Last Updated on : Saturday, October 11, 2014
From The Bible
But more blessed still shall be their rulers and the rulers of the nations; for they shall not die any more (Luke xx, 36), and they shall inherit the land for ever. But, ultimately, death will be abolished in all the earth. Its subjugation, however, comes last in order: all other enemies are got out of the way first; and then the greatest and most formidable is removed for ever. On what principle? Seeing that all the saved pertaining to this and past dispensations will be admitted to eternal life at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and associated with him in the government of the world, on what principle are the mortal subjects of Messiah's reign to be dealt with, so as to admit of their participation in the glorious gift of immortality? We are admitted to the answer in Rev. xx. We shall quote entire that part of the chapter which relates to the point in hand, verses 7-15:--
Here we have a predicted insurrection at the close of the millennium, which is allowed to gather strength, and come to a head, and which is then to be summarily suppressed by an outburst of divine judgment at "the beloved city "--Jerusalem. This is followed by a general judgment. Now who are arraigned at this judgment? It cannot be the saints who have been associated with Christ in government during the previous thousand years, who at the beginning of his reign have been welcomed as "good and faithful servants" into his joy. These have been judged already. They appeared before his judgment-seat at his coming, and gave an account, and were dealt with accordingly.
Who, then, are thus to be judged at the close of the thousand years? Obviously those who have lived during the thousand years. The subjects of Messiah's kingdom will be placed under a different system from that which we are connected with, and no doubt it will be of such a nature as to call for the exercise of faith, notwithstanding the visible manifestation of divine power among them, for, "without faith it is impossible to please God." However that may be, the result of their judgment is that many of them are found "written in the book of life," and receive eternal life.
But what becomes of the remainder? The answer is, "Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." This lake of fire is one of the symbols employed in the Apocalypse. The Apocalypse is full of symbol. It is "the revelation of Jesus Christ . . . SIGNIFIED by his angel"--a revelation indicated by sign, as the sequel shows. The prophetic facts intended to be communicated are portrayed in symbol, and an occasional hint of interpretation is dropped to enable "his servants" to decipher the hieroglyphs employed. The hint dropped in this case is this (chapter xx, 14): "This is THE SECOND DEATH"; or, to make the matter more certain (Rev. xxi, 8), "All liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, WHICH IS THE SECOND DEATH." Here, the lake of fire is introduced to us as a symbol signifying the second death.
What is the second death? "Second" implies a first. We cannot conceive of a second without the antecedent figure---one. Where, then, shall we look for the first death? Obviously to that "accident of life" which overtakes all the living; "It is appointed unto men ONCE to die." A wicked man dies in the natural course of events; but, if amenable to judgment, he is raised again--restored to life for punishment. And what follows judgment? Condemnation---few stripes or many stripes. And what after the stripes? Death a second time; but a death different to the first, inasmuch as it is directly inflicted by divine displeasure, and consigns its victims to an oblivion from which there is no reclaim by resurrection. It is a death that wipes away every vestige of their being from God's creation. "The day that cometh," says Malachi (chapter iv, 1), "shall burn them up, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch." And David's declaration is, that "The enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs. They shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away" (Psa. xxxvii, 20).
How appropriate a symbol of such a fate is a lake of fire. The only conception we can have of such a thing is supplied by the pools of incandescent iron to be seen at blast furnaces. Throw an animal into one of these pools, and what is the result? Instant annihilation. Not a vestige of the creature's substance survives the action of the destructive element. Complete, and immediate, and irretrievable destruction, then, is the idea suggested by a lake of fire; and how appropriate is such a symbol to signify the second death, which will destroy, with double destruction, even "soul and body" (Matt. x, 28).
When every one not found written in the book of life is cast into the lake of fire, what remains but the fulfilment of Paul's statement, that "death shall be destroyed?" All that are sinful, and, therefore, deathful, are destroyed, and death is, therefore, literally destroyed with them, because there will then be none left upon whom it can prey. And, death being destroyed, what is the picture? A population of deathless beings, reclaimed by God's intervention from the sin and death which now curse our planet. With these considerations in view, the following testimonies will be fully appreciated:--
The idea has been suggested that although the subject-inhabitants of the kingdom will not be immortal, the obedient among them may "live on" to the end of the thousand years, and then be immortalised. This idea assumes that the judgment scene of Rev. xx, 11-15, is at the beginning and not at the end of the thousand years. Even if this were granted, it would not remove the general objections to the idea of no death during the thousand years.
The work of immortalising mankind is spoken of as a harvest in its final form. This being so, analogy would require us to find the nature of the harvest in the first fruits--Christ and his brethren. They are the "sample of the bulk." Are the first fruits produced on the principle of "living on" till the time of change?
He (Christ) was the first of the ripe fruit of the life-harvest which God proposes to raise for His own glory in the earth (I Cor. xv 23: see the shadow in Lev. xxiii, 10-20, in the presentation of the first sheaf of fruit, which coincided in point of time with Christ's ascension). Now the rest of the harvest must follow in the same process of raising. Christ attained to life by faith and obedience (Phil. ii, 9; Heb. v, 7). His brethren of the present dispensation attain it in the same way through him. They do not "live on to the end" of the times of the Gentiles. They die as other men. The principle observed in the process of their development requires this. This principle is faith, which is confidence in the promise of God. If, the moment a man believed in the gospel, his mortal life were made sure till the coming of Christ and the change to the incorruptible, the principle of faith, by which a man honours God, "against hope, believing in hope," would be destroyed: for all the world would "see" that there was advantage in the way of the gospel, and they would flock to the gospel, not because God had promised, but because they perceived an actual present advantage in believing. It is, therefore, an absolute necessity for the exercise of faith that there should be no present apparent difference between those who serve God and those who serve Him not, but that this difference should only be perceived in the day of recompense (Mal. iii, 18).
Now, what is true of the "called" in the time of the Gentiles is true of the called of the millennial age. It is necessary that they should not "live on to the end" of their particular dispensation, for faith is just as necessary for them as us, and if they did not die like other men, there would be no scope for faith and they would be an exception to Abraham and all who have gone before. They would not be of the same harvest. It would be a different crop altogether, raised upon a different principle. Though men will live longer than they do now, death will continue indiscriminately, as the law of faith requires, till the grand final triumph, when the great enemy will be destroyed for ever, and every inhabitant of ransomed earth be able to say, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"
There is this difference between the introduction of death and the introduction of resurrection unto life: death passed upon all men at once, whereas in resurrection, there is a gradual order of development, marked by three stages. Paul states this order in the following terms: "But every man in his own ORDER: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming: then the end ('cometh' is not in the original), when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all authority and power. For he must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" (I Cor. xv, 23-26).
Here we have a "first," an "afterwards," and a "then," as the "order" of resurrection. The introduction of the word "cometh" interrupts the "order." There is resurrection at "the end," for the end is introduced expressly in connection with the order of the resurrection, and not only so, but Paul makes the reign of Christ result in the putting down of all enemies, including" death," which he makes the" last."
That this destruction of death involves resurrection, is illustrated in the case of "those that are Christ's at his coming." Death in their case is "swallowed up (or destroyed) in victory," in their being raised from the dead no more to see corruption. The nature of the case demands that there should be resurrection at the close of the thousand years; for when Christ comes, those only are immortalised who are his own. And if the rest are not immortalised, they must die as Abraham and all the saints have died, for it is the nature of mortality to die. And dying in faith, how are they to receive the promise if they rise not? And when should they rise but at "the end" of the millennial dispensation, where Paul places it? The figure that likens the 144,000 to "first fruits," requires that they should be followed by a harvest in the resurrection of all who come to moral ripeness in the age, but physically fall asleep, as all the fathers have done.
The fitness of things requires this. "To whom much is given, of them is much required." The first-century believers enjoyed the privilege of the Spirit gifts and the company of personal acquaintances of the Lord; and they were required to prove their faithfulness in confiscation and prison, and at the executioner's block. We of the latter days have no open vision or witness of the Spirit in its wonder-working power. We have but the written and historical evidence of God's operations in the past. Having received "less" than our brethren of old, we are not called upon, like them, to go to prison and to death, but have times of liberty and peace wherein to manifest our love. In the age to come, privileges such as have never fallen to the lot of mortal man will be enjoyed by the peoples, nations, and languages, who will rejoice in the rule of Christ and the saints. Instead, therefore, of their position calling for exemption from death, it rather requires that their faith and obedience should be developed and tested by its prevalence until the time for its destruction as the "last enemy" arrives, in the resurrection and glorification of all who in that blessed age secure the approbation of God.
The performance of sacrifice in that age (Zech. xiv, 21; Mal. iii, 4; Isa, Ix, 7; Ezek. xliv, 29, 30), involves the conclusion that death is in operation among the offerers. The existence of priesthood (for the saints are priests as well as kings) carries with it the same conclusion; for priesthood arises out of the existence of sin, and sin brings death. If there were no death, it would argue the absence of sin--a fact which would exclude sin-offerings from the office of priesthood. But death continues until it is destroyed at "the end."
There is express recognition of the existence of death in Ezekiel's description of the temple service of the future age. Thus, of one order of priests it is said, "They shall come at no DEAD PERSON to defile themselves" (Ezek. xliv, 25). Again, in the selection of wives, they are prohibited from marrying "a widow or her that is put away," but may take "a widow THAT HAD A PRIEST BEFORE" (22), from which it follows that death is a common occurrence at the time.
It cannot be suggested that the dead in these cases die for contumacy for the people shall be all righteous (Isa. lx, 21). Death prevails in common, whence springs the necessity for resurrection at the end--that is the end of the thousand years; for how otherwise are the highly responsible dead of those times to be dealt with according to their deeds? "Old men that have not filled their days" belong to that time (Isa. lxv, 20) with staff in their hands for very age (Zech. viii, 4), which argues death at the completion of their natural term without any idea of judicial infliction. Children DIE an hundred years old (Isa. lxv, 20). The time of judgment for those then in probation for eternal life is "when the thousand years are expired." The dead, small and great, come forth multitudinously--we may say universally, as times of universal knowledge will have required. The sea gives up the dead: death and hades give up the dead which are in them, and they are judged every man according to their works (Rev. xx, 12-13). Every one not found written in the book of life is given over to the second death (15). We can understand, on this principle, how it is that the casting of the rejected into the lake of fire is the casting of death and hell (hades--the grave) there; for with the rejected will for ever perish from the earth all trace of death and the grave.
This post-millennial resurrection is mentioned in connection with the resurrection of the first fruits--those who "live and reign with Christ a thousand years," and who are, therefore, raised at the beginning of that period. John seeing them enthroned after their resurrection, says, "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished" (Rev. xx, 5).
Some think the idea of a post-millennial resurrection of the righteous is excluded by the next statement: "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years." They understand this to mean that all are cursed who rise at the end of the thousand years. A close consideration of the verse, however, will show that the statement bears exclusively on those who rise and are approved when Christ comes, and not at all on those who rise at the third and last stage.
Some read this "first resurrection" as "resurrection of the first fruits." No doubt, those who rise then are "the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb," but this is not a translation of John's words. John wrote "the first resurrection." Whichever way this is treated, it implies another resurrection besides itself. Understood as first in rank, it points to another lower in rank. "Resurrection of the first fruits" would refer by implication to resurrection of harvest. First in order would necessitate another or others in order. So that no sublimation or modification of the phrase can dispense with the conclusion that John contemplated another resurrection besides the one represented before his eyes in the enthroned multitude of accepted saints.
A true construction would combine all these ideas, and point to the resurrection that takes place at the coming of Christ as the one that will exceed in blessedness all other resurrections. It will introduce those who have part in it to the highest honour in store for mortals--the honour of leading mankind from their present miseries to the blessedness promised in Abraham. As Christ will always be the head of his people in the endless ages, so, doubtless, the saints that govern the millennial age will always occupy a position of glory and dignity over the ransomed multitude that will by their means enter into eternal life at the close of the thousand years.
Rev. xxi, first four verses, introduces to view the post-millennial blessedness on earth, when death is abolished. "No more sea" points to this, whether taken symbolically or literally. There will be both literal ocean and "many waters" of nations during the thousand years. After the thousand years, there is no more sea of nations, for there is then but one nation, and that the immortalised multitudinous Israel of God.
But even supposing these verses were held to be descriptive of what takes place at the beginning of the thousand years, they could not be used to sanction the idea that there is to be no resurrection at the close of the thousand years. The proclamation, "There shall be no more death!" could in that case only be understood as an intimation that the abolition of death would be the ultimate effect of the New-Jerusalem government of men. The cases already cited of death during the millennium, and above all, the wholesale infliction of death on myriads at its close--(see Rev. xx, 8-9)--would preclude the absolute significance which the argument in question would seek to attach to it. It would in that case be on a par with the proclamation of the angels at the birth of Christ: "On earth peace, and goodwill toward men," which, taken by itself, would seem to intimate that peace was to begin immediately Christ was born; but, as experience has taught us, it only meant that peace would come on earth at last through the Deliverer then cradled at Bethlehem. But the wording of the glorious verses in question clearly relates to a time when "the former things" of sin and sorrow shall have passed for ever from the face of the earth.
We have to note another feature of the change that takes place at the end, indicated by Paul in the following words:--
From this we learn that Christ at the end of the thousand years is to abdicate the position of absolute sovereignty, which he occupies in the earth during that period. It would seem as if, on the accomplishment of his mission in the complete redemption of the world, that God Himself is manifested (without a medium) as the only eternal Governor. The idea will be apprehended in the light of Paul's statement that "the head of every man is Christ, and the head of Christ IS GOD." During the thousand years, it is Christ's headship that is the institution of the day: after that, it is the headship of the Father in some specially manifested form. The headship of the Father is the fact now, but it is in the background. The state of things upon the earth does not admit of its manifestation or even its recognition. During the thousand years, the headship of the Father is a visible fact in the headship of Christ. But at the end of the thousand years, the headship of the Father is manifest direct.
It, therefore, seems that the change to take place then is more a change in the aspect of things as they appear to man, than as they exist in themselves. Though no longer the supreme ruler of the earth, Christ will continue in his position of peculiar preeminence as "Captain" of the "many sons" whom he will have been instrumental in "bringing to glory." God will be "all in all." He will be manifested as the power, and supporter, and constitutor of all, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and ending, the only self-Almighty one. He will no longer work by interposition. He will no longer deal with man mediatively: He will establish direct communication with His perfected children; and the world--freed from sin and death--will become a happy, loyal, glory-giving province in that already universal dominion which extends to the utmost bounds of space, reflecting the wisdom and the goodness of the Highest. The divine scheme of redemption will then have been consummated: and earth's glorified inhabitants in holy gratitude--exalted employment--and an eternity of unbroken felicity lying before them, will realise the perfection and glory and gladness of life as it is in God.
It will thus be seen that the kingdom of the thousand years is but a transitional period between the purely animal and purely spiritual ages. It will blend the elements of both. It will exhibit the perfection of the eternal ages in the Lord Jesus and the saints who will be immortal and incorruptible, and the imperfection of the human. age in the mortal population who will constitute the subjects of their rule. Both will co-exist for a thousand years, and will constitute a state of things as superior to the present dispensation as it will be inferior to the glory ages beyond. The Kingdom of God will lead us by a bridge of a thousand years from the age of sin and death defection to the age of restoration to the bosom of the Deity, in righteousness and life eternal.
The Kingdom of God The Final Instrumentality In The Great Scheme of Human Redemption