lord’s response is ultimately revealed in the judgments recorded in the chapters that follow.5

In this passage, “the souls” (τὰς ψυχάς) of those who had been slain for the word of God cry out, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will you keep from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (6:9–10). Although some claim that this passage should be taken metaphorically,6 it seems best understood literally. In this view, the “souls” are the disembodied persons who had been martyred (σφάζω, lit. “slaughtered” or “killed violently”) as a result of their testimony of Christ.7 Given the context of Revelation, this scene in John’s vision occurs in the intermediate state in heaven.8 That is, these souls are the disembodied souls of believers who have not yet received their glorified bodies.9 Though disembodied, these souls still maintain their identity, their individuality, and perhaps most important to this study, their memory.

These saints were put to death as a result of the witness they had received from Christ (cf. Rev 12:17; 20:4).10 Beasley-Murray summarizes, “They had been put to death as propagators of lies and enemies of mankind.”11 It is their identification with and belief in Christ that resulted in their unjust murders. As such, they cry out to the Lord for vindication (cf. Luke 18:7; 2 Thess 1:8).12 These souls pray for a reversal of the world’s false justice and for the Lord to enact true and lasting justice.13

Of particular interest to this current study is the awareness that those who died in Christ have regarding how and why they were killed. As Gomes articulates, “These individuals demonstrate a vivid recollection of their martyrdom.”14 Even the request of these souls reflects this reality, as the two terms used (“judging” and “avenging”) are specific to an equal and appropriate response. “Judging” (κρίνω) indicates a legal decision and evaluation (e.g., Matt 7:2; Luke 6:37; 1 Cor 4:5; Rev 20:12); “avenging” (ἐκδικέω) involves the infliction of an “appropriate penalty for wrong doing” (e.g., Luke 18:3, 5; Rom 12:19; 2 Cor 10:6; Rev 19:2).15 Used together, these terms demand that the punishment fit the crime. The perpetrators are to be judged in correspondence to the specific deeds they had inflicted on these souls. Furthermore, the Lord’s response that these believers should wait until their fellow servants would “be killed as they had” (6:11) implies a correspondence between the types of deaths as martyrdom (cf. 6:9, σφάζω, “slaughtered”). The point is that the disembodied souls in this vision remember precise details regarding their earthly deaths and as such, request specific justice to be enacted.

Outside the book of Revelation, several passages indicate that those who die are aware of and remember their past deeds. For example, in Luke 16:19–31, Jesus recounts the details of the rich man and Lazarus, in which Abraham uses the imperative μνήσθητι (“remember”; 16:25).16 The rich man’s response and the absence of any refutation indicates that he does indeed remember (16:27).17 Similarly in Luke, when one of the criminals crucified with Jesus cries out, “Remember [μνήσθητί] me when you come into your kingdom” (23:42), Jesus responds in the affirmative (23:43). In this way, there is a recognition that details from this life are assumed to carry forward after death.18 Beasley-Murray observes that the theme of martyrs crying out for judgment after their death is “well known in Jewish apocalyptic writings.”19 This is evident in passages such as 1 Enoch 47:1–2, 420 and 22:5, 7.21

In summary, the conclusions regarding Revelation 6:9–11 are fairly straightforward. Although this passage is specific to the intermediate state—and not to the new heaven and new earth (21:1–22:5)—it provides one of the clearest glimpses regarding the picture of eternal memory as detailed. It assumes that believers maintain a precise memory after death that reflects both personal knowledge as well as emotional experience. Not only do the souls who were killed remember that they were unjustly slain, but they call for God to be just in inflicting an appropriate level of punishment. Although the memories recorded in this passage are certainly negative, at the very least, Revelation 6:9–11 demonstrates that eternal memory is thorough and comprehensive; it is detailed.

2. Eternal Memory as Reality-Correspondent

Despite the current possibility of inaccurate or incomplete memory, John presents in Revelation that the believer’s eternal memory corresponds with objective reality. This builds upon the Revelation 6:9–11 idea that memory is detailed by specifying that eternal memory is accurate in its details. Scripture recognizes the potential inaccuracy of human memory in various ways, not only in the possibility of forgetfulness (Deut 6:4–9; Prov 3:1–4; 4:5; Ps 103:2), but also in the necessity of establishing multiple witnesses to verify a charge (Num 35:30; Deut 17:6; John 8:17; 2 Cor 13:1; 1 Tim 5:19; Rev 11:3). Despite this present frailty and potential inaccuracy, Revelation depicts human memory after death as corresponding to God’s authoritative standard of reality. Three passages in particular develop this concept: Revelation 11:17–18; 14:13; and 20:11–15.22

In 11:17–18, the twenty-four elders worship the Lord for his identity (11:17a) and his victorious accomplishment (11:17b–18). Of particular interest to this study is 11:18, which states that the time has come “for the dead to be judged, and to reward your servants, the prophets and the saints and those who fear your name, the small and the great, and to destroy the destroyers of the earth.”

This passage focuses on the universal scope of the Lord’s judgement.23 The three concepts “to be judged” (κριθῆναι), “to reward” (δοῦναι τὸν μισθόν; lit. “to give the reward”),24 and “to destroy” (διαφθεῖραι) are parallel in this passage, emphasizing the universality of this event. The Lord’s “servants” receive their just payment, just as the “destroyers of the earth” receive their just payment (cf. 2 Thess 1:6–7). Regardless of one’s recollection of their deeds (their memory), this passage indicates that earthly actions have a lasting impact. One is not judged merely on subjective recollections of this present life, but on the acts they actually committed. In other words, one’s eternal payment corresponds directly with one’s earthly deeds.25 If, as above, one’s memory is detailed, then it follows that these details correspond with the reality and rationale of the individual’s just eternal recompense.

Revelation 14 offers a similar expectation about the future judgment of one’s deeds. Subsequent to the “call for the endurance of the saints” (14:12), this verse reads, “‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them’” (14:13).

Of particular interest is the last statement in Revelation 14:13: “for their deeds follow them” (τὰ γὰρ ἔργα αὐτῶν ἀκολουθεῖ μετʼ αὐτῶν). The conjunction γάρ introduces the rationale as to why these dead saints are able to rest from their labors: their deeds (τὰ ἔργα, synonymous with labors [τῶν κόπων])26 of loyalty unto martyrdom (cf. 6:9–11; 14:12) are not forgotten.27 Osborne summarizes this passage aptly: “What we do for or against God is what we will receive from God.… The unbelievers will receive eternal torment for their evil deeds (14:9–11), and the faithful will receive eternal rewards.”28 In other words, the “rest” (ἀναπαύω, lit. “to cause someone to gain relief from toil”)29 experienced by these believers is directly rooted in God’s faithfulness not to overlook or forget their endurance and testimony. God’s character, namely his omniscience, is consistent with objective reality and provides believers the courage needed to suffer faithfully. God remembers all things and judges all people with perfect and complete justice. In this way, 14:13 demonstrates that the believer’s experience after death is directly correspondent to his actions in this life.

Lastly, 20:11–15 provides the most thorough explanation of God’s decisive eschatological judgment in Revelation, the great white throne scene. There is debate as to who is present at this judgement, unbelievers or all people.30 However, for the purpose of this study, the focus is primarily on the role of books/scrolls (βιβλίον): “books were opened” (20:12b), “another book was opened” (20:12c), “the book of life” (twice, 20:12c, 15). The dead are judged “by what was written in the books” (20:12d), “according to what they had done” (twice, 20:12e, 13). The concept of “books” recording all human deeds indicates the objectivity of reality.

The idea that all human deeds are recorded is frequently developed throughout Scripture, as Thomas notes, “Scripture makes consistent reference to a register of human actions (cf. Deut. 32:34; Ps. 56:8; Isa. 65:6; Dan. 7:10; Mal. 3:16; Matt. 12:37).”31 That these actions are written in books/scrolls indicates the permanence of the record of human deeds. In this way, divine judgment is not arbitrary but rather corresponds with actual historical events.32 Ultimately, one’s eternal destiny depends on faith (or lack thereof) in Jesus Christ: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (11:15; cf. Rev 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 21:27).

In summary, even a cursory examination of the above passages (Rev 11:17–18; 14:13; 20:11–15) demonstrates the correspondence between an individual’s deeds and their eschatological judgment. John’s point is that no one will be puzzled by what they receive from the Lord. The dead will be judged, both the Lord’s “servants” and the “destroyers of the earth” (11:18), believers are promised that “their deeds follow them” (14:13), and all people are assured that final judgment is based on “the book of life” (20:12, 15) and “what was written in the books” (20:12). Although one’s present memory may be inaccurate or incomplete, John indicates the expectation that the believer’s eternal memory in judgment corresponds with objective reality.

3. Eternal Memory as Communal

Although memory is recalled individually, Revelation presents eternal memory as experienced corporately by the community of believers. That is, believers are pictured as rejoicing in their unique status as the people of God as they share joy in mutually experienced knowledge and events. Just as individuals reminisce over shared knowledge and experiences in this life, Revelation pictures believers reminiscing over the same in the life to come. This is demonstrated in two ways: (1) the status and role of the people of God, and (2) the active praise by the people of God. Although closely connected, the second builds upon the first.

3.1. The Status and Role of the People of God

In Revelation 5:9–10, the twenty-four elders praise the Lamb who ransomed individuals “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” In view of the Lamb’s salvific work (“by your blood, you ransomed [ἀγοράζω; lit. “purchased”]”), this group has been made “a kingdom of priests to our God” who “will reign upon the earth.”33 Here, there is a distinction between status and responsibility. As Osborne notes, “The redemption effected gives a new status.”34 In turn, this new status (“kingdom of priests”) provokes a specific role (“they will reign upon the earth”).35 As such, the progression follows: (1) redemption, (2) new status, and (3) new role. In this way, the future role of the believer depends directly on Christ’s accomplishment and the experience of embracing him as Savior and Lord (cf. 1:5–6; 3:20). The very idea of corporately “reigning upon the earth” presupposes the reasons why they reign: their shared knowledge and experience of Christ’s redemption (“by your blood you ransomed”) and their status as a “kingdom of priests.”

This concept of status leading to role is also found in 7:14–17. In this passage, those “coming out of the great tribulation” have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14). This passage deals with a specific subset of the people of God who mutually experienced intense trial and persecution.36 Due to their shared experience (“coming out of the great tribulation”), they are “before the throne of God” (7:15a), they “serve him night and day in his temple” (7:15b), and they are “sheltered” by the Lord’s presence (7:15c). They no longer hunger, thirst, or are struck by sun or scorching heat (7:16). They are led by the Lamb who wipes away all tears (7:17). In this way, the believer’s experience in heaven is intricately connected to and reflects their past experiences on earth. The shared experience (in this case, the “great tribulation”) has implications that carry on into eternity. As seen below, those in these roles praise the Lord in specific ways, echoing memory of their past experience.

3.2. The Active Praise by the People of God

Revelation pictures believers as praising God for his past work in a communal manner. One of the clearest passages that demonstrates this reality is Revelation 15:2–4, in which believers sing songs in praise of Christ’s accomplishment in salvation. The subset of believers who “conquered the beast” sing, “Great and amazing are your deeds…. Just and true are your ways…. All the nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” Again, as with 7:14–17, the individuals described in this passage are a specific subset of the people of God who have shared knowledge/experience. Their mutual experience of “conquering the beast” (15:2) provides the reason for them to corporately worship the Lord together. Comparable events are described in 5:13; 7:9–12; 19:1–3, 6–8.

In summary, the book of Revelation envisions numerous instances of individuals serving and praising the Lord. In 5:9–10, believers receive the future role of corporately “reigning on the earth” because of Christ’s accomplishment and their belief in him. In 7:14–17, those who endure the “great tribulation” have the unique role of corporately serving before the Lord as they are sheltered by his presence. In 15:2–4, those who “conquered the beast” sing together a song that reflects their shared experience witnessing the Lord’s eschatological acts. In each of these passages, Revelation pictures the community of believers as keenly aware of past knowledge and experience as they corporately serve and praise the Lord. In this way, memory is not only detailed and reality-correspondent, but also enjoyed and experienced in community.

4. Eternal Memory as Healable

If eternal memory is detailed, reality-correspondent, and experienced by community, it raises the difficulty as to what will happen to negative memories. Will it be possible for one to forget sin-stained and unwanted memory? In discussing this concept, Gomes poses the practical question: “If we retain our memories of the past, including all the trauma and heart-ache we experienced in this life, then how could we be supremely happy? Would not our memory of those painful events generate renewed hurt and anguish?”37 In response to the eternality of memory, however, John bases his hope in God as the true comforter who is able to console and heal painful and sorrowful memory.

Of particular interest to this topic is the expectation that the Lord will “wipe away every tear” (7:17; 21:4). This expectation that God will wipe away tears echoes back to Isaiah 25:8 (the Lord will “wipe tears away from all faces”).38 Although some view this as anticipating tears of joy to be wiped away,39 it seems better to take it as providing a unique comfort to those who experience specific pain. As Patterson comments about 7:17, “The emphasis here seems to be on the available comfort coming from the Lamb as a part of the heavenly package that includes provision.”40 In its simplest understanding, 7:17 and 21:4 indicate that God provides a unique consoling and healing ministry to those who, for whatever reason, need it.

This is consistent with the entirety of Revelation. Throughout this book, it appears that those who experience more intense sorrow and endure deeper heart-ache in this life are actually the ones who receive greater and more personal comfort in the life to come. It is those who are slain for the Word of God (6:9) who are given a white robe (6:11); those who endure the great tribulation (7:14) who are sheltered with the Lamb’s presence (7:15); those who die in the Lord (14:13a) who are given rest from their labors (14:13b); those who conquer the beast (15:2) who sing the song of Moses (15:3–4). Despite the undoubtedly painful experience of those who suffer throughout the book of Revelation, never do these sufferers make an objection nor do they protest. In an ironic twist, it is as if suffering and persecution is itself a blessing and privilege (cf. Matt 5:10–12; 2 Cor 1:4–5; 2 Tim 2:12; Jas 5:11; 1 Pet 3:14), as God promises that those who suffer will receive comfort directly correspondent to their pain. God’s presence itself acts as a healing balm.41 In this way, Revelation testifies to the expectation that God heals and comforts in the best, most effective, and most gracious manner.

5. Implications and Conclusion

This brief study has sought to overview the significant passages in Revelation that speak to the eternality of human memory. In so doing, it has proposed that Revelation depicts the believer’s eternal memory as consisting of details, corresponding to objective reality, experienced by community, and comforted by God. Far from being lost upon death, the believer holds the expectant hope that the memories and experiences of this life are able to be recalled in the future. Although Revelation primarily deals with painful memory (persecution, suffering, and death), it provides expectations regarding all memory.

That memory consists of details provides encouragement to Christians who long to remember the joyful parts of life long-forgotten: holidays with family, birthday celebrations, graduations, and other momentous occasions. That memory corresponds to objective reality provides the hope that even an inaccurate memory will one day be made right, that God remembers all and will reward a life lived in faithfulness to him. That memory is experienced by community provides the expectation of future reunions with friends and family in eternity. That memory is healable provides the assurance that even the darkest of pain will be comforted by the presence of the Savior.42 As such, this study concludes with the words of Charles Hodge:

Memory, however, is not only to continue, but will doubtless with all our faculties be greatly exalted, so that the records of the past may be as legible to us as the events of the present. If this be so, if men are to retain in heaven the knowledge of their earthly life; this of course involves the recollection of all social relations, of all the ties of respect, love, and gratitude which bind men in the family and in society.43

With this joyful anticipation in mind—where good memory is recalled with detailed accuracy and painful memory is uniquely comforted by the Savior—the believer is one who joins the call of John in Revelation, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (22:20).

[1] For example, see: Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2004); W. A. Criswell and Paige Patterson, Heaven (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1991); Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman Jr., Sense and Nonsense about Heaven and Hell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007); C. H. Spurgeon, No Tears in Heaven, revised ed. (Scotland: Christian Focus, 2014); Peter Kreeft, Every Thing You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1990); Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, Heaven, in Theology in Community (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014); Alister E. McGrath, A Brief History of Heaven (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003); and René Pache, The Future Life (Chicago: Moody, 1962).

[2] To be sure, memory is assumed in each of the above resources, particularly in reference to the reunion with friends and family who have died in Christ. About this idea, Charles Hodge comments, “The doctrine that in a future life we shall recognize those whom we knew and loved on earth, has entered into the faith of all mankind. It is taken for granted in the Bible, both in the Old Testament and in the New” (Systematic Theology [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982], 3:782). One resource that devotes more space to the topic is Alan W. Gomes, 40 Questions About Heaven and Hell (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2018), who offers a page and a half overview regarding memory in heaven (224–25).

[3] Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3:782. Hodge comments that if the believer did not maintain his memory, “Then all the songs of heaven would cease. There could be no thanksgiving for redemption; no recognition of all God’s dealings with us in this world” (3:782).

[4] Numerous studies have focused on various aspects of memory in Scripture, however, most of these studies center on Israel’s corporate memory in the Old Testament. For example, see Brevard S. Childs, Memory and Tradition in Israel, SBT 37 (London: SCM, 1962); Mark S. Smith, Memoirs of God: History, Memory and the Experience of the Divine in Ancient Israel (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004); C. L. Kessler, “The Memory Motif in the God-Man Relationship of the Old Testament” (PhD diss., Northwestern University, 1956); and J. Robert Cosand, “The Theology of Remembrance in the Cultus of Israel” (PhD diss., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1995).

[5] This is argued extensively by J. P. Heil, “The Fifth Seal (Rev 6,9–11) as a Key to the Book of Revelation,” Bib 74 (1993): 220–43. Heil asserts that this prayer “sets the agenda for the remainder of the book, which provides various projections of the judgment and vindication for which the souls pray” (p. 242). See also Brian J. Tabb’s treatment of the prayers of the saints in All Things New: Revelation as Canonical Capstone, NSBT 48 (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019), 140–43.

[6] For example, G. K. Beale asserts that “slain” is likely “metaphorical and those spoken of represent the broader category of all saints who suffer for the sake of their faith” (The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999], 390). In similar manner, Alan F. Johnson comments, “The Greek psyche has various meanings and probably stands here for the actual ‘lives’ or ‘persons’ who were killed rather than for their ‘souls.’ They are seen by John as persons who are very much alive, though they have been killed by the beast” (“Revelation,” in Hebrews–Revelation, revised ed., EBC 13 [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006], 654).

[7] Key to this view is the quantitative—rather than merely qualitative—description (“until the number … should be complete”; 6:11), which does not easily lend itself to metaphor. Additionally, the expectation of time (“until”; 6:11) is difficult to reconcile with a metaphorical interpretation.

[8] Gomes comments, “This scene occurs in the intermediate state in heaven, and the ‘souls’ thus depicted are disembodied at this point” (Heaven and Hell, 225). Paige Patterson offers a similar assessment when he suggests, “These martyrs are in a disembodied state, having not yet received glorified bodies.… The souls of those who have been slain because of their testimony to Christ and because of their adherence to the word of God remain in a disembodied state until all the saints who are to be killed in the tribulation have completed their destiny” (Revelation, NAC 39 [Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2012], 184).

Of course, debate exists as to when this scene occurs, though this is largely outside the scope of this paper’s focus. Patterson, for example, follows a typical premillennial reading of Revelation and asserts that it takes place “during the tribulation period” (Revelation, 184). This is in contrast to others such as Beale who assert that it refers to “all saints who suffer for the sake of their faith” (Revelation, 390). This paper follows the premillennial approach.

[9] Robert G. Bratcher and Howard A. Hatton note that in this passage, the soul appears to refer to “the immaterial part of a person that lives on after death” (A Handbook on The Revelation to John, UBS Handbook Series [New York: United Bible Societies, 1993], 115). Bratcher and Hatton recognize the difficulty of the unusual language in this passage, yet still maintain the need for a literal reading. They comment, “Of course it is difficult to imagine how a soul puts on a robe; but this is figurative language describing things seen in a vision, and the figurative language should be maintained rather literally” (p. 117).

[10] Robert H. Mounce summarizes, “Those who died, therefore, are those who gave their lives in faithfulness to God as revealed in and through Jesus Christ” (The Book of Revelation, revised ed., NICNT [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997], 147. R. H. Charles notes that the expression εἶχον “implies a testimony that has been given them by Christ and which they have preserved” (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, ICC [Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1920], 1:174).

[11] G. R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation, NCB (London: Marshall, Morgan, and Scott, 1974), 136.

[12] Bratcher and Hatton comment, “The martyrs ask that God declare the guilt of the murderers and punish them” (Handbook on Revelation, 116). This call for punishment is not vindictive, but rather expectant of God’s ultimate justice. Bratcher and Hatton continue by further describing this plea: “This cry of the persecuted people of God is a request, or demand, that God act at once” (p. 116).

[13] Beasley-Murray comments, “The prayer … is a plea by the martyrs not for personal revenge, but for the vindication of the right and truth of the cause for which they gave their lives, which is Christ’s cause” (Revelation, 136). Beasley-Murray compares the martyrs’ cry with the cry of forgiveness of Jesus (Luke 23:34) and Stephen (Acts 7:60), noting, “It is not the individual perpetrators of the crime but the world’s judgment which is in view” (136 n. 1).

[14] Gomes, Heaven and Hell, 225.

[15] BDAG, s.v. “ἐκδικέω.”

[16] In Luke 16:25, Abraham comments, “Child, remember that you received your good things in your life, and Lazarus likewise bad things; but now he is being comforted here and you are in anguish.”

[17] As a parable, not all details of Luke 16:19–31 should be taken as historical events. As such, one ought not to build a doctrine of eternal memory solely from this account. That being recognized, the data found here is consistent with what is taught in other Scripture passages, as discussed above.

[18] Furthermore, the theme of blood “crying out” is found in various passages throughout the OT and NT (e.g., Gen 4:10; Ezek 3:18, 20; 35:6; Matt 23:35).

[19] Beasley-Murray, Revelation, 134.

[20] 1 Enoch 47:1–2, 4 is worth reproducing: “In those days, the prayers of the righteous ascended into heaven, and the blood of the righteous from the earth before the Lord of the Spirits. There shall be days when all the holy ones who dwell in the heavens above shall dwell (together). And with one voice, they shall supplicate and pray … on behalf of the blood of the righteous ones which has been shed. Their prayers shall not stop from exhaustion before the Lord of the Spirits—neither will they relax forever—(until) judgment is executed for them.… The prayers of the righteous ones have been heard, and the blood of the righteous has been admitted before the Lord of Spirits.” Text taken from James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol 1. d (New York: Doubleday, 1983).

[21] 1 Enoch 22:5, 7 reads, “I saw the spirits of the children of the people who were dead, and their voices were reaching unto heaven until this very moment.… This is the spirit which had left Abel, whom Cain, his brother, had killed; it (continues to) sue him until all of (Cain’s) seed is exterminated from the face of the earth.”

[22] Each of these passages refer to final eschatological judgment, indicating that their referent is likely one and the same, the great white throne scene (see Mounce, Revelation, 227).

[23] The statement in 11:15, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,” indicates the climactic, likely proleptic nature of this passage. Commenting on it (in particular, 11:19), George Eldon Ladd writes, “That this is a proleptic vision is seen from the fact that the temple is conceived as continuing to be in heaven (14:15, 17; 15:5; 16:17). The opening of the temple is a proleptic, symbolic act of the consummation which does not itself occur until chapters 21–22. In the consummation God himself dwells among his people and there will be no need of a temple” (A Commentary on the Revelation of John [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972], 163). About the future certainty of this passage, Mounce notes, “The event is so certain that throughout this section it is repeatedly spoken of as already having taken place” (Revelation, 226).

[24] Bratcher and Hatton note, “Rewarding here means that God will ‘pay back,’ ‘recompense,’ ‘do good things to,’ these people for what they have done” (Handbook on Revelation, 178).

[25] Of course, the whole of Revelation testifies to the reality that believers are justified based on Christ’s accomplishment (e.g., Rev 1:5–6; 3:20; 5:9; 7:10). Mounce summarizes this well: “Although rewards are all of grace (Rom 4:4), they vary according to what each has done (1 Cor 3:8)” (Revelation, 227).

[26] Beale, Revelation, 768. Likewise, Grant R. Osborne writes, “Here ἔργα is virtually synonymous with κόπων and means that all the hard work, not only their good deeds but also their faithfulness under persecution, will be recompensed by God” (Revelation, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 546.

[27] Bratcher and Hatton summarize this verse: “The record or the result of their service as followers of Jesus Christ accompanies them” (Handbook on Revelation, 216).

[28] Osborne, Revelation, 546. Similarly, Mounce comments, “These deeds follow them in the sense that there can be no separation between what a person is and what that person does” (Revelation, 277).

[29] BDAG, s.v. “ἀναπαύω.”

[30] On the one hand Patterson asserts, “The only people appearing … are those who were not a part of the first resurrection and hence were outside of Christ. No believers are here” (Revelation, 359). Alternatively, Osborne claims that this judgment is “universal, beginning with the saints and then finishing with the sinners” (Revelation, 719).

[31] Robert Thomas, Revelation 8–22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1995), 431. Likewise, Mounce comments, “The idea of a divine register is an ancient one” (Revelation, 376).

[32] Revelation 20:12 evokes the language of Daniel 7:10 (LXX): “And books were opened” (καὶ βιβλία ἠνοίχθησαν; Rev 20:12); “And books were opened (καὶ βίβλοι ἠνεῴχθησαν; Dan 7:10). In both cases, eschatological judgment is in view. David E. Aune, provides an extensive comparison of the language of “books” in Revelation with various Jewish writings (Revelation 17–22, WBC 52C [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998], 1102).

[33] Mounce makes the distinction between corporate and individual roles: “Corporately believers are a kingdom, and individually they are priests to God” (Revelation, 136).

[34] Osborne, Revelation, 260.

[35] Beale provides a helpful survey of the intertextual connections between these passages in Revelation and both Exodus 19:6 (“a kingly priesthood”) and Daniel 7:22 (“possessed the kingdom”), 27 (“they should rule”). See Beale, Revelation, 358–64.

[36] About this time period, Mounce writes, “It is that specific period of distress and cruel persecution which take place prior to the return of Christ” (Revelation, 164). These individuals, however, need not be understood as only martyrs, but as all those who endured this era. Osborne writes, “There is no stress here on martyrdom” (Revelation, 318), which stands in contrast to 6:9–11.

[37] Gomes, Heaven and Hell, 224. Gomes continues, “How could God ‘wipe away every tear from [our] eyes’ (Rev. 7:17; 21:4) without also wiping out our memory of what caused those tears in the first place?” (p. 224). In response, he asserts: “We will remember that these hurts occurred, but they will no longer bring us pain but rather praise, as we contemplate how God has worked all for good (Rom. 8:28) and brought us ‘beauty for ashes’ and ‘the oil of joy for mourning’ (Isa. 61:3, KJV)” (p. 225).

[38] About this connection, Beale writes, “The picture of a Father gently wiping away his children’s tears is but another metaphor Isaiah used for the joyous relief of the coming restoration. Those who had faithfully endured suffering, including death, during the captivity would be comforted by God’s presence and rejoice in the salvation for which they had waited” (Isa. 25:8–9; cf. Jer. 31:16 for a similar metaphorical depiction of Israel’s restoration hope)” (Revelation, 443).

[39] For example, Mounce asserts, “The tears that God wipes away are not the tears of grief over a wasted life. Rather, like the tears of a child brought suddenly from sorrow to delight, they linger rather ridiculously on the faces of the redeemed” (Revelation, 167).

[40] Patterson, Revelation, 205. Patterson continues by commenting that in 7:17, “The Lamb who is the shepherd is seen as providing all that is needed through both provision and solace to those who lacked both provision and comfort in the midst of the great tribulation” (p. 205).

[41] This concept of progressive healing is found also in Revelation 22:2 in that the leaves from the tree of life are “for the healing of the nations.” Bratcher and Hatton translate this as, “the leaves … are used to heal the wounds of all peoples” (Handbook of Revelation, 312).

[42] C. S. Lewis describes this concept artfully in his The Great Divorce, “‘Son,’ he said, ‘ye cannot in your present state understand eternity … But ye can get some likeness of it if ye say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. … That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. … The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down here, the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,” and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly’” (The Great Divorce, reprint ed. [New York: HarperCollins, 2001]), 69.

[43] Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3:782.

Jared M. August

Jared August is associate professor of New Testament and Greek at Northeastern Baptist College in Bennington, Vermont.

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