The Prophetic Context of the MillenniumThe Prophetic Context of the Millennium John F Walvoord Sat, 05/24/2008 - 04:03
The Millennial Kingdom—Part I:The Prophetic Context of the MillenniumThe Millennial Kingdom—Part I:The Prophetic Context of the Millennium John F Walvoord Wed, 07/18/2007 - 06:00
The Biblical doctrine of the coming millennial kingdom of Christ is one of the greatest themes of divine revelation. In its simple definition, the millennium is the reign of Christ for one thousand years on the earth following His second coming. As such it is the consummating dispensation of human history on earth. Though millennial truth is essentially eschatological, it is integral to the entire volume of Scripture and its proper understanding is an important essential to theology as a whole. Millennialism cannot therefore be brushed aside as a dispute on the interpretation of Revelation 20, but is rather the product of a system of Biblical interpretation established as the positive teaching of both Testaments. It constitutes a refutation of both amillennialism and postmillennialism.
In discussing the great theme of the kingdom and prophecy, Nathaniel West summarized the importance of millennial truth in these words: “From first to last, the Kingdom of God on earth, its inception, progress, conduct, and consummation in glory, is the one theme of Old Testament prophecy. To this end were the covenants with Christ, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Israel, and David. To this end was the choice of the one national ‘Israel,’ the ‘choice forever,’ as a prophetic, priestly, kingly nation, a messianic and mediatortal nation, the one national ‘Servantof Jehovah,’ and national Son of God, standing between God and mankind, and bringing salvation to a lost world; a people from whom should come the one personal ‘Israel,’ Prophet, Priest, and King, the one Mediator and true Messiah, Seed of the Woman, Seed of Abraham, Seed of David, Son of Man and Son of God, in whom all nations should bless themselves—Jesus Christ. Identified with Him, individually, and called by His name, stands Israel collectively, in His whole Messianic work and kingdom. Neither acts without the other. The Pentateuch prophecies refer chiefly to the people. The Messianic Psalms emphasize the King, the Kingdom, and the Priest. Isaiah dwells upon the prophetic character of Israel; Ezekiel displays the priestly; Daniel reveals the kingly; Zechariah blends all in one. Old Testament prophecy knows no other subjects of discourse than Israel, Messiah, and the nations. As to the kingdom, Israel had it, under the Old Testament, in its outward form; the Gentiles have it under the New Testament in its inward form; in the age to come, Jews and Gentiles together, shall have it, both forms in one, one kingdom of Messiah, spiritual, visible and glorious, with Israel still the central people, the prelude of the New Jerusalem and the nations walking in its light forever”(Nathaniel West, The Thousand Years in Both Testaments, pp. 4-5).
Though premillenarians have been in essential agreement on the central fact of the coming of Christ as preceding the thousand-year reign, a variety of detail is found in the exposition of the millennium itself. This is also true of the prophetic context of the millennium, that sequence of important events which anticipate and prepare the way for the coming of Christ and His reign upon the earth. Much of the existing confusion, however, is immediately dissipated if the view is followed that the rapture of the church occurs first and is followed by the fulfillment of the prophesied seventieth week of Israel. Under this interpretation, a tremendous succession of events unfolds as preparing the way for the coming of the millennial kingdom. If the church is removed before this period of trouble, it becomes immediately clear that the tribulation is a divine preparation and prophetic sign of the approaching second coming of Christ. Though many details of the tribulation have already been discussed in connection with the rapture question, the same area of prophetic revelation may now be examined as a prelude to the millennium.
The Nature of the Tribulation
The Old Testament as well as the New constantly warns that there will be a time of trouble preceding the millennial kingdom of Christ. This period of trial is in sharp contrast to tribulations which characterize the experience of saints in all ages. The future period is described as having certain specific characteristics which have never been fulfilled and cannot be fulfilled until the church is raptured. In general, this future time of trouble will concern three divisions of humanity: (1) The nation Israel; (2) the nations or the pagan Gentile world; (3) the elect saints who will live in that time of trouble. Divine dealing with each of these three groups differs widely.
Place of Israel in the tribulation. For the nation Israel the tribulation will be a time of discipline and purging in preparation for the coming millennial kingdom. It stands in contrast to all previous times of trial and discipline and is repeatedly declared to be unprecedented in its character and severity. It is predicted that Israel’s trials will bring spiritual revival to a portion of the nation and a godly remnant will emerge. Passages which deal with the tribulation reveal that when this has been realized the tribulation will close with Israel’s deliverance accomplished by the return of Christ as the Messiah of Israel. Israel will then be regathered from all over the earth, restored as a nation, and given a place of honor, safety and prominence in the millennial kingdom.
Place of Gentiles in the tribulation. For the Gentiles, the tribulation marks the close of the extended period of the “times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24), that period marked by Gentile control of Jerusalem since 600 B.C. During the tribulation, frightful judgments will be poured out upon the Gentiles, resulting in utter destruction of their cities and civilization and leading to their complete doom at the time of the return of Christ. During the tribulation, a world government will come into being headed by a dictator of unprecedented evil and guilty of utter blasphemy against the true God. For a time he will hold the entire world in his power, a satanic imitation of the true reign of Christ in the millennial kingdom. His attempt to deify himself begins the “great tribulation” (Matt 24:21), with its terrible persecution of Jew and Christian. The great tribulation is brought to its close by the second advent of Christ and destruction of the world power of Gentiles as predicted by Daniel and many prophetic portions of the Old and New Testaments.
The elect in the tribulation. The elect or the saved of the tribulation period are composed of both Jews and Gentiles who turn to Christ for salvation. During the early part of the period between the rapture and the second coming of Christ, there is some religious freedom as indicated by the restoration of Jewish sacrifices. With the beginning of the great tribulation, however, this freedom is abruptly ended, and Jewish sacrifices cease. All who oppose the deification and worship of the world dictator are subject to persecution. Both Jew and Christian become the objects of this satanic oppression, and many are martyred. The elect are delivered by the return of Christ at the close of the tribulation period.
The Scriptures which present the revelation of this coming tribulation constantly reiterate that it will be a time of trouble without precedent in the history of the world. It will be a climactic period, expressly designed by a sovereign God to bring the forces of evil to a crescendo before the millennial reign of Christ which will be characterized by peace and righteousness. The millennial kingdom is therefore set off from preceding dispensations by this unmistakable future period of trial, which serves to make evident that both the tribulation and the millennium which follows are as yet unfulfilled.
The Tribulation in the Old Testament
The first reference to the tribulation as such is found in Deuteronomy 4:29-30: “But from thence ye shall seek Jehovah thy God, and thou shalt find him, when thou searchest after him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, in the latter days thou shalt return to Jehovah thy God, and hearken unto his voice.” According to this first reference, the tribulation is the occasion for some in Israel turning to the Lord and constitutes a divine preparation for the kingdom which will follow.
The Prophet Jeremiah contributes one of the most important Old Testament revelations as recorded in Jeremiah 30:4-11. The coming tribulation is described as inducing terror on the part of those who will be living at that time. The period itself is described: “Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it” (Jer 30:7). The prophecy continues with a prediction of the millennial scene when Jews will no longer be under the yoke of Gentile bondage (v. 8 ) and instead will be under the rule of Jehovah and David, their king (v. 9 ). On the basis of this glorious prospect, Israel is encouraged not to fear but instead to look forward to the deliverance which will come when they return from their captivities and are brought back to their land to enjoy peace and quiet where “none shall make him afraid” (v. 10 ).
This passage from the prophecy of Jeremiah makes clear that this time of trouble is distinct from any preceding trial of Israel. It states flatly “that none is like it” (v. 7 ). It also indicates that the time of trouble will be followed immediately not by the eternal state but by Israel restored to the land and delivered from Gentile political domination. Jeremiah therefore includes all the major elements of the tribulation and sets it in a millennial context as a necessary antecedent to the glory of the kingdom.
One of the most important Old Testament predictions comes from the pen of the Prophet Daniel and is contained in Daniel 9:27. If the futuristic interpretation of this passage be accepted, it yields an important chronology for the context of the millennium. The sixty-nine “weeks” of Daniel (9:24-26 ) have demonstrated by their fulfillment that the time unit is a year—each “week” being a period of seven years. By this token the seventieth week described in Daniel 9:27 must also represent a period of seven years. As no such period followed immediately the fulfillment of the sixty-ninth week, the futuristic interpretation of the passage looks for fulfillment in the last seven years preceding the second advent of Christ to establish His millennial kingdom. The one making the covenant mentioned in Daniel 9:27 is identified with “the prince that shall come” of verse 26 and is the same individual who becomes the dictator of the whole world during the tribulation time. The arguments for and against this interpretation have been stated in an abundance of scholarly literature and need not be debated again here (cf. Sir Robert Anderson, The Coming Prince, pp. 51-129; Robert Culver, Daniel and the Latter Days, pp. 135-60; H. A. Ironside, Lectures on Daniel, pp. 155-71; A. C. Gaebelein, Daniel, pp. 119-50).
According to Daniel’s prophecy, the last seven years before the second advent will begin with a covenant between the prince and the people of Israel. It is evidently a covenant of protection and of religious liberty under which Israel is free to re-establish their ancient system of sacrifices. In the middle of the seven years, the covenant is broken and the sacrifices cease. This may be done in connection with the effort to deify the world ruler of that day which would make the worship of Israel as well as the true faith of believers in Christ illegal. Thus begins the great tribulation, the period of trial never before experienced for all who would worship the true God. This time of tribulation must run its course, “even unto the full end” (Dan 9:27), but it is constantly reiterated in Scripture that deliverance will come with the second advent of Christ. According to Daniel’s prophecy, this will occur seven years after the covenant is made, and three and one half years after the beginning of the great tribulation.
In Daniel’s prophecy, as in Jeremiah, the period of trouble is followed by deliverance and restoration of Israel as a nation. According to Daniel 12:1, the consummation of the period of trouble in blessing is assured: “There shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.” In other portions of Daniel, further information is given concerning the tribulation and, though Daniel does not occupy himself pre-eminently with the millennial kingdom itself, it is evident that the consummation of the tribulation ushers in a time of victory and peace. Details of the tribulation itself are given in Daniel 7:7-8, 19-27; 11:36-45 ; 12:11-13 .
Not only are Daniel and Jeremiah clear on this important truth but confirmation is found in most of the minor prophets in which the dominant theme is the future time of trouble for Israel and the ultimate deliverance and restoration of Israel nevertheless. Important passages on the theme in the Minor Prophets are Joel 2:1-11, 28-32; Zephaniah 1:14-18; Zechariah 13:8-14:2 . The Old Testament revelation of the tribulation as a whole is therefore amazingly complete and confirms in general the premillennial concept of the millennial kingdom to follow the tribulation.
The New Testament Doctrine of the Tribulation
In the prophetic ministry of Christ a notable confirmation of this Old Testament teaching is found,in the New Testament as contained in the Olivet Discourse dealing with signs and exhortations relative to the coming of the Lord. According to Matthew 24:15-30, the specific details of the tribulation are presented as signs of the coming of the Lord. Matthew 24:15 refers to the abomination of desolation of which Daniel spoke (Dan 9:27; 12:11 ). Like Jeremiah and Daniel, Christ declares that this coming time of trouble will be unprecedented: “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world until now, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt 24:21). As in the Old Testament, the tribulation is primarily a divine dealing with Israel, but is also the consummation and final display of Gentile world dominion. Like the Old Testament prophecies, Christ also teaches that the second advent will “immediately” follow the tribulation (Matt 24:29-30).
The theme of divine revelation concerning the tribulation is found occasionally in the Pauline epistles and in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 under the terminology of “day of the Lord.” The period is revealed to be one in which unbelievers will experience sudden destruction as those who walk in darkness in contrast to “the children of light” who will be delivered. A particular comfort to the church is the fact that “God appointed us not unto wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 5:9). In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, attention is directed to the fact that the tribulation will be dominated by “the man of sin” (v. 3 ) “whose coming is according to the worldng of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders” (v. 9 ). The tribulation period is therefore described as that specific future time when the man of sin will reign.
Though other Scriptures allude to the period, the major New Testament revelation is found in the last book of the Bible, Revelation, chapters 4—19 . Approximately fifteen chapters of the book are used to describe this time of trouble. Even a casual reading of these stupendous events will disclose a period exceeding in importance all other periods in human history which can only be explained as the final throes of the forces of evil prior to the second advent of Christ. Only by following an allegorical or spiritualized interpretation of the tremendous events predicted can these great prophetic Scriptures be robbed of their intended meaning. In the Book of Revelation, however, as in other passages dealing with the tribulation, the time of trouble is revealed as temporary and Israel, even though in great distress, will be ultimately delivered. It is made plain in chapter 19 that the second advent of Christ is the cause for the ultimate destruction of Gentile power in the world and at the same time occasions the introduction of the thousand years of Christ’s reign upon the earth.
As has been indicated in previous discussions, nowhere does the church appear in these tremendous scenes. The events of the tribulation have their major significance as the consummation of “the times of the Gentiles” and a divine preparation of the nation Israel for their role of restoration and blessing in the millennium. The tribulation is therefore a major aspect of the prophetic context of the millennium.
(Series to be continued in the April-June Number, 1957)
This article was taken from the Theological Journal Library and posted with permission of Galaxie Software.
The Prophetic Context of the Millennium—Part II:The Second Coming of ChristThe Prophetic Context of the Millennium—Part II:The Second Coming of Christ John F Walvoord Wed, 07/18/2007 - 06:00
The most important aspect of the prophetic context of the millennium is the personal return of Jesus Christ to the earth. The tribulation which precedes it is a dramatic preparation for that coming and is climaxed by the glorious appearance of the Lord in the heavens accompanied by the saints and the holy angels. Though the second coming may not be as important to the total program of God as the first coming, it certainly is without precedent in manifestation of the glory and power of the Triune God. It constitutes the most tremendous intervention of divine power in the entire course of human history.
On every hand one discovers that the Scripture dealing with the second coming is the key to the prophetic future. The important place given the premillennial second coming of Christ in Scripture justifies using the term premillennial to describe the whole system of Biblical interpretation which is involved. Just as Scripture concerning the rapture of the church is climactic and determinative in truth revealed about the church, so the second coming is determinative in tracing the future course of Gentiles and Israel in the world, the resurrection of the righteous, and the fulfillment of prophecies concerning the kingdom of God on earth. King of glory. Psalm 50 speaks of God shining forth from Zion: “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined forth” (v. 2 ), and declares, “Our God cometh, and doth not keep silence” (v. 3 ). Psalm 72 is an unusually complete picture of the millennial reign of Christ. In this psalm it is stated: “He will come down like rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth” (v. 6 ). The psalm as a whole pictures the peace and righteousness and universal rule of the King of whom it is predicted: “Yea, all kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall serve him” (v. 11 ).
Psalm 96 exhorts the whole world to praise and worship Jehovah: “For he cometh to judge the earth: he will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth” (v. 13 ). Psalm 110 contrasts the present position of the King at “my right hand” (v. 1 ) with His rule “in the midst of thine enemies” (v. 2 ). His judgment upon the wicked in the future kingdom described in the words “in the day of thy power” (v. 3 ) is given in verses 5-7 . Taken as a whole, these representative psalms give another complete picture of the coming of the King of kings to reign over and subdue a wicked earth.
The Major and Minor Prophets abound in references to the King and His millennial reign. Isaiah 9:6-7 declares majestically of Christ: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of Jehovah of hosts will perform this.” In this and similar passages the second coming is implied in what the Son of God accomplishes upon the earth. A full picture of the millennial reign following the second advent is given in Isaiah 11:1—12:6 . Christ is described as coming from Edom to judge the wicked in the day of vengeance (Isa 63:1-6). As the prophet contemplates the wickedness of his day, he cries out: “Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might quake at thy presence” (Isa 64:1). This great book closes with two chapters devoted largely to the time of millennial blessings (65—66 ).
The second coming itself is in view in Daniel 7:13-14, where Daniel records a prophetic vision: “I saw in the night-visions, and, behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” This same event was predicted early in Daniel 2:44: “And in the days of those kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall the sovereignty thereof be left to another people; but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.”
The Prophet Zechariah spoke of the second coming and the presence of Jehovah in the millennial earth: “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion; for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith Jehovah. And many nations shall join themselves to Jehovah in that day, and shall be my people; and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that Jehovah of hosts hath sent me unto thee” (Zech 2:10-11). According to Zechariah 14:3-11, the coming of the King shall be timed to put down the wicked just as they are conquering Jerusalem: “Then shall Jehovah go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east; and the mount of Olives shall be cleft in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south” (vv. 3-4 ). The coming of the Lord, according to this Old Testament prophecy, shall be a specific event, a return to the very place from which our Lord ascended, and it shall be marked by the dividing asunder of the Mount of Olives.
(Series to be continued in the July-September Number, 1957)
This article was taken from the Theological Journal Library and posted with permission of Galaxie Software.
The Prophetic Context of the Millennium—Part III:The Second Coming of Christ in the New TestamentThe Prophetic Context of the Millennium—Part III:The Second Coming of Christ in the New Testament John F Walvoord Wed, 07/18/2007 - 06:00
The revelation of the second coming of Christ is one of the most important ard most frequently mentioned doctrines of the New Testament. One out of every twenty-five verses in the New Testament refers either to the rapture of the church or to Christ’s coming to reign over the world (cf. Jesse Forrest Silver, The Lord’s Return, p. 29). Though it is not always possible to distinguish references to Christ’s coming for the church from references to His coming to establish His earthly kingdom, there are many passages which clearly present a premillennial coming at the close of the great tribulation to judge the world and to bring in the righteous reign of the King. Approximately twenty major references are found in the New Testament alone (Matt 19:28; 23:39 ; 24:3—25:46 ; Mark 13:24-37; Luke 12:35-48; 17:22-37 ; 18:8 ; 21:25-28 ; Acts 1:10-11; 15:16-18 ; Rom 11:25-27; 1 Cor 11:26; 2 Thess 1:7-10; 2:8 ; 2 Pet 3:3-4; Jude 1:14-15 ; Rev 1:7-8; 2:25-28 ; 16:15 ; 19:11-21 ; 22:20 ).
His return to reign is posttribulational. Though many premillenarians believe that the Lord will come for His church before the tribulation and that the rapture is pretribulational, most conservative scholars of today agree that the second coming to the earth to reign is a posttribulational event. Exceptions to the rule would include the old school Of postmillenarians who place the return of Christ after the millennium instead of before it (cf. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, III, 792). Those who completely spiritualize the second coming and find it fulfilled at Pentecost in the advent of the Spirit, or at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, or those who find the second coming fulfilled in any spiritual crisis are of course exceptions to the rule. Most conservative amillenarians as well as premillenarians, however, consider the return of Christ to reign as a posttribulational event. This is so clearly taught in Scripture that only extensive spiritualization can escape such a conclusion.
In Matthew 24:21-29 the period preceding the second advent is described as the great tribulation (v. 21 ), in which there will appear many false Christs (23-25 ), and false reports of the coming of Christ (v. 26 ). The second coming is described as following these events. In verse 29 it is declared: “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.” In the next verse it is stated: “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Mark 13:24-26 gives precisely the same order and so does Luke 21:25-27. In the Book of Revelation, likewise, the second coming of Christ is given as the climax to the tremendous scenes of the tribulation described in the earlier chapters and scholars even of differing schools of interpretation usually agree that Revelation 19 is climactic. Unless the Scriptures bearing on this subject are robbed of all literal meaning, they teach unmistakably that Christ will come to reign after the predicted tribulation.
A personal return. The graphic description of the second coming in its principal passages should leave no doubt that the coming of Christ is a personal event in which Christ comes from heaven to the earth. Support to this idea is given in the words of the angels in Acts 1:11 where His second coming is compared to His ascension and it is declared: “This Jesus, who was received up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye beheld him going into heaven.” That His second coming is a personal return is borne out by all the details revealed in the many passages bearing on this subject.
A bodily return. The Scriptures also indicate that the return of Christ, like the ascension, is a bodily return in the same sense that His ascension was a bodily ascension into heaven. There is no evidence that the second coming can be explained as merely a change of state as some Lutheran theologians have seemed to teach (cf. H. E. Jacobs, A Summary of the Christian Faith, pp. 156-57). The resurrection body of Christ never becomes omnipresent. His body does not “fill all things” (Eph 4:10; cf. Jacobs, ibid., p. 157), but always has a local characteristic even though it may be granted that Christ in His divine nature is always omnipresent. Zechariah 14:4 refers to the fact that “his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east.” This would certainly confirm a bodily return.
A visible and glorious return. The Scriptures leave no doubt that when Christ returns in power and glory it will be visible and is compared to lightning shining from the east even unto the west (Matt 24:27). That it will be visible is implied by Acts 1:11 in that the ascension was visible. Revelation 1:7 states explicitly: “Behold, he cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they that pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him.” In contrast to His first coming in which His glory was hidden, it is clear that in His second coming Christ appears in all the full glory of His deity. The description given in Revelation 19:11-12 coupled with the earlier description of Revelation 1:12-17 should leave no doubt as to the extent of His glory. His glory is magnified by the fact that He cometh with clouds as the Scriptures indicate (Matt 24:30; Rev 1:7) even as He ascended, “And the cloud received him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). Every description of the second coming would indicate that it is the most spectacular and glorious event ever to take place on the earth.
A geographical event. The specific character of the second coming is further indicated by its relation to a return to the earth in the vicinity of Jerusalem. This is plainly noted in the Old Testament prophecies of Zechariah (14:1-4 ) and in the fact that in Romans 11:26 He is said to fulfill the prediction that “there shall come out of Zion the Deliverer.” In the frequent mention of Christ in His second coming in relation to Zion as revealed in the Old Testament, the prophets predict both that Christ will come to Zion and that thereafter He will come out of Zion (cf. Ps 14:7; 20:2 ; 53:6 ; 110:2 ; 128:5 ; 134:3 ; 135:21 ; Isa 2:3; Joel 3:16; Amos 1:2). Further confirmation of the geographical return of Christ is found in the Book of Revelation where He comes to judge the armies gathered in Palestine in rebellion against Him (Rev 19:11-21). The geographical nature of Christ’s return serves to confirm His coming as a specific future prophetic event.
Accompanied by the holy angels and the saints. In keeping with the pretribulational rapture of the church, the second coming of Christ to the earth is pictured as an event in which He is accompanied by the holy angels and the saints. Specific mention is made of this fact in Matthew 25:31: “when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him….” According to the prophecy of Jude, quoting Enoch, the second coming is described in the words: “Behold, the Lord came with ten thousands of his holy ones.” Some have taken the statement in 1 Thessalonians 3:13, “the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints,” as a similar reference though the passage itself is not conclusive. In the description of the second coming in Revelation 19:11-21 it is further stated: “The armies which are in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and pure” (v. 14 ). The armies here mentioned may be angelic beings, if so, are in contrast to the church which is described earlier in the passage as the wife of the Lamb (v. 7 ). In view of the fact that the event pictured in Revelation 19:7 is the marriage feast of the Lamb, it would follow in the oriental custom of marriage that the bridegroom had previously gone to receive the bride to himself. Then, the event in view is the final stage, that is, the marriage feast. In this case, the wife would accompany the bridegroom.
To judge the earth. One of the most prominent features of the second coming mentioned in most of the passages is the prediction that Christ in His second coming returns to judge the earth. This is introduced in Matthew 19:28 where Christ predicts that the Twelve Apostles will judge the twelve tribes of Israel “when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory.” The major portion of Matthew 24:29—25:46 bears out that Christ will judge both Jew and Gentile living in the world at the time of His second advent. The various parables and illustrations found in the Gospels in connection with the second advent are all to the same point (cf. Luke 12:37, 45-47). Likewise in Luke 17:29-30 the judgment of Christ at the second advent is compared to the judgment upon Sodom when fire and brimstone destroyed them. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 describes “the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus: who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”
The time of this event is plainly stated in 2 Thessalonians 1:10 as the time “when he shall come to be glorified in his saints.” According to 2 Thessalonians 2:8, the second advent will also be the occasion when the lawless one shall be judged, “whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of his coming.” According to Judges 1:15, the Lord’s coming is with the divine purpose “to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their works of ungodliness which they have ungodly wrought, and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” Revelation 2:27 pictures the reign of Christ as being shared by the faithful saints who in Christ’s name “shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to shivers.” The final description is given in Revelation 19:11-21 where Christ is described as being “arrayed in a garment sprinkled with blood.” It is further revealed: “And out of his mouth proceedeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God, the Almighty.” The passage also describes the utter destruction of men and horses, and the false prophet and the beast will be cast alive into the lake of fire. Satan himself is cast into the abyss where he is chained until the end of the thousand-year reign of Christ after which he too is cast into the lake of fire.
A problem exists in some of the descriptive passages of the second advent relative to the use of fire as a divine judgment in connection with the establishment of the millennial reign of Christ. According to 2 Peter 3:7 the earth eventually is to be destroyed by fire and in verse 10 it is stated: “The day of the Lord will come as a thief; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” The idea of complete destruction of the earth at the beginning of the millennium is contradicted, however, by numerous passages where the present characteristics of the earth are, carried over into the millennium, such as the location of the city of Jerusalem and the geographic identification of certain areas according to their present occupants by the nations involved. If the earth is destroyed by fire at the beginning of the millennium, it would also be difficult to explain the continuity of men in natural bodies and the continued existence of plant and animal life. The best solution to the problem is that the expression “the day of the Lord” is an extensive time period which includes not only the tribulation and the judgments taking place at the second advent, but which includes also the entire millennial reign of Christ as a time period in which the Lord deals directly with human sin. The destruction of the earth described, therefore, in 2 Peter 3:10 is at the close of the Day of the Lord, rather than at the second coming, and is properly located at the end of the millennium when all wickedness in the earth will be judged in a final way.
To deliver the elect. The second advent of Christ to the earth not only brings judgment upon the wicked, but it is an event which brings deliverance to the elect, the saved of both Jews and Gentiles, and to the nation Israel as such. In Matthew 24:22 it is revealed that the second advent cuts short the great tribulation which would otherwise have eventually brought death to all flesh upon the earth. The judgment is limited to the time indicated in Scripture “for the elect’s sake” (Matt 24:22). The same idea is indicated in Romans 11:26-27 where it is predicted: “And so all Israel shall be saved: even as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer; he shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” Luke 21:28 indicates that when they shall see the second advent of Christ they are exhorted to “Look up, and lift up your heads; because your redemption draweth nigh.” This is in keeping with many passages in the Old Testament which likewise describe deliverance that will take place at the time of the second advent (cf. Zech 14:1-4).
To bring spiritual revival to Israel. Along with the deliverance of the godly, the Scriptures predict that at the second coming Israel will experience spiritual revival. This is intimated in Romans 11:26-27 and is involved in the fulfillment of numerous Old Testament passages of which Jeremiah 31:31-34 may be taken as representative.
To re-establish the Davidic kingdom. In the discussion of the relation of Israel to Gentiles in the present age in the council at Jerusalem, it was brought out by James in his quotation from Amos 9:11-12, and other Old Testament predictions, that a future day was coming in which Israel would once again be restored. According to Amos, God has promised: “In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up its ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old” (Amos 9:11). According to Ezekiel 37:24, after Israel is regathered to their ancient land, David is going to be raised from the dead to be king over Israel, and God will make a covenant of peace with His people (Ezek 37:26). To be fulfilled also is the prediction of the angel to Mary in Luke 1:31-33 In regard to Jesus: “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” It should be clear from the many Scriptures dealing with the second coming and their graphic revelation of this glorious event that the future climax to the interadvent age is one of the most important events of all time, taking its place with the incarnation itself and the death and resurrection of Christ. The precise nature of the judgments in connection with the second advent and the resurrection of saints such as the tribulation martyrs gives the event tremendous significance.
(Series to be continued in the October-December Number, 1957)
This article was taken from the Theological Journal Library and posted with permission of Galaxie Software.
The Prophetic Context of the Millennium—Part IV:The Resurrection at the Second AdventThe Prophetic Context of the Millennium—Part IV:The Resurrection at the Second Advent John F Walvoord Wed, 07/18/2007 - 06:00
The Resurrection at the Second Advent
One of the major revelations concerning the second coming of Christ is the prediction of the resurrections which will take place at that time. According to Revelation 20:4-6, the event described as the “first resurrection” takes place immediately after the second coming. The Apostle John records the vision in the following words: “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image, and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they lived, and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (Rev 20:4-6).
The expression “first resurrection” has constituted an exegetical problem for all interpreters. Posttribulationists cite this reference as evidence that the rapture could not occur until after the tribulation. Pretribulationists have rightly held that the first resurrection is not an event, but an order of resurrection. It is evident that our Lord rose from the dead as the first one to receive a resurrection body—others previously raised from the dead had merely been restored to their former natural bodies. His resurrection, though widely separated from resurrections which follow, is included in the first resurrection, otherwise the event described in Revelation would not be “first.” According to 1 Corinthians 15:20, Christ is “the firstfruits of them that are asleep,” i.e., the first part of the resurrection of all saints. Likewise, the evidence that the translation of the church takes place before the tribulation would point to a large segment of the righteous dead being raised before the tribulation. These also would qualify as taking part in the first resurrection.
In contrast to the first resurrection of Revelation 20 is the resurrection of the wicked dead portrayed in the latter part of the chapter . The first resurrection therefore becomes the resurrection of all the righteous in contrast to the final resurrection which is the resurrection of the wicked. The question remains, however, concerning the identity of these who take part in the first resurrection at this time.
The resurrection of the tribulation saints. According to the description given in Revelation 20:4, those who are included in the first resurrection are those who have “been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image, and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand.” This is a description of those who were martyred for their faith in Christ during the time of the great tribulation, as predicted in Revelation 13:7-18. In Revelation 20:4, their resurrection is described in the words “they lived.” All doubt is removed as to the meaning of the words “they lived” by their identification as those who have been partakers of the “first resurrection” (vv. 5-6 ). They are raised to reign with Christ a thousand years, or throughout the millennium, as priests of God and of Christ. Practically all conservative expositors agree that the tribulation saints are raised at this time, though some see it as the beginning phase of a general resurrection of all the righteous.
The resurrection of righteous Israel. The chief problem relative to the resurrections at the second coming of Christ among premillenarians is the question of whether righteous Israel and Old Testament saints in general are raised at this time. A popular interpretation originating in Darby and his associates is that the resurrection of Old Testament saints takes place at the same time as the rapture of the church, that is, before the tribulation. This interpretation has been followed by such worthy expositors as William Kelly, A. C. Gaebelein, C. I. Scofield, and a host of others. Support for this interpretation is provided by three general arguments: (1) Christ died for Old Testament saints as well as for the church and therefore they are entitled to resurrection at the same time as the church. (2) According to 1 Thessalonians 4:16, the voice of the archangel is heard at the time of the rapture. Inasmuch as Michael, the archangel, is the special protector of Israel, his presence at the rapture would indicate Israel’s resurrection. (3) The twenty-four elders of Revelation 4 are composed of both Old and New Testament saints and, inasmuch as these are pictured in heaven crowned and therefore rewarded in Revelation 4 before the tribulation, it would indicate that Old Testament saints as well as the church have already been raised from the dead.
Though the foregoing interpretation has had widespread recognition among premillenarians of the Brethren school of interpretation, there are good reasons for reconsideration. The reference to “the dead in Christ” (1 Thess 4:16) by no means clearly includes all saints. The expression “in Christ” is uniformly used in the New Testament, wherever it has theological meaning, as a reference to those who have been baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ, and is never used in reference to saints before the Day of Pentecost. It is significant that the word saints, a more general designation of the righteous, is not used but that a technical expression, “the dead in Christ,” is used instead. It would seem to indicate a limitation of the prediction to those who the in the present dispensation.
The second argument relative to Michael, the archangel and special protector of Israel, is not based on explicit statement of the text. It is true that Michael is the special protector of Israel, but he is also the archangel, that is, the head of all the angels. In view of the spiritual conflict which has been raging ever since sin entered the universe, the presence of Michael at so tremendous an event as the rapture can hardly be taken ipso facto as evidence that his voice is directed to Israel only. It could conceivably be a shout of triumph in view of the tremendous accomplishment and victory over Satan and death which the rapture represents.
Of the three general arguments usually offered, that based on Revelation 4 is probably the most uncertain. It is by no means clear that the four and twenty elders represent both Old and New Testament saints. Some believe that the four and twenty elders represent only the church. Others believe that they are not redeemed men at all, but holy angels. The revised text of Revelation 5:9 opens the possibility to this latter interpretation. In view of the disagreement on the identification of the twenty-four elders even among premillenarians, the argument based upon this section becomes one of dubious value. It should be evident to an impartial observer that none of the arguments are explicit, and one is left without clear revelation concerning the time of Israel’s resurrection as far as these passages are concerned.
Over against the obscurity in the New Testament, however, is the fact that the Old Testament seems to place the resurrection of Israel after the tribulation. In Daniel 12 immediately after the description of the great tribulation in the preceding chapter , a deliverance is promised Israel at the close of the tribulation in the following words: “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince who standeth for the children of thy people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:1-2).
According to Daniel, the deliverance occurs after the “time of trouble,” an obvious reference to the great tribulation, and it is predicted: “at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.” In other words, a general deliverance for the righteous among Israel is promised. In this connection, in verse 2 it is stated: “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” A problem arises within premillennial interpretation because there is brought together in one verse the resurrection of the righteous which according to premillenarians occurs before the millennium, and the resurrection of the wicked, which according to Revelation 20 occurs after the millennium. Some have tried to solve this difficulty by spiritualizing the resurrection of verse 2 . A. C. Gaebelein, for instance, writes: “The physical resurrection is not taught in the second verse of this chapter , if it were the passage would be in clash with the revelation concerning resurrection in the New Testament. There is no general resurrection…. We repeat the passage has nothing to do with physical resurrection. Physical resurrection is however used as a figure of the national revival of Israel in that day. They have been sleeping nationally in the dust of the earth, buried among the Gentiles. But at that time there will take place a national restoration, a bringing together of the house of Judah and the house of Israel” (A. C. Gaebelein, The Prophet Daniel, p. 200).
Most premillenarians would agree with the point of view that there is a future restoration of the nation Israel and that this is sometimes portrayed in terms of resurrection as, for instance, in Ezekiel 37:1-14. The only reason, however, for assigning such an interpretation to Daniel 12 is Gaebelein’s statement that to do so would “clash with the revelation concerning resurrection in the New Testament.” Such a “clash,” however, is by no means a necessary conclusion, as the distinction between resurrection before and after the millennium is not contradicted. Daniel places the resurrection of both after the tribulation. The only real contradiction is of the idea that Israel is not raised after the tribulation. Inasmuch as Revelation 20:4-6 clearly places the resurrection of tribulation saints after the tribulation there is no real problem in placing the resurrection of Old Testament saints at the same time. Spiritualizing the resurrection of Daniel 12 would leave unsolved the resurrection of tribulation saints.
Tregelles translates Daniel 12:2 as follows: “And many from among the sleepers of the dust of the earth shall awake; these shall be unto everlasting life; but those [the rest of the sleepers] shall be unto shame and everlasting contempt” (S. P. Tregelles, Remarks on the Prophetic Visions in the Book of Daniel, p. 159, words in brackets supplied by Tregelles). By this translation Tregelles solves easily and with proper reason the distinction between the resurrection of the righteous before the millennium and the resurrection of the wicked after the millennium. It also makes clear that this is a literal resurrection, not merely a restoration of the nation Israel.
Nathaniel West supplies a similar translation as follows: “The true rendering of Dan. xii.1-3 , in connection with the context, is ‘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 everlasting, but those (who do not awake at that time) shall be unto shame and contempt everlasting.’ So, the most renowned Hebrew Doctors render it, and the best Christian exegetes” (Nathaniel West, The Thousand Years in Both Testaments, p. 266).
As these translations bring out, there is really no justification in the text for spiritualizing the resurrection of the righteous dead in the Daniel passage. The principal reason offered by those who follow this interpretation is that this is necessary to conform to the New Testament, but the New Testament teaching does not require this interpretation.
A similar difficulty is found in another important Old Testament passage on the resurrection of Israel, namely, Isaiah 26:19 which is as follows: “Thy dead shall live; my dead bodies shall arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast forth the dead.” In this passage, as in Daniel, writers such as William Kelly insist that literal resurrection is not in view. Supposed support for this is found in the context in Isaiah 26:14 where, according to Kelly, a literal interpretation would mean that the expression, “they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise,” would teach that the unsaved are not raised at all (cf. William Kelly, Exposition of Isaiah, p. 265). This is by no means necessary, however, as the passage could be interpreted as meaning that the unsaved in view here will die and therefore not be able to rise, that is, stand up. The issue of resurrection, then, is not involved in verse 14 . By contrast, in verse 19 is a very clear reference to resurrection where the expression, “Thy dead shall live; my dead bodies shall arise,” seems to be a clear reference to resurrection. Again, one suspects that Kelly and those who follow this interpretation are being guided by their preconceived ideas that Israel must be raised at the time the church is translated.
While this point in doctrine is not one of major moment, those who insist that Israel is raised at the rapture are required thereby to spiritualize both the Daniel and Isaiah passages, which are the principal references to the resurrection of Israel in the Old Testament. In fact, it is difficult to find any passage which clearly teaches the general resurrection of righteous Israel in the Old Testament if the Daniel and Isaiah passages are disqualified from literal interpretation. It furthermore puts an unnecessary burden upon those who would follow the pretribulational view to link the resurrection of Israel with the rapture of the church, as the Daniel passage puts the resurrection of Israel after the tribulation and not before. It may be concluded, therefore, that the preferable view is that the resurrection of righteous Israel takes place when Christ comes to establish His millennial kingdom. This in no way complicates the pretribulation rapture and in fact strengthens this point of view, solving as it does many of the problems raised by posttribulationists against the idea that Israel is raised before the tribulation.
Judgments at the Second Coming
Practically all classes of conservative Bible expositors agree that there will be judgments at the time of the second coming of Christ. Postmillenarians and amillenarians usually subscribe to a general resurrection and a general judgment at this time in which all the righteous and the wicked dead are brought before the divine tribunal. Premillenarians of course postpone the judgment of the wicked dead until after the millennium, but find in the Scriptures ample evidence that the wicked living on the earth will be judged at the time of the second coming.
Five judgments are distinguished in Scripture as being related in some sense to end-time events. The first of these is the judgment of the church, the body of Christ, at the judgment seat of Christ, usually considered by pretribulationists to have taken place in heaven immediately after the rapture and prior to the return of Christ to the earth. At the second coming, after the tribulation, the judgment of the Gentiles takes place, and the righteous are separated from the wicked living on the earth at that time. A third judgment has to do with regathering Israel and takes place early in the millennial reign of Christ. Two final judgments mark the close of the millennium—the judgment of the angels, and the judgment of the wicked dead at the great white throne judgment. The time and place of these judgments, the character of the judgments, and the character of those being judged require that these judgments be distinguished. To affirm that all of these judgments take place in one great judgment, at the time of the second coming of Christ, requires extensive spiritualization of many of the details of the predictions involved and makes impossible a literal fulfillment. Without attempting a formal refutation of conflicting views, an outline of the premillennial interpretation of the judgments taking place at the beginning of the millennium can now be presented.
The judgment of the church. Many references in the New Testament present the truth that the church will be judged by Christ Himself (Rom 14:10-12; 1 Cor 3:11-16; 4:1-5 ; 9:24-27 ; 2 Cor 5:10-11; 2 Tim 4:8). Inasmuch as the translation of the church, according to the pretribulational point of view, has already separated the righteous from the unrighteous, only saved people will be involved in the judgment of Christ in connection with the church. The judgment will have as its supreme question the matter of reward. According to 1 Corinthians 3:14, that which abides the fire of judgment will constitute a basis for reward. Those, however, who do not have ground for rewards shall nevertheless be saved, as stated in 1 Corinthians 3:15. It is intimated, however, in 1 Corinthians 4:5 that “…then shall each man have his praise from God.” The reward is pictured in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 like the prize awarded a runner, and we are exhorted so to live or run the race that we may obtain the prize: “Know ye not that they that run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? Even so run; that ye may attain. And every man that striveth in the games exerciseth self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, as not uncertainly; so fight I, as not beating the air: but I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage: lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected.” The original word, adokimos, translated “rejected,” means to be disapproved, that is, disqualified for reward. It does not indicate a loss of salvation, as is made clear in 1 Corinthians 3:15. The “fear of the Lord” of which Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians 5:11 is the dread of standing before the judgment seat of Christ with a wasted life that is not due a reward. The judgment, distinguishing as it does that which is good and bad, again is primarily occupied with the question of reward, not of punishment. As Romans 8:1 makes clear: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” As creatures of grace, sins are forgiven, but rewards are distributed on the basis of effective testimony for Christ.
The judgment of the Gentiles. One of the important truths related to the second coming of Christ is that “the times of the Gentiles” ends upon Christ’s return to the earth. At that point it is fitting that a judgment of the Gentiles should take place as a preparation for the millennial kingdom. A number of important Old Testament Scriptures give the details of this judgment. Psalm 2 anticipates a judgment upon the Gentiles as a prelude to Israel’s restoration as a nation. According to Isaiah 63:1-6, the Gentiles will be put down in that day and many of them put to death. A specific reference to this future judgment is found in Joel 3:1-2, 12 as follows: “For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring back the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat; and I will execute judgment upon them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations: and they have parted my land…. Let the nations bestir themselves, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat; for there will I sit to judge all the nations round about.” Other important references are found in Zephaniah 3:8 and Zechariah 14:1-19.
The principal New Testament passage is found in Matthew 25:31-46. The context indicates that this judgment will occur immediately after the second coming of Christ as verse 31 states. Some have inferred that prior to this judgment Israel has already been regathered (cf. Matt 24:31) and judged (Matt 24:34—25:30 ). The time specified for the judgment of the Gentiles is stated simply as being “when the Son of man shall come in his glory.”
The place of the judgment is clearly in the earth, rather than heaven. The coming of the Son of Man is from heaven to the earth and those who are gathered before Him are gathered from all parts of the earth. Neither the righteous nor the unrighteous who are gathered before Him are resurrected, but they are still in their natural bodies. This judgment, therefore, must be distinguished both by place and time from the judgment of the translated church which is in heaven and the judgment of the resurrected wicked dead at the great white throne which takes place in space after the present heaven and earth have been destroyed.
A matter of major significance is the question of the subjects of this judgment in Matthew 25. This is described as being “all the nations.” The Greek word translated the nations is ta ethne. This word is used principally for races and peoples who are not Jewish with possibly the best translation being the people. It does not connote, as the English word nation does, a political entity, or a people from a specific geographic area. Because the word nation has been used, however, as an equivalent to ta ethne, some have thought that the representatives of the various nations of the world are here gathered and judged. A. C. Gaebelein teaches, for instance, that some of the nations will receive the testimony of those who preach during the tribulation time. These nations will enter into the kingdom and inherit it on their basis of the reception of the messengers (cf. A. C. Gaebelein, Gospel of Matthew, II, 247). A number of dffficulties in this point of view, however, are immediately apparent. The natural question is, Which are the nations who will welcome the gospel during the tribulation? It seems clear that practically the entire world will go into apostasy and that all nations of the world will be affiliated with the blasphemous beast of Revelation 13. Gaebelein recognizes this issue when he states: “The question may arise who these nations are, who will receive the Gospel of the Kingdom. This can hardly be answered now” (ibid., II, 248). The fact is that in no age do entire nations accept a message and thereby justify eternal salvation.
A preferable view is that the nations here mentioned are not political entities, but simply Gentiles, as the word ta ethne is commonly translated in other passages (cf. Matt 6:31-32; 12:21 ; 20:19 ; 28:19 ; Acts 11:18; 26:20 ). H. A. Ironside takes the position that the nations are individual Gentiles (H. A. Ironside, Expository Notes on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 338). William Kelly has a similar point of view when he writes: “It follows that the persons meant by ‘the sheep’ and ‘the goats’ are respectively the righteous and the ungodly among the nations then living on the earth, when our Lord comes to judge in His quality of Son of Man” (William Kelly, Lectures on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 481). The idea that the Gentiles in view here are individuals rather than national entities is made clear by reference to their works. Nations as such do not visit people in prison, nor are they as a corporate entity subject to promises of salvation or eternal judgment.
More important, however, than this distinction is the fact that the Gentiles referred to in this judgment are living on the earth at the time of Christ’s return and do not include the living Jews, the translated church, or resurrected saints in general. They are in the words of the Scripture “all the nations.” As William Kelly points out: “Those gathered before Him here are ‘all the nations’—a term never used about the dead or the risen, but only applied to men here below, and indeed applied only to the Gentiles as distinct from the Jews” (William Kelly, op. cit., p. 478).
George N. H. Peters in his Proposition 134 supports the same conclusion (George N. H. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom, II, 372-84). On the point of the meaning of “all nations,” he states the following: “The question before us is this: Does the ‘all nations’ include ‘the dead,’ or only living nations? In deciding this point we have the following: (1) Nothing is said of ‘the dead.’ To say that they are denoted is inferred from the fact that this passage is made—wrongfully—to synchronize with Rev 20:11-15. (2) The word translated ‘nations’ is never, according to the uniform testimony of critics and scholars, used to designate ‘the dead,’ unless this be a solitary exception…. (3) The word is employed to denote living, existing nations, and almost exclusively ‘Gentile’ nations. (4) The Spirit gives us abundant testimony that precisely such a gathering of nations shall take place just before the Mill. age commences, and that there shall be both an Advent and judging [Peters cites Rev 19:17-20; 16:13-16 ; Isa 66:15-21; Zeph 3:8-20; and Joel 3:9-21]” (ibid., II, 374). Peters goes on to list other arguments such as the fact that the dead are not referred to as nations and that the passage is absolutely devoid of any reference to resurrection or that any of the righteous descended from heaven to be judged (ibid., II, 374-75). It seems a natural and normal conclusion that the reference to ta ethne in this passage refers to living Gentiles who are on the earth at the time of the second coming who are judged as a preliminary to the inauguration of the whole millennial reign of Christ.
The basis of their judgment is declared in the passage to be the treatment of the “brethren.” Reference is made to the fact that the “sheep” have befriended the brethren and that the “goats” have failed to do so. The question arises as to the identity of the brethren. It would follow, however, that if the Gentiles are those who are non-Jews, those referred to as “my brethren” (Matt 25:40) would be the Jews, specifically the Jews of the tribulation time who were the objects of fearful persecution. Under such circumstances, befriending a Jew by clothing him or visiting him in prison, when according to governmental edict they were to be hounded to the death, would inevitably reveal a confidence in the Scriptures and in God. While the appeal is to the “works,” it seems clear that their works as such reveal faith in Christ and in the Word of God and are therefore the fruit or evidence of salvation. This is the basic reason why they are ushered into the millennial kingdom and called “the righteous.”
The outcome of the judgment is that the righteous or the sheep enter the millennial kingdom, but obviously they are also admitted to the eternal kingdom of God. In contrast, the goats are cast into everlasting fire because their lack of works indicates that they do not belong to the redeemed. The judgment as here described is fully in keeping with premillennial truth. Such a judgment would in fact be absolutely necessary before the righteous kingdom of Christ could be inaugurated. It had formerly been indicated in Matthew 13 in the parable of the wheat and tares as well as the parable of the good and bad fish that the end of the age would have a judgment resulting in only the saved entering the kingdom. This, then, is confirmed by the specific revelation of Matthew 25. Though the outcome of the judgment may not be in the character of an eternal one, some have considered the judgment of the wicked here a final one and making unnecessary further judgment for this group at the great white throne. No revelation is given in Scripture concerning a future judgment of those who enter the millennial kingdom as the righteous.
The judgment of Israel. The Scriptures record many tremendous judgments of Israel which have been already historically fulfilled and predict a future purging during the time of the great tribulation when only one third of the living Jews in the land will survive (Zech 13:8-9). The remnant of Israel, however, surviving the tribulation and who are on earth at the time of the return of Christ, are the specific objects of a judgment described in Ezekiel 20:33-38. This passage, given in a context of predictions of judgment upon Israel, is obviously the climactic judgment of God upon that nation. As stated by Ezekiel, the event is described as follows: “As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, surely with a mighty hand,,and with an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out, will I be king over you. And I will bring you out from the peoples, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out; and I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there will I enter into judgment with you face to face. Like as I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I enter into judgment with you, saith the Lord Jehovah. And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; and I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me; I will bring them forth out of the land where they sojourn, but they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am Jehovah.”
Like the predictions of judgment upon the Gentiles, this future event has its special characteristics which distinguish it from all past judgments upon the nation. It is described as a part of a work of God in declaring Himself to be “king over you” (v. 33 ). The judgment itself follows the final regathering of Israel predicted in verses 34-35 . The judgment will take place in the specific geographic location described as “the wilderness of the peoples” (v. 35 ). Though this is not clearly to be identified with any locality, the comparison with the dealings of God with Israel on the way from Egypt to the promised land seems to indicate that the judgment takes place just outside the area given to Israel for perpetual possession. Just as Israel because of failure at Kadesh-Barnea was condemned to wander in the wilderness until all the adults except the few faithful ones died, and only then the nation could enter the promised land, so the rebels will be purged out at that future time when the millennial kingdom is established. Only those who are not rebels, that is, those who are true believers in Christ as their Messiah and Savior, will be allowed to participate in the blessing of the millennial kingdom.
The description given does not mention any resurrection from the dead and it may be assumed in view of the fact that regathering is a prerequisite to the judgment that this applies only to the living Israelites in the world at the time of the second coming. Those who are resurrected have a different judgment entirely. Like other judgments at the second coming of Christ, the judgment of works will be prominent, but as in the case of the Gentiles it will be what the works indicate rather than their intrinsic moral character. In the prophecies of Malachi a refining of the sons of Levi is predicted at the time of His coming and their particular sins are dealt with at that judgment (cf. Mal 3:2-5). This conclusion is confirmed by the statements and parables of Matthew 24 and 25 which seem, with the exception of Matthew 25:31-46, to deal primarily with God’s judgments upon Israel. In each case, the works brought into view demonstrate whether the person is saved or not.
The result of the Ezekiel judgment is that the rebels are cut off and therefore do not enter the land. This is to be interpreted as a judgment of physical death, and they will be raised from the dead at the judgment of the great white throne after the millennium to participate in the destiny of all the wicked. Those who remain alive, however, are counted righteous and enter into the millennial blessing provided for them. In the words of Ezekiel, God says to them: “I will bring you into the bond of the covenant” (v. 37 ). The covenant herein mentioned is no doubt the same as that revealed in Jeremiah 31:31-34. The blessings of that entrance into that promised land are summarized in Jeremiah 31:10-13 as follows: “Hear the word of Jehovah, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off; and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him as a shepherd doth his flock. For Jehovah hath ransomed Jacob, and redeemed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he. And they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow unto the goodness of Jehovah, to the grain, and to the new wine, and to the oil, and to the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all. Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old together; for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.”
Taking in view all the divine judgments that pertain to this sequence of events, it may be concluded that as the millennium begins all the righteous are judged in one way or another and that the wicked are put to death and declared unworthy to enter the millennial kingdom. The church has previously been judged and rewarded in heaven. Living Gentiles and living Jews are judged in their respective judgments and those who are righteous are permitted to enter the millennial kingdom. The Old Testament saints and resurrected Israel are also raised from the dead and given their places of honor and privilege and are associated with Christ in His millennial government.
The judgment of Satan. An important judgment attending the others is the divine dealing of God with Satan as recorded in Revelation 20. The account as given in the Scriptures has been one of the major stumbling blocks to both postmillennialism and amillennialism. As stated in Scripture, the Apostle John describes his vision as follows: “And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the keys of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, the old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and cast him into the abyss, and shut it, and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years should be finished: after this he must be loosed for a little time” (Rev 20:1-3).
Anyone who attempts an exegesis of this passage is faced with the obvious question as to whether Satan has been bound already or whether this is a future event. On this question also hangs the decision as to whether the millennium has already begun. Postmillennialists who are willing to postpone the millennium until some distant time accommodate their interpretation to this passage by stating that Satan’s binding is yet future. The amillenarian, however, who believes that the millennium has already begun either on earth or in heaven, is faced with the defense of the idea that Satan is now bound.
B. B. Warfield, whose eschatology seems to embrace some of the elements of both amillennialism and postmillennialism, attempts to support the idea that Satan is bound in respect to heaven. He writes: “The ‘binding of Satan’ is, therefore, in reality, not for a season, but with reference to a sphere; and his ‘loosing’ again is not after a period but in another sphere: it is not subsequence but exteriority that is suggested. There is, indeed, no literal ‘binding of Satan’ to be thought of at all: what happens, happens not to Satan but to the saints, and is only represented as happening to Satan for the purposes of the symbolical picture. What actually happens is that the saints described are removed from the sphere of Satan’s assaults. The saints described are free from all access of Satan—he is bound with respect to them: outside of their charmed circle his horrid work goes on. This is indicated, indeed, in the very employment of the two symbols ‘a thousand years’ and ‘a little time.’ A ‘thousand years’ is the symbol of heavenly completeness and blessedness; the ‘little time’ of earthly turmoil and evil. Those in the ‘thousand years’ are safe from Satan’s assaults: those outside the thousand years are still enduring his attacks” (B. B. Warfield, Biblical Doctrines, p. 651).
According to Warfield, therefore, there is no chronological system whatever to the twentieth chapter of Revelation . The millennium is not a millennium. The loosing of Satan is not an event. Actually Satan is not bound at all, but saints are really removed from his power by being taken to heaven. The nations mentioned in Revelation 20:3 are not nations upon earth but glorified saints in heaven. In a word, Revelation 20:1-3 is a picture of the intermediate state.
It is obvious that an interpretation such as Warfield’s involves the complete spiritualization of all essential terms in this revelation. It is true, of course, that what is here recorded in the Scripture is a vision and as such is given in symbolic terms. What is ignored by Warfield and others, however, is the distinction between what John saw and the interpretation which was revealed. John saw the angel having the key of the abyss, binding Satan and casting him into the abyss, shutting it, and sealing it over him. The interpretation is given by inspired Scripture that this binding was for a period of time—one thousand years—and that the purpose of this binding was that Satan should no longer deceive the nations. It is further revealed that after the thousand years Satan will be loosed again for a short period of time. If we were left without an explanation of the binding of Satan, it might justify some spiritualization of the terms but, inasmuch as the Scriptures explicitly tell us what the meaning is, there is no justification for denying a literal interpretation.
It should be noted also that the binding of Satan as represented in this passage is not the total of what God did. He was not only bound but cast into the abyss and shut up and sealed. Even a symbolic picture as here given would indicate total inactivity, not simply a limiting of the power of Satan. It is of course true that Satan has always been limited by the power of God as witnessed by the restraint of God in the case of Satan’s dealing with Job. It has never been true up to the present time, however, that Satan has been shut up in the abyss and not permitted to deceive the nations. The popular idea advanced by such amillenarians as William Masselink and Floyd E. Hamilton who espouse the Augustinian type of amillennialism, that Satan is partially bound in the present age, is not an adequate explanation of the text (cf. William Masselink, Why a Thousand Years? p. 202; Floyd E. Hamilton, The Basis of Millennial Faith, p. 130).
In contrast to these amillennial suggestions of a partial binding of Satan, what is the testimony of Scripture? Can Satan deceive the nations now? Is he actually bound in the abyss or is he free to deceive the nations? According to Acts 5:3, Satan is the one who filled the heart of Ananias and caused him to lie to the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 7:5 it is stated that Satan tempts believers. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 reveals that Satan blinds the minds of the unbelieving lest they believe the gospel. The statement is made in 2 Corinthians 11:14 that Satan masquerades as an angel of light. Paul bears witness in 2 Corinthians 12:7 that his thorn in the flesh was a “messenger of Satan.” Paul further declares in 1 Thessalonians 2:18 that Satan hindered him from coming back to the Thessalonian church. It is predicted in 2 Thessalonians 2:8-9 that the power of the future lawless one will be after “the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders.” Other passages such as 1 Timothy 1:20, 1 John 3:8, 10, likewise bear witness to the power of Satan. Peter exhorts us in 1 Peter 5:8: “Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” If one accepts these Scriptures testifying to the fact that Satan has power to tempt, to deceive, to blind, to buffet, to hinder, to work signs and lying wonders, and who is free like a raging lion to walk about seeking whom he may devour, how then can one hold that Satan is now bound? The only reasonable explanation of the revelation given to John is to assign this future event to the time of the second coming of Christ and the thousand years mentioned as the reign of Christ to follow His second advent. As Revelation 20 makes plain, Satan is to be loosed at the conclusion of the millennium at which time he will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone into which the beast and the false prophet had been previously cast at the beginning of the millennium (Rev 20:10).
From the fact that God deals thus in judgment with all wicked men living in the world as well as Satan, the way is open for the fulfillment of the prophecies of the millennial reign of Christ. The stage is set in this way for the extended period of righteousness and peace which shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
(Series to be continued in the January-March Number, 1958)
This article was taken from the Theological Journal Library and posted with permission of Galaxie Software.