THE DOCTRINE OF THE LAST THINGS.
Under this caption are treated such doctrines as the Second Coming of Christ, the Resurrection of both the righteous and wicked, the Judgments, Final Awards, and Eternal Destiny.
A. THE SECOND COMING OF
I. ITS IMPORTANCE.
1. ITS PROMINENCE IN THE SCRIPTURES.
It is claimed that one out of every thirty verses in the Bible mentions this doctrine; to every one mention of the first coming the second coming is mentioned eight times; 318 references to it are made in 216 chapters; whole books (1 and 2 Thess., e.g.) and chapters (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 31, e.g.) are devoted to it.
It is the theme of the Old Testament prophets. Of course, they sometimes merge the two comings so that it is not at first sight apparent, yet the doctrine is there. (1 Pet. 1:11).
Jesus Christ bore constant testimony to His coming again (John 14:3; Matt. 24 and 25; Mark 13; Luke 21; John 21:22).
The angels, who bore such faithful testimony to Christ's first advent, bear testimony to His second coming (Acts 1:11; cf. Heb. 2:2, for the faithfulness of their testimony).
The apostles faithfully proclaimed this truth (Acts 3:19, 20; 1 Thess. 4:16, 17; Heb. 9:28; 1 John 2:28; Jude 14, 15).
2. THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IS BIDDEN TO LOOK FORWARD TO CHRIST'S SECOND COMING AS ITS GREAT HOPE.
Titus 2:13--"Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." 2 Pet. 3:12. The one great event, that which supersedes all others, towards which the Church is to look, and for which she is to ardently long, is the second coming of Christ.
3. IT IS SET FORTH AS THE DOCTRINE WHICH WILL PROVE TO BE THE GREATEST INCENTIVE TO CONSISTENT LIVING.
Matt. 24:44-46; Luke 21:34-36--"And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. . . . Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man." 1 John 2:28; 3:3. The test which the church should apply to all questions of practice: Would I like to have Christ find me doing this when He comes?
4. IT IS A DOCTRINE OF THE GREATEST COMFORT TO THE BELIEVER.
1 Thess. 4:14-18. After stating that our loved ones who had fallen asleep in Christ should again meet with us at the coming of our Lord, the apostle says, "Wherefore comfort one another with these words."
Why then should such a comforting and helpful doctrine as this be spoken against? Many reasons may be suggested: the unreadiness of the church; preconceived views (2 Pet. 3:4); extravagant predictions as to time; lack of knowledge of the Scriptures. May not the guilt on our part for rejecting the second coming of Christ be as great if not greater than that of the Jews for rejecting His first coming?
II. WHAT IS MEANT BY THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST.
1. A PERSONAL AND VISIBLE COMING.
Acts 1:11--"Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." 1 Thess. 4:16, 17--"For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven." Rev. 1:7. From these scriptures we learn that by the second coming of Christ is meant the bodily, personal, and visible coming of our Lord Jesus Christ to this earth with His saints to reign.
2. ERRONEOUS VIEWS CONCERNING THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST.
a) That the Second Coming Means Christ's Coming at Death.
This cannot be the meaning, because--
Death is not attended by the events narrated in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17. Indeed the second coming is here set forth as the opposite of death for "the dead in Christ shall rise" from the dead when Christ comes again. According to John 14:3, Christ comes for us, and not we go to Him: "I will come again, and receive you unto myself."
John 21:21-23--"Peter seeing him (John) saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die; yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?"
1 Corinthians 15:50-57 declares that at the second coming of Christ we overcome, not succumb to, death. See John 8:51; Matt. 16:28.
The foolishness of such interpretation is seen if we substitute the word "death" for the second coming of Christ in such places where this coming is mentioned, e.g., Phil. 3:20; Matt. 16:28--"Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom."
b) That the Second Coming Means the Coming of the Holy Spirit.
There is no doubt but that the coming of the Holy Spirit is a coming (John 14:21-23), but it is by no means the second coming, and for the following reasons:
Many of the testimonies and promises of the second coming were given after Pentecost, e.g., Phil. 3:21; 2 Tim. 4:8; 1 Thess. 4:16, 17; 1 Cor. 15:51, 52.
Christ does not receive us unto Himself, but comes to us, at Pentecost. In the second coming He takes us, not comes to us.
The events of 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17 did not occur on the day of Pentecost, nor do they occur when the believer receives the Holy Spirit.
c) That the Second Coming refers to the Destruction of Jerusalem.
Reply: The events of 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17 did not take place then.
John 21:21-23, and Rev. 22:20 were written after the destruction of Jerusalem.
From all that has been said then, it seems clear that the second coming of Christ is an event still in the future.
3. THE NEED OF RECOGNIZING THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN CHRIST'S COMING FOR HIS SAINTS AND WITH HIS SAINTS.
There is a distinction between the presence and the appearing of Christ: the former referring to His coming for, and the latter with His saints. We should remember, further, that the second coming covers a period of time, and is not the event of a single moment. Even the first coming covered over thirty years, and included the events of Christ's birth, circumcision, baptism, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, etc. The second coming will also include a number of events such as the rapture, the great tribulation, the millenium, the resurrection, the judgments, etc.
III. THE PURPOSE OF THE SECOND COMING.
1. SO FAR AS IT CONCERNS THE CHURCH.
1 Thess. 4:13-17; 1 Cor. 15:50-52; Phil. 3:20, 21, R. V.; 1 John 3:2. When Christ comes again He will first raise the righteous dead, and change the righteous living; simultaneously they shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air to be with Him for ever.
Eph. 5:23, 32; 2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 19:6-9; Matt. 25:1-10. The Church, the Bride of Christ, will then be married to her Lord.
Matt. 25:19; 2 Tim. 4:8; 1 Pet. 5:4; 1 Cor. 3:12-15; 2 Cor. 5:10. Believers will be rewarded for their faithfulness in service at His coming. (See under The Final Beward of the Righteous, page 266.)
2. SO FAR AS IT CONCERNS THE UNCONVERTED NATIONS AND INDIVIDUALS.
Matt. 24:30; Rev. 1:7; Matt. 25:31, 32; Rev. 20:11, 12; Isa. 26:21; 2 Thess. 1:7-9. A distinction must be recognized between the judgment of the Living Nations, and that of the Great White Throne. These are not the same, for no resurrection accompanies the judgment of the Living Nations, as in the case of the throne judgment. Further, one thousand years elapse between these two judgments (Rev. 20:7-11). Again, one is at the beginning of the Millennium, and the other at its close.
3. WITH REFERENCE TO THE JEWS.
The Jews will be restored to their own land (Isa. 11:11; 60) in an unconverted state; will rebuild the temple, and restore worship (Ezek. 40-48); will make a covenant with Antichrist for one week (seven years), in the midst of which they will break the covenant (Dan. 9:27; 2 Thess. 2); they will then pass through the great tribulation (Matt. 24:21, 22, 29; Rev. 3:10; 7:14); are converted (as a nation) at the coming of Christ (Zech. 12:10; Rev. 1:7); become great missionaries (Zech. 8:13-23); never more to be removed from the land (Amos 9:15; Ezek. 34:28).
4. WITH REGARD TO ANTICHRIST, AND THE ENEMIES OF GOD'S PEOPLE.
2 Thess. 1:7-9; Rev. 19:20; 20:10. These shall be destroyed by the brightness of His coming; will be cast finally into the bottomless pit.
5. TO SET UP THE MILLENNIAL REIGN ON THE EARTH.
The Millennium means the thousand years reign of Christ upon the earth (Rev. 20:1-4). Some think that it is the continuation of the Kingdom Age broken off by the unbelief of the Jews at the time of the Apostles.
The Millennium begins with the coming of Christ with His saints; with the revelation of Christ after the great tribulation (Matt. 24:29, 30); at the close of the seventieth week of Daniel. For illustration, see Rev. 19:11-14; Dan. 7:21, 22; Zech. 14:3-9.
Then comes the destruction of Antichrist, the binding of Satan, and the destruction of the enemies of God's people (Rev. 19:20; 20:1-3, 10).
The Judgment of the Living Nations (Matt. 25).
The conversion and missionary activity of the Jews (Zech. 8:13-23; cf. Acts 15:14-17). Then, we may have a converted world, but not now, nor in this age; Israel, not the Church, then concerned.
The nature of the Millennium:
It is a Theocracy: Jesus Christ Himself is the King (Jer. 23:5; Luke 1:30-33). The Apostles will, doubtless, reign with Christ over the Jews (Isa. 66; Matt. 19:28); the Church, over the Gentile nations (Luke 19:11-19; Heb. 2:6, 7).
The capitol city will be Jerusalem (Isa. 2:1-4). Pilgrimages will be made to the Holy City (Zech. 14:16). The reign of Christ will be one of righteousness and equity (Isa. 11:4; Psa. 98:9).
A renovated earth (Rom. 8:19-31; Isa. 65:17; c. 35).
The events closing the Millennium are apostasy and rebellion (Rev. 20:7-9); the destruction of Satan (Rev. 20:10); the Great White Throne judgment (Rev. 20:11-15); a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21 and 22).
IV. THE TIME OF CHRIST'S SECOND COMING.
We need to carefully distinguish between Christ's coming for His saints--sometime called the "rapture" or "parousia"; and His coming with His saints--the "revelation" or "epiphany."
In considering the matter of the "signs" of Christ's coming we need to pay particular attention to and distinguish between those signs which have been characteristic of and peculiar to many generations, and have, consequently, been repeated; and those which are to characterize specifically the near approach of the coming of Christ. Christians are not altogether in the dark concerning these facts: Luke 21:29-33--"So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand" (v. 36). Also 1 Thess. 5:1-8--"But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief" (v. 4).
1. NO ONE KNOWS THE DAY NOR THE HOUR.
Matt. 24:36-42--"But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only" (v. 36). Mark 13:32, cf. Acts 1:7.
The Scriptures tell us enough regarding the time of Christ's coming to satisfy our faith, but not our curiosity. These statements of the Master should be sufficient to silence that fanaticism which is so anxious to tell us the exact year, month, and even the day when Christ will come. This day is hidden in the counsels of God. Jesus Himself, by a voluntary unwillingness to know, while in His state of humiliation, showed no curiosity to peer into the chronology of this event. We should not nor ought we to want to know more than Christ did on this point. Can it be that "that day" was not yet fixed in the counsels of the Father, and that its date depended, somewhat at least, upon the faithfulness of the Church in the evangelization of the world? We know not certainly. The Revelation which Jesus gave to John would seem to teach that "that day," which was at one time hidden from Christ, is now, in His state of exaltation, known to Him.
2. YET, WE MUST NOT FOEGET THAT WHILE WE MAY NOT KNOW THE EXACT DAY OR HOUR OF CHRIST'S COMING, WE MAY KNOW WHEN IT IS NEAR AT HAND. (Matt. 24:36-42; 1 Thess. 5:1-5.)
There are certain "signs" which indicate its nearness:
General apostasy and departure from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; Luke 18:8).
A time of great heaping up of wealth (James 5:1-9).
A time of great missionary activity (Matt. 24:14). Consider the missionary activity of the last century. Is it not marvellous? Is it a "sign" of His coming?
The modern history of the Jews throws much light on the question of the nearness of Christ's coming. The following facts are interesting in this connection: The large number of Jews returning to Palestine; the waning of the power of the Turkish government, which has held Palestine with an iron hand and has excluded the Jew; the plans already before the nations to give the Holy Land to the Jews by consent of the powers; the early and latter rain in Palestine; railroads, electric lights, etc., now in the land long desolate--the fig-tree is budding, and the hour of the coming is at hand.
It should not be forgotten in this connection that many of the signs mentioned refer primarily to the coming of Christ with His saints. But if that stage of the coming be near then surely the first stage of it must be. Other signs have reference to the first stage in the one great event of His coming, which is known as the "rapture" or Christ's coming for His saints.
3. IT SEEMS CLEAR FROM THE TEACHING OF THE SCRIPTURES THAT THERE IS NOTHING TO PREVENT THE COMING OF CHRIST FOR HIS SAINTS AT ANY MOMENT.
By this is meant that there is nothing, so far as we can sea from the teaching of the Scriptures and the signs of the times, to hinder the introduction of the Day of the Lord, or the Second Coming of Christ looked upon as a great whole--a series of events, by Christ's coming to take His own people unto Himself. In other words, there is nothing to hinder the "rapture" or "parousia"--the "epiphany," "manifestation," or "revelation" is something for a later day.
Some objections are offered to this view, the which it will be well to examine and answer even though briefly.
First, That the Gospel has not been preached into all the world (Matt. 24:14), therefore the coming of Christ is not imminent.
Reply: We must understand the emphatic words of the text: By "end" is meant the end of the age; but the rapture, or Christ's coming for His saints, of which we are here speaking as being imminent, is not the end of the age. By "world" is meant the inhabited earth; by "Gospel," good news; by "witness," not conversion but testimony. Even if these events are to precede the "rapture," have they not all been fulfilled? See Acts 2:5; 8:4; Rom. 10:18; Col. 1:6, 23, for the answer, which is certainly in the affirmative. We must give the same meaning to the word "world" in Romans and Colossians that we do to Matt. 24:14. Further, is the Church the only witness? See Rev. 14:6. If the rapture is not the end of the age, and if an angel can proclaim the Gospel, why cannot part of the work of witnessing be carried on after the rapture?
Second, Peter, James, and John were told that they should not taste of death until they had seen the coming of Christ's kingdom (Matt. 16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27).
Reply: True, but was not this fulfilled when they saw Christ on the Transfiguration Mount? Peter, who was there, in his second epistle (1:16-18) distinctly says it was thus fulfilled.
Third, The disciples were told that they shall not have gone over all the cities of Israel until the Son of Man be come (Matt. 10:23).
Reply: Mark 6:30, Luke 9:10 shows that they did not finish all the cities, nor is there evidence anywhere that they ever did, for Israel rejected the message of the kingdom. May it not be that under the restoration of the Jews and the preaching of the "two witnesses" (Rev. 11) this shall be accomplished?
Fourth, Christ said "This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." See Matt. 24:34; Luke 21:32; Mark 13:30. Reply: What is meant by a "generation"? Some would say "forty years," consequently the Master referred to the destruction of Jerusalem, which event was the second coming of Christ. But this is not necessarily the case. The word "generation" may refer to the Jewish race; cf. the use of the same Greek word in Matt. 11:16; 16:4; Mark 8:38; Luke 7:31; 16:8; 17:25; Phil. 2:15; Psa. 22:30; 24:6. And in this connection consider carefully the wonderful preservation of the Jewish race. Other nations have passed away, having lost their identity; the Jew remains--that generation (race) has not yet passed away, nor will it "till all these things be fulfilled." [FOOTNOTE: Jesus is Coming, by W.E.B., is heartily recommended as an exceedingly helpful book on this subject. The author is indebted thereto.]
B. THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD.
Under this caption is included the resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked, although, as will be seen later, they do not occur at the same time.
I. THE DOCTRINE OF A RESURRECTION CLEARLY TAUGHT IN THE SCRIPTURES.
1. IN THE OLD TESTAMENT.
It is set forth in various ways:
In Word: Job 19:25-27--"For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me." Also Psa. 16:9; 17:15; Dan. 12:1-3.
In Figure: Gen. 22:5 with Heb. 11:19--"Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure."
In Prophecy: Isa. 26:19--"Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust." The words "men" and "together with" may be omitted--"Thy dead (ones) shall live." These words are Jehovah's answer to Israel's wail as recorded in vv. 17, 18. Even if they refer to resurrection of Israel as a nation, they yet teach a bodily resurrection. See also Hosea 13:14.
In Reality: 1 Kings 17 (Elijah); 2 Kings 4:32-35 (Elisha and the Shunamite's son); 13:21 (Resurrection through contact with the dead bones of Elisha).
The Old Testament therefore distinctly teaches the resurrection of the body. Mark 9:10, which might seem to indicate that the apostles did not know of a bodily resurrection, is accounted for by their unwillingness to believe in a crucified Christ.
2. IN THE NEW TESTAMENT.
In Word: Note the teaching of Jesus in John 5:28, 29; c. 6 entire, note especially vv. 39, 40, 44, 54; Luke 14:13, 14; 20:35, 36. The teaching of the apostles: Paul, Acts, 24:15; 1 Cor. 15; 1 Thess. 4:14-16; Phil. 3:11; John, Rev. 20:4-6; 13.
In Reality: The resurrection of saints (Matt. 27:52, 53); of Lazarus (John 11); of Jesus Christ (Matt. 28). Our Lord's resurrection assured them of what till then had been a hope imperfectly supported by Scriptural warrant, and contested by the Sadducees. It enlarged that hope (1 Pet. 1:3), and brought the doctrine of the resurrection to the front (1 Cor. 15).
II. THE NATURE OF THE RESURRECTION.
1. A LITERAL RESURRECTION OF THE BODIES OF ALL MEN--A UNIVERSAL RESURRECTION.
John 5:28--"Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth." 1 Cor. 15:22--"For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." The apostle is speaking of physical death in Adam, and physical resurrection in Christ.
Revelation 20:12, and 2 Corinthians 5:10 both show the necessity of the raising of the body in order that judgment may take place according to things done in the body. See also Job's hope (19:25-27); David's hope (Psa. 16:9).
An objection is sometimes made to the effect that we literalize these scriptures which are intended to be metaphorical and spiritual. To this we reply: While the exact phrase, "resurrection of the body," does not occur in the Bible, yet these scriptures clearly teach a physical rather than a spiritual resurrection. Indeed John 5:25-29 draws a sharp contrast between a spiritual (v. 25) and a literal (v. 28) resurrection. See also Phil. 3:21; 1 Thess. 4:13-17. 2 Tim. 2:18--"Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is passed already," indicates that the early church believed in a literal resurrection. Surely there is no reference here to a spiritual resurrection such as we read of in Ephesians 5:14. Acts 24:15 speaks of a resurrection of the just and the unjust--this cannot refer to a spiritual resurrection surely. If the resurrection were spiritual then in the future state every man would have two spirits--the spirit he has here, and the spirit he would receive at the resurrection. The term "spiritual body" describes, not so much the body itself, as its nature. The "spiritual body" is body, not spirit, hence should not be considered as defining body. By the term "spiritual body" is meant the body spiritualized. So there is a natural body--a body adapted and designed for the use of the soul; and there is a spiritual body--a body adapted for the use of the spirit in the resurrection day.
2. THE REDEMPTION OF THE BODY IS INCLUDED IN OUR COMPLETE REDEMPTION.
Rom. 8:11-23--"And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body" (v. 23). See also 1 Cor. 6:13-20. In John 6:39 and Job 19:25-27 we are taught that the dust into which our bodies have decayed will be quickened, which indicates a physical resurrection.
This conception of the value of the body is doubtless what leads to the Christian's care for his dead loved ones and their graves. The believer's present body, which is called "the body of his humiliation" (Phil. 3:21) is not yet fitted for entrance into the kingdom (1 Cor. 15:50). Paul's hope is not for a deliverence from the body, but the redemption of it (2 Cor. 5:4).
3. THE NATURE OF THE RESURRECTION BODY.
a) In General.
Because the Scripture teaches a literal resurrection of the body it is not necessary to insist on the literal resurrection of the identical body--hair, tooth, and nail--that was laid under the ground. The idea that at the resurrection we are to see hands flying across the sea to join the body, etc., finds no corroboration in the Scriptures. Such an idea is not necessary in order to be true to the Bible teaching. Mere human analogy ought to teach us this (1 Cor. 15:36, 37)--"thou sowest not that body which shall be." The identity is preserved--that is all that we need to insist upon. What that identity tie is we may not yet know. After all it is not so much a question of material identity as of glorified individuality. The growth of the seed shows that there may be personal identity under a complete change of physical conditions.
Four things may be said about the resurrection body: first, it is not necessarily identical with that which descended into the grave; second, it will have some organic connection with that which descended into the grave; third, it will be a body which God, in His sovereignty, will bestow; fourth, it will be a body which will be a vast improvement over the old one.
b) The Body of the Believer.
Phil. 3:21 (R. V.)--"Who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself." See also 1 John 3:2; 1 Cor. 15:49.
What was the nature and likeness of Christ's resurrection body which our resurrection body is to resemble? It was a real body (Luke 24:39); recognizable (Luke 24:31; John 20:16); powerful (John 20:19).
Summing up these passages, we may say that the resurrection body of the believer will be like the glorified body of Christ.
Characteristics of the believer's resurrection body as set forth in 1 Cor. 15: It is not flesh and blood (vv. 50, 51; cf. Heb. 2:14; 2 Cor. 5:1-6; Luke 24:39)--"flesh and bones," so not pure spirit; a real body.
It is incorruptible (v. 43)--no decay, sickness, pain.
It is glorious (v. 43), cf. the Transfiguration (Matt. 17); Rev. 1:13-17. It has been said that Adam and Eve, in their unfallen state, possessed a glorious body. The face of Stephen was glorious in his death (Acts 6:15). 2 Cor. 3:18.
It is powerful (v. 43)--not tired, or weak; no lassitude; cf. now "spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak"; not so then.
It is a spiritual body (v. 44). Here the soul is the life of the body; there the spirit will be the life of the body.
It is heavenly (v. 47-49).
c) The Resurrection Body of the Unbeliever.
The Scriptures are strangely silent on this subject. It is worthy of note that in the genealogies of Genesis 5 no age is attached to the names of those who were not in the chosen line. Is there a purpose here to ignore the wicked? In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus no name is given to the godless rich man; why?
III. THE TIME OF THE RESURRECTION.
1. THE RESURRECTION OF THE RIGHTEOUS.
John 6:39, 40, 44--"The last day." This does not mean a day of twenty-four hours, but a period of time. It will be safe, usually, to limit the word "day" to a period of twenty-four hours only where numeral, ordinal, or cardinal occurs in connection therewith, like "fourth day," etc. When the "day of grace," "day of judgment," "this thy day," etc., are mentioned, they refer to periods of time either long or short, as the case may be.
1 Cor. 15:23--"But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterwards they that are Christ's at his coming." 1 Thess. 4:14-17. In both these passages the resurrection of the believer is connected with the coming of Christ. This event ushers in the last day; it is treated as a separate and distinct thing.
2. THE RESURRECTION OF THE WICKED.
As there is a difference in the issue (John 5:28, 29; Dan. 12:2, cf. literal Hebrew rendering below) so there is as to time between the resurrection of the righteous and that of the wicked. Phil. 3:11--"If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of (lit. out of) the dead." It was no incentive to Paul simply to be assured that he would be raised from the dead; for he knew that all men would be thus raised. What Paul was striving for was to be counted worthy of that first resurrection--of the righteous from among the wicked. The resurrection "out from among" the dead is the resurrection unto life and glory; the resurrection "of" the dead is to shame and contempt everlasting.
1 Cor. 15:21-24. Note the expressions used, and their meaning: "Then," meaning the next in order, the Greek denoting sequence, not simultaneousness--each in his own cohort, battalion, brigade (cf. Mark 4:28--"First the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear"). Nineteen hundred years have already elapsed between "Christ the firstfruits" and "they that are Christ's." How many years will elapse between the resurrection of "they that are Christ's" and that of the wicked ("the end") we may not be able to definitely state, but certainly long enough for Christ to have "put all enemies under his feet" (v. 25). Three groups or ranks are here mentioned: "Christ," "they that are Christ's," "the end" (the resurrection of the wicked). (Cf. vv. 5, 6, 7--"Seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that . . . after that . . . then . . . and last of all he was seen of me also.") First Christ, afterwards (later than) "they that are Christ's" then (positively meaning afterwards, a new era which takes place after an interval) "cometh the end."
Dan. 12:2--"And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some (lit. those who awake at this time) to everlasting life, and some (lit. those who do not awake at this time) to shame and everlasting contempt." Some of the most eminent Hebrew scholars translate this passage as follows: "And (at that time) many (of thy people) shall awake (or be separated) out from among the sleepers in the earth dust. These (who awake) shall be unto life eternal, but those (who do not awake at that time) shall be unto contempt and shame everlasting." It seems clear from this passage that all do not awake at one (this) time, but only as many as are written in the book (12:1).
Eevelation 20:4-6 shows that at least a thousand years--whatever period of time may be thereby designated--elapses between the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked.
John 5:28, 29; Dan. 12:2; Rev. 20:12 all show that the resurrection of the wicked is always connected with the judgment, and that takes place at the close and not at the beginning of the Day of the Lord.
Whatever difficulties may present themselves in connection with the resurrection, whatever obstacles of a miraculous or supernatural nature may present themselves in connection therewith are to be met by remembering the truth enunciated by Christ in connection with this very subject: Matt. 22:29--"Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God." (Cf. v. 23.--"The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection," etc., and the following verses for the setting of v. 39.)
C. THE JUDGMENT.
I. THE FACT OF THE JUDGMENT.
1. DISTINCTLY TAUGHT IN THE OLD TESTAMENT.
Psa. 96:13--"For he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth." While this passage refers more particularly to the rewarding of the righteous, yet the idea of judgment is here. Both reward and punishment are involved in the idea of judgment.
2. THE NEW TESTAMENT.
Acts 17:31--"Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead." Heb. 9:27. Just as it is "appointed unto men once to die" so it is appointed unto men to appear before the judgment. There is no more escape from the one than from the other. It is part of the burden of both the Old and New Testament message that a day of judgment is appointed for the world. God's kingdom shall extend universally; but a judgment in which the wicked are judged and the righteous rewarded is necessary and in order that the kingdom of everlasting righteousness may be established upon the earth.
3. THE CONSCIENCE OF ALL MANKIND CORROBORATES THE TEACHING OF THE SCRIPTURES WITH REGARD TO THE CERTAINTY OF A COMING JUDGMENT.
This is true of both the individual and universal conscience. The discoveries of tablets as well as the history of all peoples establish this fact. This is enforced by Eccl. 11:9; 12:14--a book which is in a very real sense a book of worldly philosophy, narrating, as it does, the experiences and observations of a man who judged all things from the view-point of "under the sun," i.e., without special reference to any revelation from above.
4. THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST IS A SURE AND CERTAIN PROOF WHICH GOD HAS GIVEN TO MEN OF A COMING JUDGMENT.
Acts 17:31 (quoted above). Here is "assurance" in the sense of proof or ground of evidence. The context is suggestive: God had long borne with the sins of men, and in a sense, overlooked them. Therefore men have thought that God would continue to do so. But no, this shall not be; there is a day of judgment coming, the evidence of which lies in the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
II. THE JUDGE--CHRIST.
John 5:22, 23, 27; 2 Tim. 4:1; 2 Cor. 5:10; Acts 10:42; 17:31. The Man of the Cross is the Man of the Throne. Note the expression "Because he is the Son of Man." That indicates His fitness to judge: He can sympathize. But He is equal with the Father. This too indicates His competency to judge, for it implies omniscience. The texts which speak of God as judging the world are to be understood as referring to God the Son. No appeal can be made from the Son to the Father.
III. THE NATURE OF THE JUDGMENT.
The erroneous idea that there is to be one great general judgment which is to take place at the end of the world, when all mankind shall stand before the great white throne, is to be guarded against. The judgments of the Bible differ as to time, place, subjects, and results.
1. THERE IS A JUDGMENT THAT IS ALREADY PAST--THE JUDGMENT AT THE CROSS.
John 5:24; 12:31; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 3:24. At this judgment bar Satan was judged and his power over the believer broken. Here also the sins of the believer were judged and put away.
2. THERE IS A PRESENT JUDGMENT WHICH IS TAKING PLACE DAILY IN THE LIFE OF THE BELIEVER.
1 Cor. 11:31, 32; 5:5; 1 Tim. 1:20; cf., for illustration, 2 Sam. 7:14, 15; 12:13,14. This continual judgment must be going on in the life of the believer or there will be judgment from God because of the consequent failure to grow in grace. There must be constant and continual judging of sin as it comes up in the believer's life (1 John 1:5-7).
3. THERE IS A FUTURE JUDGMENT.
a) Of the Saints.
1 Cor. 3:8-16; 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Cor. 4:5. This is to be a judgment with reference to the works, not the salvation, of the believer. It is called "the judgment seat of Christ." That the saints are here referred to is clear from 2 Cor. 5:1, 5, 7, 9; also 1 Cor. 4:5 which says that those who are judged "shall have praise of God." This is not true of the wicked. This is a judgment, not for destiny, but for adjustment, for reward or loss according to our works, for position in the kingdom; every man according as his work shall be.
b) Of the Living Nations.
Matt. 25:31-46. This judgment will take place at the coming of Christ with His saints. Note three things in this chaper: first, the marriage supper of the Lamb (w. 1-13); second, the judgment of the saints (vv. 14-30); third, the judgment of the living nations (vv. 31-46). This is not a general judgment of good and bad, for there are three classes here. "My brethren" can hardly refer to the saints, for then it would be "inasmuch as ye have done it unto yourselves, ye have done it unto me." Nor is the Church in this judgment, for she is already translated and rewarded as we have seen. The Church no more belongs to the nations than does Israel. The nations are those who deal with Israel through the great tribulation. The "brethren" are probably the Jewish remnant who have turned to Christ during the great tribulation and whom the Antichrist has severely persecuted as also have many of the wicked nations, like Russia today. This is a judgment of nations that are living; there is no mention of the dead.
c) Of the Great White Throne.
Rev. 20:11-15. It is called the final judgment and takes place at the close of the millennium, after the judgment of the living nations (Matt. 25). It is a judgment of "the dead"; no mention is made of the living in connection therewith.
Note the difference between the judgments of the Living Nation and of the Great White Throne: the former at the beginning, the latter at the close of the millennium; one deals with the living, the other with the dead; one deals with conduct towards "the brethren," the other with general sins recorded in the books.
d) Of Israel.
Ezek. 20:33-44; Psa. 50:16-22. Takes place probably at the end of the great tribulation.
e) Of the Fallen Angels.
Jude 6; 2 Pet. 2:4. Believers are associated with Christ in this judgment (1 Cor. 6:3).
D. THE FINAL DESTINY OF THE WICKED.
"Every view of the world has its eschatology. It cannot help raising the question of the whither, as well as of the what and the whence? '0, my Lord,' said Daniel to the angel, 'what shall be the end of these things?' (12:8). What is the end, the final destiny of the individual? Does he perish at death, or does he enter into another state of being; and under what conditions of happiness or woe does he exist there? What is the end, the final aim of the great whole, that far-off divine event towards which the whole creation moves? It is vain to tell man not to ask these questions. He will ask them, and must ask them. He will pore over every scrap of fact, or trace of law, which seems to give an indication of an answer. He will try from the experience of the past, and the knowledge of the present, to deduce what the future shall be. He will peer as far as he can into the unseen; and, where knowledge fails, will weave from his hopes and trusts pictures and conjectures.
"The Christian view of the world also has its eschatology. The Christian view, however, is positive, where that of science is negative; ethical, where it is material; human, where it is cosmogonic; ending in personal immortality, where this ends in extinction and death. The eschatology of Christianity springs from its character as a teleological religion--it seeks to grasp the unity of the world through the conception of an end or aim."--
This is probably the hardest of all the doctrines of Christianity to be received. If we ask the reason why, we receive various answers. Some would tell us that this doctrine is unwelcome to many because they feel themselves guilty, and their conscience tells them that unless they repent and turn to God this awful doom awaits them. Others believe that it is because the thought of future punishment strikes terror to people's hearts, and therefore this doctrine is repulsive to them. To others again, the thought of future anguish seems utterly incompatable with the fatherly love of God. Yet it is acknowledged to be a remarkable fact that both Jesus and John, who more than any one else in the New Testament represent the element of love in their lives and teaching, speak most of the future anguish of the wicked.
That future punishment of the wicked holds a prominent place in the teachings of the Scriptures there can be no reasonable doubt. What is between the covers of the Bible is the preacher's message. Yet great care must be exercised in the teaching or proclamation of this doctrine. After all it is not the saying of hard things that pierces the conscience of people; it is the voice of divine love heard amid the thunder.
Yet there must be no consciousness of cowardice in proclaiming the doctrine of future retribution, however awful its delineation may be. Fear is a legitimate motive to which we may appeal, and while it may be classed among the lower motives, it is nevertheless true that it is the only motive that will effectively move some people to action.
I. SOME RECOGNIZED FACTS.
There are certain preliminary facts which should be recognized in the discussion of this subject:
1. That it shall be well with the righteous, and woe to the wicked (Isa. 3:10, 11). That there is to be retribution for sin and a reward for the righteous must be held to be beyond question, and must be recognized as an unchangeable law. One cannot very well meddle with that truth without serious danger. So long as a man persistently, willingly and knowingly continues in his sin he must suffer for it. That suffering the Bible calls eternal death.
2. We must recognize that much of the language of the Scripture dealing with this condition is couched in figurative terms. But the condition is none the less real because of that, for, generally speaking, the reality is more severe than the figure in which it is set forth. Yet we need caution here, and must distinguish between the things that are stated in clear unmistakable language and those that are set forth in words symbolic and figurative.
3. The disparity in the number of saved and lost. There is a danger lest we should be unmindful of the problems connected with this doctrine, such as that seeming fewness of the saved; the condition of the heathen who have not had a chance to hear the Gospel; and the difference in privilege and opportunity among those who live in so-called Christian lands.
4. Prophecy vs. History. We must recognize that it is more difficult to deal with facts which lie in the future than with those lying in the past. Prophecy is always more difficult to deal with than history. The past we may sketch in details, the future but in broad outlines.
"Our treatment of themes that deal with the future must, in the very nature of the case be very different than it would be were we dealing with the things of the past. History and prophecy must be handled differently. In dealing with the history of God's past revelations--with the ages before the Advent, with the earthly life and revelation of Jesus Christ, with the subsequent course of God's providence in the Church--we are dealing with that which has already been. It stands in concrete reality before us, and we can reason from it as a thing known in its totality and its details. But when the subject of revelation is that which is yet to be, especially that which is yet to be under forms and conditions of which we have no direct experience, the case is widely altered. Here it is at most outlines that we can look for; and even these outlines will be largely clothed in figure and symbol; the spiritual kernel will seek material investiture to body itself forth; the conditions of the future will require to be presented largely in forms borrowed from known relations. The outstanding thoughts will be sufficiently apparent, but the thoughts in which these thoughts are cast will partake of metaphor and image."--
II. THE WICKED ARE SAID TO "DIE IN THEIR SINS."
John 8:21, 24--"Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come. I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins." Rom. 6:23--"For the wages of sin is death." See Rev. 20:14, 15; 21:8.
The "death" spoken of here does not mean cessation of existence any more than eternal life means the beginning of existence. Eternal life does not mean merely to live for ever, but to live in a state of blessedness for ever. Eternal life deals not so much with quantity as with quality of existence. Just so with eternal death. It is a quality of existence, not cessation of being. Even in this life death can co-exist with life: "But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth" (1 Tim. 5:6); Eph. 2:1. What men call life God calls death. There are two things which the believer gets: at his regeneration, eternal life; at his resurrection, immortality; but in both instances he already has life and existence. So it is in the case of the wicked: the second death does not mean cessation of existence, for he is dead already, now in this life (1 Tim. 5:6; Eph. 2:1; John 5:24, 25). Rev. 21:8 describes what "death," as here used, means: "But the fearful, and the unbelieving... shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death."
III. THE WICKED ARE NOT ANNIHILATED.
The texts most strongly urged as teaching the annihilation theory, if rightly interpreted, will be seen to refer to removal from off the earth, and not to future retribution. Here are the principal passages:
Psa. 37:20--"But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away." This psalm is written for the encouragement of Israel and against her enemies and their power on the earth. This earthly power shall be utterly broken, and be of no more account than the smoke of a burnt sacrifice. The great truth taught here is that the earth is the inheritance of the saints, and that the wicked shall have no part in it.
Obadiah 16--" . . . And they shall be as though they had not been." These words are taken from the vision regarding Edom, and refer to the destruction of the Edomites and their land, and not to the future of the wicked in the next life.
In speaking of the "everlasting punishment" with which the wicked will be visited, as recorded in 2 Thess. 1:9, the annihilationist would say that reference is made to the "results or consequences" of that punishment and not to the punishment itself. But the Scriptures state that it is the "punishment" itself, and not the consequences, that is everlasting.
No such interpretation as that put upon these passages by those holding the annihilation theory can be maintained by sound exegesis. What need is there of a resurrection if the wicked are to be annihilated at death, or why should they be raised from the dead if only to be at once extinguished for ever? Again, there is no such thing as "unconscious" punishment. You cannot punish anything that is unconscious. Can you punish a stone or a house? Punishment can take place only where there is consciousness on the part of the one suffering.
IV. THE WICKED ARE TO BE PUNISHED.
Rom. 2:8, 9--"But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile." "Wrath" indicates the settled mind of God towards the persistently wicked (John 3:36); "indignation," the outbreak of that wrath at the day of judgment; "tribulation," severe affliction (Matt. 13:21; 24:9; Rev. 7:14); "anguish," torturing confinement in a strait place without relief, as in a dungeon, or in stocks. God grant that we may never know what these terms fully mean.
Matt. 25:41, 46--"Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment." 2 Thess. 1:7-9--"When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power." See also Mark 9:43-50 which speaks of the wicked being cast into "hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched."
There are certain important words in these scriptures which demand our attention, and which we need to understand in order to get right views of the doctrine we are now considering. They are as follows:
We read of "eternal" or "everlasting" punishment, "everlasting" fire. It is objected that the word "eternal" or "everlasting" does not mean "forever." This may be true. But we are all willing to admit that when this word qualifies the condition of the righteous it means for ever, without end, e.g., the righteous shall go "into life eternal." The same word, however, qualifies the punishment of the wicked, e.g., "these shall go away into everlasting punishment." Fairness demands that we make the joy of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked--both qualified as they are by the same Greek word--of the same duration. If there is an end to the reward of the righteous, there is also to the penalty of the wicked. The one lasts as long as the other. If "destruction" means annihilation, then there is no need of the word "eternal" to qualify it. Further the Scriptures present the punishment of the wicked not only as "eternal" (or age-long) but as enduring "for ever and ever," or "unto the ages of the ages" (Rev. 19:3; 20:10; 14:11, R. V.). Here is a picture of ages tumbling upon ages in eternal succession.
The meaning of this word will be found under the previous division (III) dealing with the subject of Annihilation.
This is one of the most constant images under which the torment and misery of the wicked is represented. Fire is a symbol of the divine judgment of wrath (Matt. 5:22). In Matthew 3:10 the godless are represented as a tree hewn down and cast into the fire; in 3:12 the chaff (godless) is burned with unquenchable fire; in 13:42 the wicked are said to be cast into a furnace of fire.
Is the "fire" spoken of here literal fire? It is an accepted law of language that a figure of speech is less intense than the reality. If "fire" is merely a figurative expression, it must stand for some great reality, and if the reality is more intense than the figure, what an awful thing the punishment symbolized by fire must be.
It is contended that fire must necessarily consume; that nothing could continue to exist in fire. Is it not remarkable that the Baptist uses the word "unquenchable"' (Greek, "asbestos") when speaking of this fire? Is any light thrown on the question by the incident of the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace? Did they consume, or did they withstand the fire? (Dan. 3:27). In the parable of the Tares (Matt. 13:36-43) our Lord speaks of the tares being burned up. When Christ retired to the house after delivering the parable, his disciples asked Him to explain to them what He meant by the figures of speech He used in the parable. This request He granted. He explained the figurative language of the parable; every figurative word in it except that of "fire." He said: "The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; the enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be at the end of this world. . . . And they shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." Why did not the Master explain what he meant by the figurative word "fire"? He explained all the other figurative words, why not this one? Did He forget? Or did He intend that His disciples should have the impression that He was speaking of literal fire? Here was His opportunity to explain His use of words, for the disciples were asking for just that very thing. Was there any significance in the fact that Jesus did not explain the word "fire"? Whether we believe in literal fire or not, we certainly ought to ask for a reason for the Master's failure to literalize the figurative word "fire."
This word is used to describe the condition of the lost: "Cast into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Seven times these terms are found together: Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28. The picture is that of a banquet which was usually held at night. The wicked are thrust out from the light, joy, and festivity into the darkness and gloom without, as into the remote gloom and anguish of a dungeon in which are found agony, wrath, and despair. Is this a description of hell --absence of spiritual light; separation from the company of the saved; lamentation; impotent rage?
E. THE FINAL REWARD OF THE RIGHTEOUS.
If, says the Apostle Paul, in this present life we have a hope resting on Christ, and nothing more, we are more to be pitied than all the rest of the world (1 Cor. 15:19). The idea is that if this hope in Christ which the believer has is a delusive hope, with no prospect of fulfillment in the future, the Christian is indeed in a sad state. He has chosen a life of self-denial; he will not indulge in the pleasures of the world, and if there are no pleasures in the darkness into which he is about to enter, then he has miscalculated, he has chosen a life that shall end in self-obliteration. If he has no home to go to, no God to welcome him, no King to say, "Well done, exchange mortality for life," then he is indeed in a pitiable plight. But such is not the case. The hope of the Christian enters beyond the vail, into the very presence of God Himself, and endures throughout all the eternities.
I. THE CHRISTIAN NEVER DIES.
1 John 8:51--"Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death." 11:25, 26--"Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?"
What Jesus means here is not that the believer shall not pass through the experience that we call death, but that in reality it is not death, at least, not in the sense in which it is death to the unbeliever. Jesus has taken the sting out of death. How sharply the contrast between death and the experience through which the believer passes is presented in 1 Thess. 4:13, 14--"But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him." Jesus "died"--He tasted the awfulness of death; the believer in Him "falls asleep." Cf. John 11:11--"Our friend Lazarus sleepeth." We have no ground in these words for the modern doctrine of soul-sleeping. Christ did not mean to say that the soul is unconscious between the time of death and the resurrection. For, when the disciples did not understand His figurative language, He told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead" (11:11-15). What Jesus meant was that death is something like that which takes place when we go to sleep. What takes place when we go to sleep? Surely the current of life does not cease, but flows on, and when we awake we feel better and stronger than before. There is a shutting out of all the scenes of the world and time. Just so it is in the case of the believer's death. Three ideas are contained in the word "sleep": continued existence,--for the mind is active even though the body is still; repose--we lose our hold on and forget the things of the world; wakening--we always think of sleep as followed by awakening.
The word "see" in John 8:51 means that the believer shall not gaze at death protractedly, steadily, exhaustively. Death is not the objective of his gaze. The believer's outlook is that of life not death. The death of the body is to be reckoned no more as death than the life of the body is life (1 Tim. 5:6). The believer's back is turned upon death; he faces and gazes upon life. The temporary separation of the soul and body does not even interrupt, much less impair, the eternal life given by Jesus.
II. THE BELIEVER GOES TO BE WITH CHRIST.
2 Cor. 5:6, R. V.--"Being therefore always of good courage, and knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord." Phil. 1:23, R. V.--"But I am in a strait betwixt the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ; for it is very far better."
The experience (death-sleep) through which the believer passes ushers him at once into the presence of Christ. It takes him instantly to be "at home" with the Lord. Surely there can be no hint of unconsciousness or the sleeping of the soul in these words. It would seem from Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 that some kind of spiritual body is given to the believer during the period of his waiting for the resurrection body. What Paul longs for is not to be in a bodiless state, but to put on another body which shall not be subject to death. "At home with the Lord"--that is what "death" (?) means to the believer.
III. THE BODY OF THE BELIEVER IS RAISED FROM THE DEAD.
See under the Doctrine of the Resurrection for the full discussion of the believer's resurrection body, its characteristics, etc.
IV. THE BELIEVER SHALL RECEIVE HIS FINAL REWARD IN THE FUTURE.
1 Matt. 25:20-23--"And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord."
Luke 19:12-19.--"He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. And the second came saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds. And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities."
Matthew 24 exhorts us to watch and wait for Christ's coming; chapter 25 shows us how we may obey this exhortation. Chapter 25 illustrates to us, in the parable of the Virgins (vv. 1-13) the necessity of caring for the inward spiritual life; while the parable of the Talents (vv. 14-30), emphasizes the necessity of activity for Christ while awaiting His return.
While both parables deal with the matter of the rewarding of the saints, they nevertheless present the subject from different viewpoints. The parable of the Pounds was delivered before the entry into Jerusalem; that of the Talents, three days after; the Pounds, to the multitudes; the Talents, to the disciples. The Pounds was given because the people thought that the kingdom would immediately appear, hence the idea of a long journey. In the Pounds there is opposition to Christ; in the Talents, none. In the Talents unequal sums are multiplied in the same proportion; in the Pounds, equal sums in differed proportions. The parable of the Pounds was uttered to repress impatience; that of the Talents, to stimulate activity until Christ should return.
The talents are distributed not capriciously but according to each man's ability to handle them. He who had five talents was able to use five, and was therefore held responsible for the use of this number; so with the two, and the one. The question is not so much "How many talents have I received," but "To what use am I putting them?" The rewards for faithfulness are the same in each case--"Be thou ruler over many cities." In the parable of the Pounds it is different. All start out with the same number of pounds. As men differ in their use of them, in their fidelity, zeal and labor, so they differ in spiritual gains and rewards (ten cities, five cities). The reward of the believer will be in proportion to the faithfulness of his service for God with the use of the talents with which God has endowed him. The rewards therefore will differ according to the faithfulness or unfaithfulness of our service and life.
Faith in Jesus Christ saves the believer, but his position in the future life together with the measure of his reward will depend upon his faithfulness in the use of the gifts with which he has been endowed by God. Thus it comes to pass that a man may be saved "yet so as by fire," i.e., saved because of his faith in Christ, but minus his reward. See 1 Cor. 3:10-15--"In discharge of the task which God graciously entrusted to me, I--like a competent master-builder--have laid a foundation, and others are building upon it. But let every one be careful how and what he builds. For no one can lay any other foundation in addition to that which is already laid, namely, Jesus Christ. And whether the building which anyone is erecting on that foundation be of gold or silver or costly stones, of timber or hay or straw--the true character of each individual's work will become manifest. For the day of Christ will disclose it, because that day is soon to come upon us clothed in fire, and as for the quality of every one's work--the fire is the thing which will test it. If any one's work--the building which he has erected--stands the test, he will be rewarded. If any one's work is burned up, he will suffer the loss of it; yet he will himself be rescued, but only, as it were, by passing through the fire." (Translation from Weymouth's New Testament. ) While this passage has its primary reference, probably, to Christian teachers and preachers, and touches the matter of doctrines that are taught, it nevertheless has a fitting and true application to the life and work of every believer.
V. THE NATURE OF THE BELIEVER'S REWARD.
1. HE SHALL RECEIVE A CROWN.
The Scriptures speak of a number of crowns: The Crown of Life (James 1:12; Rev. 2:10, compare context which speaks of death); of Glory (1 Pet. 5:4; cf. John 17:22; Heb. 2:9); of Righteousness (2 Tim. 4:8), the full realization of the imputed and inwrought righteousness of Christ; of Rejoicing (1 Thess. 2:19), at the sight of converts that have been won by one's ministry for Christ; of Gold (Rev. 4:4); Incorruptible (1 Cor. 9:25), as compared with the perishable crowns of the Greek games; Thy crown (Rev. 3:11), that which is laid up for you, and which should not be lost by unfaithfulness; the summing up of all the previous expressions--all are characteristic of "thy" crown.
2. THE SEVEN "OVERCOMES" IN REVELATION (cc. 2, 3.).
a) 2:7--"Eat of the Tree of Life, Which is in the Midst of the Paradise of God."
The tree of life, which has been practically unmentioned since Genesis 3, where it was lost through sin, is here restored in accordance with the restitution of all things in Christ. This figure expresses participation in life eternal--the believer shall die no more.
b) 2:11--"Shall Not be Hurt of the Second Death."
He who is born but once--"of the flesh"--dies twice: physically, and eternally. He (the believer) who is born twice--"of the flesh" and "of the spirit"--dies but once; that is, he passes through only that physical dissolution of soul and body which is called death. The "second death" means, to say the least, utter exclusion from the presence of God. To say that the believer shall not be hurt of the second death is equivalent to saying that he shall eternally behold the face of the Father which is in heaven.
c) 2:17--He shall Receive a "Stone with a New Name Written" Thereon; To the Believer also will be Given to Eat of the "Hidden Manna."
This figure may mean that to the believer is given the white stone of acquittal. In courts of justice in those days a black stone was given to the condemned. Reference may here be made to the white stone (diamond?) which was not among the stones in the high priest's ephod, and thought by some to be the Urim and Thummim. The partaking of the hidden manna may refer to the fact that they who had resisted the eating of meat offered in sacrifice to idols would, as a reward, be allowed to feast on the bread of God, the divine food. The new name mentioned may stand for a new nature and character which the believer will possess in that new country.
d) 2:26, 27--Authority Over the Nations.
There is doubtless a reference here to the reign of the saints with the Lord Jesus Christ on the millenial earth. Those that have suffered with Him shall also reign with Him.
e) 3:4, 5--He Shall Be "Arrayed in White Garments," and His Name Shall in No Wise be Blotted Out of the Book of Life.
"White garments" undoubtedly refers to the righteousness of the saints. In the Old Testament days to be blotted out of the book of life meant to forfeit the privileges of the Theocracy--to be shut out forever from God's favor. Here the certainty of the believer's eternal security is assured. Christ will rejoice over him and gladly confess that He knows him as one who belonged to Him and served and confessed Him on the earth.
f) 3:12--The Believer Will Be a Pillar in the Temple of God; He Shall Go Out No More; God Will Write Upon Him His Own New Name.
Philadelphia, the place in which was situated the church to whom these words were written, was subject to earthquakes, and quite frequently the massive pillars of the temple were shattered. It shall not be so with the believer--he shall never be moved. He will go in and out no more--no possibility of falling then. He will have the name of God written upon him--no danger of anyone else making claim to him. Then the believer's period of probation will have passed away; he shall have a permanent and eternal place in the kingdom of the Father.
g) 3:21, R. V.--"I Will Give to Him to Sit Down With Me in My Throne."
Not "on" or "upon" but "in" my throne. Christ will exalt us with Himself. James and John wanted to sit by Christ's side in the coming kingdom. Here is something infinitely better--to sit with Him in His throne.
VI. THE BELIEVER WILL ENTER INTO A NEW CONDITION AND ABODE OF LIFE.
1. A NEW SPHERE OF LIFE FOR THE SAINTS.
New Heavens and a new Earth: Paradise regained; new spiritual environment; new physical conditions. Not surrounded by the temptations and defects of this mortal life. "No more sea"--to the Jew a symbol of unmixed peril, trouble, and restlessness.
2. A NEW HOME FOR THE SAINTS.
Rev. 21-22:5--A picture of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, which is to be the final and eternal abode of the people of God.
Within the New Heavens and on the New Earth is the Holy City. Note some characteristics of the Holy City: Its Name: New Jerusalem--what music to the ear of the Jew, who for so long had been without a city of his own! Its Walls (21:17): high, secure, safe against all assaults. Its Gates (21:15, 21): guarded by angels; names on gates; only saints enter. Its Foundations (v.14): the Apostles of the Lamb; lustrous (18). Its Citizens: of the nations that are saved (citizens' characteristics 21:6, 7; 22:14, R. V.; contrast with 21:8, 27). Its Magnitude: 4800 stadia (the earthly Jerusalem being but 33 stadia). Its Glory (11-23): what costliness!
3. NEW CONDITIONS OF LIFE FOR THE REDEEMED.
God's home is there (21:3); thus the believer has uninterrupted communion with God. Some things that used to be have all passed away: death, mourning, curse, tears, sorrow, night--all have gone. New created things appear: the river of life, the tree of life, new service, new relationships, new light (22:4).
"AND AFTER THESE THINGS I HEARD A GREAT VOICE OF MUCH PEOPLE IN HEAVEN, SAYING, ALLELUIA; SALVATION, AND GLORY, AND HONOUR, AND POWER, UNTO THE LORD OUR GOD:
"AND THE FOUR AND TWENTY ELDERS AND THE FOUR BEASTS FELL DOWN AND WORSHIPPED GOD THAT SAT ON THE THRONE, SAYING, AMEN; ALLELUIA.
"AND A VOICE CAME OUT OF THE THRONE, SAYING, PRAISE OUR GOD, ALL YE HIS SERVANTS, AND YE THAT FEAR HIM, BOTH SMALL AND GREAT.
"AND I HEARD AS IT WERE THE VOICE OF A GREAT MULTITUDE, AND AS THE VOICE OF MANY WATERS, AND AS THE VOICE OF MIGHTY THUNDERINGS, SAYING, ALLELUIA: FOR THE LORD GOD OMNIPOTENT REIGNETH.
"LET US BE GLAD AND REJOICE, AND GIVE HONOUR TO HIM: FOR THE MARRIAGE OF THE LAMB IS COME, AND HIS WIFE HATH MADE HERSELF READY.
"AND TO HER WAS GRANTED THAT SHE SHOULD BE ARRAYED IN FINE LINEN, CLEAN AND WHITE: FOR THE FINE LINEN IS THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF SAINTS."