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The final events in God's scheme of salvation

In all God’s doings, there is purpose. Everything is planned; everything adapted with the utmost exactness of wisdom to the accomplishment of a predetermined end. All his plans are characterised by illimitable comprehensiveness of bearing, like his own mind, which takes into account the infinitude of minute circumstance and remote contingency that surround us, "knowing all things from the end to the beginning". He is wise; he makes no mistakes, and he is economical - he wastes no effort. He accomplishes as much as possible with as little as possible. The result always transcends the means: the good always overtops and outnumbers the evil.

When, therefore, we are called upon to contemplate any declared purpose of God, we are presented with a subject of study which is sure to have in it a depth and fertility delightful to the mind to explore. This is true of God’s natural wonders in creation, where we see all these principles abundantly exemplified; how much more is it true of his schemes in relation to the intelligent creatures whom he has formed in his own image?

Now the testimony of Scripture clearly demonstrates the purpose of God to interfere in human affairs, to overthrow every form of human government at present existing on earth, and to establish a visible kingdom of his own. It shows that when the time arrives, he will take the power out of the hands of the erring mortals who now possess it, and transfer it to Jesus Christ and his "called, chosen, and faithful" ones, who will administer the affairs of the world in wisdom and righteousness. This being the purpose, it now remains for us to enquire what is the object of the purpose, and what its consummation.

The kingdom of God is itself but an instrumentality - another step in the march of God’s beneficent scheme - another stage in the accomplishment of his purpose to "gather together in one all things in Christ" (Ephesians 1:10). It only lasts for a thousand years (Revelation 20:6). What is to be accomplished during this period? Paul says, "He (Jesus) must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" (1 Corinthians 15:25-26). Hence the millennial mission of Christ is to subdue "all enemies", which he will accomplish within the period of a thousand years. The "enemies" spoken of are not necessarily personal enemies, for death is mentioned as the last of them, which we know to be an event, and not a personal adversary. Hence, we may understand Paul’s statement to mean that "he must reign till he hath subdued every evil". This being so, we have a starting point supplied to us in our endeavour to understand the mission of the kingdom of God. It is to subdue "all enemies", or every evil.

Now the "all enemies" are of various kinds. The first class that will be subjected to the subduing power of the kingdom are the governments of the earth. "It shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms" (Daniel 2:44). This is the first operation - to break up the existing arrangement of things political - to take the government of mankind out of the hands of mortals, and place it in the hands of the King whom God has prepared as the all-wise, and all-just, and all-humane "governor among the nations". Now it must be admitted that this will be a great thing accomplished, a great enemy subdued; for some of the greatest evils that affect the present state of man originate in bad government.

The subjugation of the powers that be will be its first achievement, resulting in the "kingdoms of this world" becoming, "the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ" (Revelation 11:15). For one government will take the place of many: God in Christ will reign, instead of mortal man. "The Lord shall be King over all the earth, in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one" (Zechariah 14:9). All countries will come under the sway of his "rod of iron", which will "break in pieces the oppressor". All inimical institutions and practices will fall before the vigour which destroys kingdoms; individual misdemeanours will be restrained, and individual ways regulated, by the indomitable power that breaks dynasties. A universal absolutism, wielded with wisdom and humanity, will rule in general and detail - nothing too vast for its scope, nothing too small for its notice: and thus will the world know the blessedness of true government for the first time:

"He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations. He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass; as showers that water the earth. In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth. He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall serve him. For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper. He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy. He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence, and precious shall their blood be in his sight. His name shall endure for ever; his name shall be continued as long as the sun; and men shall be blessed in him; all nations shall call him blessed" (Psalm 72:4-14,17).

Then - "The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Habakkuk 2:14).

When the earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, it follows that the ignorance and barbarism of the present time will have vanished. But how is this result to be practically attained? The machinery of the kingdom of God is the answer. When the governments of the earth have been overthrown, and divine authority established with firm hand in every part of the globe, it will be an easy matter to enlighten and emancipate the "people, nations, and languages" that will render allegiance to the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. This is done by a process which will afford pleasure and honour to the rulers of the age, while conferring benefit on the subject people. The centre of activity is Jerusalem, as in the case of the gospel in the first century. "At that time", says Jeremiah, chapter 3:17, "they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the LORD, and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart". Here is a turning from evil on the part of the nations as the result of their subjection to Jerusalem, when occupied as the throne of the Lord. What is the connection between the two things? How does the one result from the other? The answer is, because from Jerusalem emanates a teaching and a law which, divinely administered, works an intellectual, moral, and social reformation. This is evident from the following testimony:

"And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isaiah 2:3-4).

Jerusalem, once more the centre from which divine illumination will irradiate, will be so this second time, on a larger and grander scale, and with more glorious results:

"And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it. And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God: we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation" (Isaiah 25:6-9).

The feast is to be provided in Mount Zion; this is the reason why the nations gather there to partake of it. Their gathering, however, will not be simultaneous. "God is not the author of confusion", says Paul: the aggregation of the world’s populations in such a comparatively small neighbourhood would certainly involve confusion. The prophetic testimony shows that there will be a pilgrimage from all parts of the earth from one year’s end to the other in which all nations will take their turn. It will be periodical, and take place in every case once a year, as is evident, from Zechariah 14:16-17:

"And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles. And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, even upon them shall be no rain."

This annual pilgrimage will be fraught with many blessings. To individuals it will be annual relief from the routine of common life (which routine, at the same time, will be vastly less laborious, both as to the duration and manner of occupation, than the present modes of life), and an annual refreshing physically by travel, and spiritually by contemplation of the objects of the journey, and by the actual instruction received at "the city of the great king". Nationally, it will be a yearly riveting of the bonds of happy and contented allegiance that will bind all people to the throne of David, occupied by his illustrious son Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, and King of the Jews. This glorious epoch in the world’s history finds the following fore-shadowing from Psalm 102:

"Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time is come. For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof. So the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth thy glory. When the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory. He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer. This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the Lord. For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the Lord behold the earth: to hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death; to declare the name of the Lord in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem; when the people are gathered together, and the kingdoms, to serve the Lord" (vs.13-22).

Thus will the earth become filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea, and thus will be realised the petition, "Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven". Then for the first time will be fulfilled the prophetic song of the angels, chanted at the birth of him who is to be its accomplisher, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men."

"And the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death". Death will continue during the thousand years’ preliminary phase of the kingdom - not among the rulers, Jesus and the saints, who are immortal, but among the subject nations who continue as they are now, the death-stricken descendants of the first Adam. "The child shall die an hundred years old" (Isaiah 65:20). Death may happen at a hundred years, but, even then, a man will be considered a child. As for an "old man", the term will never be applied to any one that has not run his centuries, as of old. By reason of the certainty of life, and the stability of the new order of things in the hands of Christ and his brethren, the houses they (Israel) shall build, they shall inhabit, the vineyards they shall plant, they shall eat the fruit of (Isaiah 65:21). It will not happen as it frequently has happened in past times, that the work of their hands has been enjoyed by others, even as Moses foretold to them, saying "Thou shalt build an house, and thou shalt not dwell therein, thou shalt plant a vineyard, and shalt not gather the grapes thereof" (Deuteronomy 28:30). As the days of a tree (which flourishes for centuries) shall be the days of Jehovah’s people; they shall wear out the works of their hands.

But more blessed still shall be their rulers and the rulers of the nations, for they shall not die any more (Luke 20:36), 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 Revelation 20. We shall quote entire that part of the chapter which relates to the point in hand:

"And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away, and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them; and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:7-15).

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 20:14): "This is the second death", or, to make the matter more certain (Revelation 21:8), "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. 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 4:1), "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" (Psalm 37:20).

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" (Matthew 10:28).

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 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 face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut of the remembrance of them from the earth" (Psalm 34:16).

"Let the wicked be ashamed and let them be silent in the grave" (Psalm 31:17).

"For evil doers shall be cut off; but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth; for yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be: but the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace" (Psalm 37:9-11).

"Wait on the Lord, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it" (Psalm 37:34).

"Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more" (Psalm 104:35).

"The upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it; but the wicked shall be cut of from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it" (Proverbs 2:21-22).

"As the whirlwind passeth, so is the wicked no more: but the righteous is an everlasting foundation...The righteous shall never be removed, but the wicked shall not inhabit the earth" (Proverbs 10:25,30).

"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5)

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 firstfruits - Christ and his brethren. Christ was the first of the ripe fruit of the life-harvest which God proposes to raise for his own glory in the earth (1 Corinthians 15:23). Now the rest of the harvest must follow in the same process of raising. Christ attained to life by faith and obedience (Philippians 2:9, Hebrews 5:7). His brethren of the present dispensation attain it in the same way through him.

Now, what is true of the "called" in the time of the Gentiles is true of the called of the millennial age. 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, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father, when he shall have put down all rule and 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" (1 Corinthians 15:23-26).

Here we have a "first", an "afterwards", and a "then", as the "order" of resurrection. Christ was first raised, afterwards those that are Christ's will be raised at his coming, then at the end of the millennium there will be the final resurrection. 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.

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.

We have to note another feature of the change that takes place at the end, indicated by Paul in the following words:

"Then cometh the end, when he (Christ) shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father, when he shall have put down all rule, and 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...and when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all" (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).

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 pre-eminence 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.

(Extracted from Christendom Astray by Robert Roberts with slight amendments to reflect the current state of affairs among the nations. Copies of this excellent guide to understanding the Bible are available by contacting us).


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