Mother Nature has taken a beating in the Revelation. We need only remember the terrible judgments on earth, sky, sea and fresh water in chapters 8 and 16. In the present passage we find that her troubles are not over. Preachers customarily refer to this great white throne judgment as a judgment on humankind (specifically on those who do not believe in Jesus), but John describes it first of all as a judgment on the natural world (v. 11), and only then on "the dead, great and small" who inhabited that world and who, at its end, lie buried within it (vv. 12-15). As soon as we see the great white throne and him who was seated on it, we are told that earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them (v. 11). John's language anticipates that of 21:1, "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away." Ironically, movements that today call themselves "new age"are the very ones clinging nostalgically to an old natural order that is "passing away" (compare Heb 1:10-12; 1 Cor 7:31; 2 Cor 4:18; 1 Jn 2:15-17).
The Greek word ouranos can be translated as either "heaven" or "sky." When in doubt, most English versions prefer the translation "heaven." It makes no sense, however, to claim that "heaven" in the sense of God's dwelling place will disappear at the last judgment. The NIV's earth and sky fled from his presence, therefore, is better here. John refers here to the visible world around him, the earth and sky he could see from Patmos with his own eyes.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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