Monday, March 31, 2008

Reformed Chiliasm (Part 21)

John, after describing the final punishment brought upon the heads of the wicked, and the casting of Satan into the lake of fire, then proceeds to paint a graphic picture of the Final Judgment. He writes: "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" (Rev. 20: 11-15).

It is important to note that the whole of Chapter 20 presents one continuous discourse. From the end of chapter 19 to the beginning of 21, the events which John records are set forth without any break in the continuity of the narrative. Thus, the Millennium follows the punishment of the beast and false prophet, inasmuch as those who overcame the beast are then seen receiving their rewards (Rev. 20: 4). Likewise, the battle of Gog and Magog and the destruction of Satan follow the Millennium. This also concludes with the General Judgment, at which time all men shall receive their eternal portions; and then follows the renovation of the world (Rev. 21: 1 ff). It is essential that Satan's destruction should bring to end the present course of ages, for it was he who first brought sin into the world, whereby the creation became marred. Hence, when all sin is destroyed and put down finally, the world itself will be made immortal and eternal. In all respects the creation must follow the condition of man.

We find, also, that at the general judgment, death shall be destroyed, and consequently corruption also, as corruption is a work of death. Perhaps we should say, then, that the resurrection and the abolition of death are simultaneous. For, when the processes of natural dissolution are cancelled out, there will result a resurrection of all men-- and vice versa. All souls shall be brought up from Hades, and clothed in their own restored bodies, each individual to be judged according to his works. For it only reasonable that men should be judged for their deeds in the very bodies in which they were committed.

As Tertullian writes, the body of man is ancillary to the soul in the commission of evil. "Now the party which aids in the commission of a crime is brought to trial, only in such a way that the principle offender who actually committed the crime may bear the weight of the penalty, although the abettor too does not escape indictment." (De Anima, xl). The soul, then, may be viewed as the principle offender, and the body as its accomplice. Both the guilty parties must be brought before Christ's tribunal.

And so, death being nullified, a wholesale reversal of its operations will take effect. As Hades is but a repository of disembodied souls, its annulment as well may be seen as part of this process. Souls come forth from Hades, and bodies from the dust. And let no man think that God is unable to restore these bodies in which we now dwell. For as He created man from the dust of the ground (Gen. 2: 7), and as corruption was the penalty of disobedience (Gen. 3: 19), so too when death is destroyed, the bodies of all men shall come forth from the dust into which they, by death, were dissolved. This is the mystery of the resurrection, which, if any man understand not, he cannot comprehend the fullness of God's power. But God brings all things to pass in their proper season. And as death brought darkness upon the world, and sorrow, and pain, and all attendant miseries, so after the resurrection shall Christ bring light. And light then being separated from darkness for ever, the two portions of mankind-- the believing and unbelieving-- will go each to their own places. One class shall inherit eternal light, the other eternal darkness.

This will be that public resurrection and judgment spoken of by Christ, in which the sheep and the goats shall be divided (Matt. 25: 31-46). It will be a judging of "all nations." And John informs us, as also does Christ, that then all men shall be judged according to their works. Some have wondered why this should be the case if Christ has already paid for our sins. Of course, we should keep in mind that the atonement is not completed until Christ leaves the Holy Place: so what is called "salvation" is still an ongoing process until He returns. Remember the parable of the talents (Matt. 25: 14-30). Then, too, think of that corruptible crown for which Paul so earnestly strove (1 Cor. 9: 25). Salvation is only begun in the process of regeneration; it is finished in the resurrection. Let us make no mistake. Whatever tree is planted shall bear its appropriate fruit; and when the Master of the Vineyard comes at the Harvest close, He shall judge, not by the tree, but by its fruit--for the fruit determines the nature of the tree. Hence, all men shall be judged according to their works.

At the time of judgment, there will be a fulfillment of those promises given by Christ to them who receive the saints, and do offices of kindness to them. "He that receiveth you, receiveth me; and he that receiveth me, receiveth Him that sent me. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet, shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man, will receive a righteous man's reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones, a cup of cold water, in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward" (Matt. 10: 40-42). Thus, there shall be a general amnesty from among the ranks of all mankind. And the men of Nineveh and the queen of the south shall rise up against the generation of the wicked, and condemn them for not hearkening to the words of God, and to His Son, Jesus Christ (Matt. 12: 41-42).

God, during this great judgment, shall have the books opened. What books? Surely that "book of remembrance" (Mal. 3: 16) written before God for them that fear the Lord. Then, also, the book of men's consciences; for, "Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Heb. 4: 13). And there shall also be opened that Book of Life, in whose secret pages the names of the righteous are written. Unknown to men in this world are the contents of that Book. But in the Day of Judgment, the hidden things shall be brought to light, and the counsels of the hearts shall be made manifest to all (1 Cor. 4: 5; Rom. 2: 16). They who, walking in ways of righteousness, fulfilled the law in their hearts and lives, shall be accounted worthy to enter the eternal Kingdom of God; whilst they who, ignoring the commands of God, served their own lusts and strove for temporal honors and corruptible goods, shall be cast alive into the lake of fire, which is eternal. Into this lake of fire shall Satan too be consigned, and then the darkness and light, the good and the wicked, shall be permanently separated, finally and for ever. This is that "age to come" of which Christ and the apostles speak.

Now, at the judgment shall occur that final conflagration of all things, which will result in a "New Heaven and New Earth" (2 Peter 3: 13), wherein the "nations which are saved" shall dwell. Because the creation became cursed on account of sin (Gen. 3: 17), there must needs be a purging, that it may partake of immortality and incorruption. As we've elsewhere stated, there shall be a "regeneration" of the Genetic economy when our Lord returns to execute judgment and justice on earth. However, as long as sin remains, there cannot be true perfection; and, although the whole world will be dressed in joy during the Millennium, yet nevertheless, only when sin is defeated ultimately shall the renewal of the world take place. There has always been within the church, great question whether the earth will be absolutely destroyed and annihilated by fire, or simply changed to a new and better condition. Augustine wrote: "For this world shall pass away by transmutation, not by absolute destruction. [...] The figure therefore passes away, and not the nature." (City of God, XX. xiv).

But, Commodian writes: "Again, the fire of the Lord sent forth shall be appointed. The earth gives a true groan; then those who are making their journey in the last end, and then all unbelievers, groan. The whole of nature is converted in flame, which yet avoids the camp of the saints. The earth is burned up from its foundations, and the mountains melt. Of the sea nothing remains; it is overcome by the powerful fire. The sky perishes, and the stars and these things are changed. Another newness of sky and of everlasting earth is arranged. Thence they who deserve it are sent away in a second death, but the righteous are placed in inner dwelling-places." (Instructions, xlv).

And what saith Lactantius? The sage writes: "But when the thousand years shall be completed, the world shall be renewed by God, and the heavens shall be folded together, and the earth shall be changed, and God shall transform men into the similitude of angels, and they shall be white as snow; and they shall always be employed in the sight of the Almighty, and shall make offerings to their Lord, and serve Him forever." (Divine Institutes, VII. xxvi). Perhaps we should say that the new heavens and new earth will form a habitation suitable for eternal and deathless bodies. Whether this implies that there shall be a wholesale alteration of the fabric of the world, or only a renewal of its condition, is difficult to decide. However, we suppose that in the age to come, man shall live in his body; and so it is natural to concede some kind of physical habitation fitted for his renewed and sinless condition.

All of this brings to mind the state of the righteous in the age to come. What shall be the portion of the saints? Shall all occupy the same position in the Kingdom, or shall there be a hierarchy according to individual merit? We believe in the latter. Irenaeus writes: "Then those who are deemed worthy of an abode in heaven shall go there, others shall enjoy the delights of Paradise, and others shall possess the splendor of the City; for everywhere the Savior shall be seen according as they who see Him shall be worthy. They say, moreover, that this is the distinction between the habitation of those who produce an hundred-fold, and that of those who produce sixty-fold, and that of those who produce thirty-fold: for the first will be taken up into the heavens, the second will dwell in Paradise, the last will inhabit the City; and that it was on this account the Lord declared, 'In my Father's house are many mansions.' For all things belong to God, who supplies all with a suitable dwelling-place; even as His word says, that a share is allotted to all by the Father, according as each person is or shall be worthy. And this is the couch on which the guests shall recline, having been invited to the wedding. The presbyters, the disciples of the apostles, affirm that this is the gradation and arrangement of those who are saved, and that they advance through steps of this nature." (Against Heresies, V. xxxvi. 2).

Really, what more can we add? Irenaeus has given us a picture of that eternal blessedness, which our language is incapable of approaching. If the presbyters taught by the apostles themselves believed that such a state would come to pass, then surely their testimony ought to be heeded.

While not all men will inhabit the same state of blessedness, all nevertheless will be rendered immortal and eternal. Then we shall be made "equal unto the angels." This promise has been often misinterpreted, as if Christ said, "Ye shall be angels." But Christ did not say that the saints would be turned into angels, but that they should be made equal to the angels. Of course, this doesn't mean that we will lose our personal identities, but that we'll be clothed in new bodies no longer subject to injury or death. And some will enjoy the delights of heaven, others shall dwell in the city of Jerusalem itself, whilst others will inhabit Paradise, or have their dwellings in select locations of the new earth. Let us sing praises unto God, and to His Son Jesus Christ, by Whom we were called to embrace these blessings!

That, I think, wraps up the present series. At this time, there is little I need to say in commendation of these views. After all, the majority of today's Christians are Pre-Millennialists. And there is nothing in the foreseeable future which will change this fact. As the doctrines, then, are already firmly established, though perhaps not in their apostolic purity, I send forth this offering to those who wish to study them further. Let us labor in love as we await the time of grace, knowing that the Lord's approach is drawing near. And let all Christians in apostolic communion look forward to that day, making sure their election through perseverance in the faith and through good works--which shall have their reward when the King returns in glory. May He make you to attain unto the end, Who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.