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.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Reformed Chiliasm (Part 20)

Unfortunately, there has been a lack of material written concerning the Gog and Magog invasion. Perhaps this is due to the obscurity of the predictions themselves. After all, there are very few interpreters who see the events described by the prophet as transpiring after the Millennium. Before tackling any interpretation, the reader must pause, and decide, firstly, whether John's and Ezekiel's visions speak of the same events. If the answer is yes, then it is clear that Ezekiel mentions several particulars which John left out. If the answer is no, then perhaps John alludes to a series of prior events as a foreshadowing of those which will occur after the close of the Millennium. Either way, we understand there is an established connection between the two prophetic accounts.

The reader should also consult ancient church sources to see how these visions have been interpreted in the past. For example, if all of the early fathers understood Scripture in a certain way, then we should allow their opinions to have some influence upon our own. Of course, we speak primarily of whether a prophetic passage is to be understood "literally" or "figuratively." As the majority of the church fathers read the prophetic passages in a literal (that is, in a plain and natural) sense, so we ought to do the same. These preliminary factors followed out, our interpretations will have some amount of objectivity. Once again, however, in dealing with events that have not yet come to pass, we should always keep in mind our own limitations.

Now, how do we go about interpreting these passages? For our part, we'll simply attempt to harmonize the accounts given by both John and Ezekiel. Thankfully, Lactantius has given us his views concerning this last battle, and by reading his account we may easily infer that he saw Ezekiel's "Gog and Magog" as the same mentioned by John. Since we agree that this is the correct view (for there is nothing in Scripture which permits us to doubt it), we'll use his interpretation as an exegetical compass, meanwhile keeping our eyes closely on Ezekiel himself to bring out any points that need to be clarified.

We'll give Lactantius's views in whole. He writes: "We have said a little before, that it will come to pass at the commencement of the sacred reign, that the prince of the devils will be bound by God. But he also, when the thousand years of the kingdom, that is, seven thousand of the world, shall begin to be ended, will be loosed afresh, and being sent forth from prison, will go forth and assemble all the nations, which shall then be under the dominion of the righteous, that they may make war against the holy city; and there shall be collected together from all the world an innumerable company of the nations, and shall besiege and surround the city. Then the last anger of God shall come upon the nations, and shall utterly destroy them; and first He shall shake the earth most violently, and by its motion the mountains of Syria shall be rent, and the hills shall sink down precipitously, and the walls of the cities shall fall, and God shall cause the sun the stand, so that he set not for three days, and shall set it on fire; and excessive heat and great burning shall descend upon the hostile and impious people, and showers of brimstone, and hailstones, and drops of fire; and their spirits shall melt through the heat and their bodies shall be bruised by the hail, and they shall smite one another with the sword. The mountains shall be filled with carcasses, and the plains shall be covered with bones; but the people of God during those three days shall be concealed under the caves of the earth, until the anger of God against the nations and the last judgment shall be ended.

"Then the righteous shall go forth from their hiding-places, and shall find all things covered with carcasses and bones. But the whole race of the wicked shall utterly perish; and there shall no longer be any nation in this world, but the nation of God alone. Then for seven continuous years the woods shall be untouched, nor shall timber be cut from the mountains, but the arms of the nations shall be burnt; and now there shall be no war, but peace and everlasting rest." (Divine Institutes, VII. xxvi).

Although Lactantius doesn't cite any Scriptures directly, nevertheless, by doing a bit of detective-work it shouldn't be difficult to find out which Scriptures he is using for his exposition. He is keeping closely to the record of Ezekiel, however it is evident that he is also fetching information from other sources. Admittedly, we do not recall any Scripture that speaks of the righteous hiding in the caves for three days. Is it possible Lactantius is referring to Isaiah 2: 19-21? We cannot be certain. But from this theory we may infer that these righteous people are not the saints inhabiting the New Jerusalem, but those left among the nations. This tells us that not all men will join in the Gog and Magog invasion; and while Satan shall deceive many, even a great multitude, God will always have His remnant, however small and insignificant it may become.

Then Lactantius refers to those punishments of fire which shall befall the wicked, and the rising up of every man against his neighbor. He is evidently referring to Zechariah 14: 12-13: "And this shall be the plague wherewith the Lord will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem; their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth. And it shall come to pass in that day, that a great tumult of the Lord shall be among them; and they shall lay hold every one on the hand of his neighbor, and his hand shall rise up against the hand of his neighbor."

This division and discord among the enemies themselves is corroborated by Ezekiel, who writes: "And I will call for a sword against him, throughout all my mountains, saith the Lord God: every man's sword shall be against his brother" (Ezek. 38: 21). But, while there is some correspondence between the two prophets, Zechariah's prophecy ought more logically to be applied to Armageddon. For the punishment there mentioned issues in "all nations keeping the feast of tabernacles" (Zech. 14: 17), with a proviso concerning those who refuse to do homage to the Lord (Zech. 14: 17-19). This, of course, can only apply to the Millennium itself.

Nevertheless, Lactantius draws primarily from Ezekiel's account, saying that there will be a burning of the weapons for seven years following the destruction of Gog and Magog. The prophet himself writes: "And they that dwell in the cities of Israel shall go forth, and shall set on fire and burn the weapons, both the shields and the bucklers, the bows and the arrows, and the handstaves, and the spears, and they shall burn them with fire for seven years: so that they shall take no wood out of the field, neither cut down any out of the forests; for they shall burn the weapons with fire; and they shall spoil those that spoiled them, and rob those that robbed them, saith the Lord" (Ezek. 39: 9-10). This burning of weapons for seven years also includes a burying of the dead for seven months (Ezek. 39: 11-16).

Now, John's account of the Gog and Magog invasion does not refer to these events. Rather, it would seem that the general judgment immediately follows upon the destruction of the last enemies of God. He writes: "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" (Rev. 20: 9-10).

Thus, according to the bare context, John would appear to place the judgment immediately after the destruction of Gog and Magog, and the casting of Satan into the lake of fire. However, it should be noted that the phrase "and I saw" generally marks the introduction of new subject-matter. Concerning this apocalyptic expression, Rev. W.J. Erdman, D.D. writes: "This phrase is used not only for the introduction of a vision, but it suggests a principle of interpretation; it is a formal word, leading to new matter, like the Old Testament phrase, 'And the Lord spake unto Moses.' It indicates when prefatory to even one brief vision that its subject is one of great import demanding a pause of due contemplation. But especially remarkable is the fact that when only one "And I saw" covers an extended range of objects, it indicates that all such objects are in a unitous relation to each other as to time or theme or both." (Notes on Revelation, pg. 23-24).

Therefore, it is possible that John, after describing the judgments of the last enemies of God, transitions from that destruction to the judgment which follows, leaving out the additional seven years, which we must infer from Ezekiel. However, it has recently been pointed out to me that divers passages in Ezekiel should be relegated to Pre-Millennial fulfillment. It is suggested that the visions in Ezek. 38: 1-7 will take place before the Millennium. Then, "after many days" (that is, after the thousand years are over), Gog and Magog will gather together to battle, thus implying that Ezekiel 38: 8-23 regards Post-Millennial fulfillment, chapter 39 then picking up the Pre-Millennial language once more. This school of prophecy, then, see the whole of chapter 39 as relating to the Battle of Armageddon.

And this view is not unlikely. In fact, it is a valid question whether part of Ezekiel's prophecy ought to be understood as relating to the Battle of Armageddon. For in both prophets is predicted the gathering of the fowls to the great supper that ensues upon the destruction of the wicked (Ezek. 39: 17-20; cf. Rev. 19: 17-18). If we understand the two descriptions as embracing one and the same event, then it is evident that Ezekiel himself makes reference to both Armageddon and the final battle, sometimes speaking of one, sometimes of the other. As stated, prophecies often contain layers of fulfillment that are hard to separate until the events themselves come to pass. Regardless of which view we hold, we'll all agree that the literal method of interpretation is the only one which will solve any difficulties, whether real or apparent.

Going back to Lactantius, we find that he himself believed there would a period of seven years between the destruction of Gog and Magog, and the general judgment and resurrection; and that after this period was over, the dead would be raised and the world renewed. Once more, John is silent regarding any interim period between the two events, although his silence does not mean that such a view is impossible. But, in any case, the general judgment will come to pass after the thousand years are over--that is, after the seven antitypical days are fully expired. And then all men shall be raised from the dead and judged according to their works (Rev. 20: 12-13). So, then, having discussed his visions to the best of our ability, we must lay Ezekiel aside, and move on to the next phase. For it is of this general judgment of all men, and their allotment to their eternal destinies, that we must now speak.

To be continued...

Friday, March 28, 2008

Reformed Chiliasm (Part 19)

Now, at the commencement of the Millennium, Satan shall be bound, and cast into the bottomless pit, that he may no longer deceive the nations (Rev. 20: 1-3). And this accords with the predictions of which we previously made mention, those regarding worldwide peace. For it is the "nations," and not the saints, that have fallen under Satan's jurisdiction; although all will admit that the church has, to a certain extent, been subjected to heresies promulgated by false teachers. Nevertheless, there is a difference between "the church" and "the nations." The purpose of Satan's binding will be to free the nations from his deceptions, that all may acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord.

When Satan is cast into the bottomless pit, there will be a ruling and reigning of the saints for a thousand years. This period will be a realization of what would have occurred on the seventh day, had Adam and Eve kept God's holy law. It involves man's restoration of dominion over all the earth, and a removal of the curse which Adam brought upon the race, which blessing shall apply during this period to the saints only. It is the "first-fruits" of those eternal blessings which shall be conferred in whole, following the resurrection of the Genetic economy.

Again, this thousand year period is the last day of the seven; that is, the antitypical Sabbath. And thus the early church has been given to understand it. Even John of Damascus, not himself a Chiliast, perceived the validity of the diurnal typology. He wrote: "Seven ages of this world are spoken of, that is, from the creation of the heaven and earth till the general consummation and resurrection of men. For there is a partial consummation, viz., the death of each man: but there is also a general and complete consummation, when the general resurrection of men will come to pass. And the eighth age is the age to come." (De Fide Orthodoxa, II. i).

Thus, the Millennium must be viewed as the commencement, and not the completion, of the new creation. It will be an extended period of peace in which all nations shall be blessed in the seed of Abraham, when all peoples will participate in the blessings brought by the dominion of the righteous throughout the whole world. After the beast and false prophet are taken alive and cast into the lake of fire, and Satan himself bound and cast into the abyss, then the saints will reign from Jerusalem, and go forth to declare Christ's glory throughout the entire earth.

(Isaiah 65: 19-21) "And I will set a sign among them, and I will send those that escape of them unto the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, that draw the bow, to Tubal, and Javan, to the isles afar off, that have not heard my fame, neither have seen my glory: and they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles. And they shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the Lord, out of all nations, upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon swift beasts, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, saith the Lord, as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the Lord. And I will also take of them for priests and for Levites, saith the Lord."

(Zech. 8: 22-23) "Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of Hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord. Thus saith the Lord of Hosts; in those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold, out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you."

The Millennium will be the culmination of all the Messianic prophecies, and the focal point of all of God's temporal dispensations. It will be, as we've seen, a period of universal blessedness. And yet it will not comprise a total extirpation of all evil. There will still exist those who despise the Lord; and although their iniquity will be powerless to oppress the saints, it will nonetheless serve as a kernel of that latter day uprising that will issue in the invasion of Gog and Magog. When we read Ezekiel's vision of the living waters, we cannot help noticing that, although he describes their wide-reaching effect, he adds: "But the miry places thereof and the marshes thereof shall not be healed; they shall be given to salt" (Ezek. 47: 11).

That is, there will be a certain remnant of wickedness left in the earth, which shall not be affected by the healing waters. This remnant will be restrained from active evil during the Millennium, but will later rebel against Jesus Christ during the "little season" that Satan is unloosed (Rev. 20: 3). John writes: "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" (Rev. 20: 7-8). We cannot help noticing a correspondence between this last uprising and the earlier Battle of Armageddon. This ought to tell us that Satan's modus operandi is essentially the same whenever he is allowed to function with an open hand. His purpose is to incite the wicked against the righteous, for there is an implacable enmity between the two seeds that will not be eradicated until the final and general judgment.

What details can we give regarding the Gog and Magog invasion? Unfortunately, the Ante-Nicene fathers furnish us with few helps. We must fetch the greater part of our information from Lactantius, who gives us some sure exegetical footing by himself referring back to Ezekiel 38 and 39. We believe, in fact, that the best accounts of the Gog and Magog battle will be found in those two chapters. And it interesting that Ezekiel, from chapters 34 to 40, provides the student with something like a mini-textbook of last time events. We have, firstly, an account of the preliminary judgment of Christ's church, when the true and the false are separated (Ezek. 34: 1-22); then somewhat like an account of Armageddon (Ezek. 35), followed by a detailed description of the blessings which await the righteous (Ezek. 36). Next, the prophet gives us a depiction of the resurrection of the just (Ezek. 37), going on to show us what shall befall after the thousand years are completed (Ezek. 38-39; cf. Rev. 20: 7-9).

It is sometimes thought that Ezekiel's account of the Gog and Magog invasion is to be partially fulfilled in the Battle of Armageddon. Perhaps this is true. In any event, it ought to be discerned that many prophecies contain gradations of fulfillment, which are difficult to distinguish until the events themselves come to pass. Regardless, however, of whether we place Ezekiel's prophecy in its entirety after the Millennium, or only in part, we should readily acknowledge that all of the events described therein are still future: that is, the prophecies have never yet been fulfilled. If the Millennium is future, then so is the Gog and Magog battle.

Now, let us take a closer look at this battle. We don't require a great deal of discernment to figure out what will occur, for the language itself is plain. When the complete number of the elect of Israel have been gathered, and the cities of the world restored to peace, Satan will be loosed and shall go out to deceive the nations. In Ezekiel 38: 1-7 the prophet speaks of a general gathering of nations to battle. Then, he writes: "After many days thou shalt be visited;" that is, by Satan. "In the latter years thou shalt come into the land that is brought back from the sword, and is gathered out of many people, against the mountains of Israel, which have been always waste: but it is brought forth out of the nations, and they shall dwell safely all of them" (Ezek. 38: 8). This denotes the period following the close of the Millennium, when world peace is again shattered.

Ezekiel continues thus: "Thou shalt ascend and come like a storm, thou shalt be like a cloud to cover the land, thou, and all thy bands, and many people with thee. Thus saith the Lord God; It shall also come to pass, that at the same time shall things come into thy mind, and thou shalt think an evil thought: and thou shalt say, I will go up to the land of unwalled villages; I will go to them that are at rest, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates, to take a spoil, and to take a prey; to turn thine hand upon the desolate places that are now inhabited, and upon the people that are gathered out of all the nations, which have gotten cattle and goods, that dwell in the midst of the land. Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof, shall say unto thee, Art thou come to take a spoil? Hast thou gathered thy company to take a prey? to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to take a great spoil?" (Ezek. 38: 9-13).

It is important that we pay close attention to the prophet's language. For he clearly implies that the invasion will take place after the land has been restored to peace, and the desolate places re-built. The Millennium, as we've already noticed, will be a time of re-gathering and rebuilding. Ezekiel writes: "Thus saith the Lord God; When I shall have gathered the house of Israel from the people among whom they are scattered, and shall be sanctified in them in the sight of the heathen, then shall they dwell in their land that I have given to my servant Jacob. And they shall dwell safely therein, and shall build houses and plant vineyards; yea, they shall dwell with confidence, when I have executed judgments upon all those that despise them round about them: and they shall know that I am the Lord their God" (Ezek. 28: 25-26).

But when these prophecies have been fulfilled, and the "Day of Lord" (the seventh millenary of years) is coming to a close, the blessedness of the saints shall once more be disrupted, by the coming of Gog and Magog. We sometimes wonder why, with Jesus Christ sitting on the throne, another uprising of the wicked should be permitted to occur. It is not easy to give an answer. However, let us keep in mind that "many people shall be joined to the Lord in that day" (Zech. 2: 11); and in order to have true communion with Christ, there must be an exercise of virtue, which demands trial and fellowship in the Lord's own sufferings. Thus is evil permitted to function during the Millennium, albeit on a much smaller scale. Yet when the thousand years are almost expired, the uprising of the wicked will once again force the world to go one way or another--to choose life or death. Thus, through tribulation are the godly purified, whilst the chaff are consigned to everlasting fire.

And the prophet predicts what shall occur during the last time. He writes: "And thou shalt come from thy place out of the north parts, thou, and many people with thee, all of them riding upon horses, a great company, and a mighty army: and thou shalt come up against my people of Israel, as a cloud to cover the land; it shall be in the latter days, and I will bring thee against my land, that the heathen may know me, when I shall be sanctified in thee, O Gog, before their eyes" (Ezek. 38: 15-16). The prophecy seems to imply that the saints will then no longer be dwelling in the cities, but shall have obtained refuge in Jerusalem. Satan, after gathering the armies to battle, shall, in the forces of Gog and Magog, make one final assault on God's people. But, he and his powers will be brought to nothing.

For then there will be a great shaking in the land of Israel. All nature will be convulsed, insomuch that the mountains shall be thrown down, the towers and stairs of the cities shall fall, and hailstones will rain down on those armies that defy God (Ezek. 38: 19-23). This will constitute the last temporal punishment of the wicked. The prophet writes: "Therefore, thou son of man, prophesy against Gog, and say, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal: and I will turn thee back, and strike thee with six plagues, and will cause thee to come up from the sides of the north, and will bring thee upon the mountains of Israel: and I will smite the bow out of thy left hand, and will cause thine arrows to fall out of thy right hand. Thou shalt fall upon the mountains of Israel, thou, and all thy bands, and the people that is with thee: I will give thee unto the ravenous birds of every sort, and to the beasts of the field, to be devoured. Thou shalt fall upon the open field: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God. And I will send a fire on Magog, and among them that dwell carelessly in the isles: and they shall know that I am the Lord" (Ezek. 39: 1-6).

Concerning the exact identity of this Gog and Magog, interpreters are at variance. Some believe that these are actual nations. Ambrose of Milan, writing to the emperor Gratian in 378 A.D., identified them as the Goths. (De Fide, II. xvi). His view evidently sees Ezekiel's prophecy as largely disconnected from that of the Apocalypse. But St. Augustine writes: "For these nations which he names Gog and Magog are not to be understood of some barbarous nations in some part of the world, whether the Getae and Massagetae, as some conclude from the initial letters, or some other foreign nations not under the Roman government. For John marks that they are spread over the whole earth, when he says, 'The nations which are in the four corners of the earth,' and he added that these are Gog and Magog. The meaning of these names we find to be, Gog, 'a roof,' Magog, 'from a roof,'-- a house, as it were, and he who comes out of the house. They are therefore the nations in which we found that the devil was shut up as in an abyss, and the devil himself coming out from them and going forth, so that they are the roof, he from the roof. Or if we refer both words to the nations, not one to them and one to the devil, then they are both the roof, because in them the old enemy is at present shut up, and as it were roofed in; and they shall be from the roof when they break forth from concealed to open hatred." (City of God, XX. xi).

Although we disagree with Augustine on the matter of timing, we allow that by "Gog and Magog" must be meant a collection (or rather collusion) of nations throughout the entire world. Thus a genealogical analysis of the names will hardly do us any good. Indeed, we've noticed that many expositors do consider the Apocalyptic reference to Gog and Magog as entirely spiritual, while that of Ezekiel they refer to a set of nations placed in past history. Since opinions, however, are so divided, we have maintained the unity between the two respective visions--that of John and Ezekiel coinciding in all essential respects. Once again, many passages (perhaps a large portion of chap. 39) seem to bear more logical reference to the battle of Armageddon. Nevertheless, of one thing we can be sure--that any interpretation we undertake must be maintained with caution. As a rule of thumb, all prophecies remain obscure until their fulfillment.

To be continued...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Reformed Chiliasm (Part 18)

Now that we've given some account, however cursorily, of what the world will be like during the Millennium, many of us will naturally ask, what life will be like within Jerusalem itself, the blessed city? In ancient times, Zechariah prophesied, saying: "Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls for the multitude of men and cattle therein: For I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire about, and will will be the glory in the midst of her" (Zech. 2: 4-5).

That the prophet speaks of the personal presence of Christ, is intimated when he says: "Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion: for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the Lord. And many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the Lord of Hosts hath sent me unto thee. And the Lord shall inherit Judah His portion in the holy land, and shall choose Jerusalem again. Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord: for He is raised up out of His holy habitation." (Zech. 2: 10-13).

Our Lord will be "raised up out of His holy habitation" when He returns to earth to establish His kingdom. At that time, all secular world-government will be brought to an end, and "the Lord alone will be exalted in that day" (Isa. 2: 11). The Hebrew prophets are uniform in their testimony regarding the worldwide reign of Jesus Christ with all His saints. Yet, although the prophets foretold wonderful times, many of their predictions are confessedly obscure to those who do not perceive, or won't acknowledge, that a personal reign of Jesus Christ among men is part of the Divine plan. Yet such men are in the minority.

And here we should remind readers that Chiliasts are far from alone in advocating views of a worldwide reign of Messiah. There be many earnest and reverent students of Scripture (perhaps a great majority of Christians) who perceive a permanent establishment of the "New Heavens and New Earth" when Jesus Christ comes back, and following the general judgment of all mankind. The differences between the two prevailing schools of prophecy is far less conspicuous than are the points of agreement. Both concern themselves with the order, and not the reality, of the events themselves.

Nevertheless, we have adopted the Chiliast view, which holds there will be a thousand year period of blessedness on earth, prior to the consummation of all things. Tertullian writes: "But we do confess that a kingdom is promised to us upon the earth, although before heaven, only in another state of existence; inasmuch as it will be after the resurrection for a thousand years in the divinely-built city of Jerusalem, 'let down from heaven,' which the apostle also calls 'our mother from above;' and, while declaring that our politeuma, or citizenship, is in heaven, he predicates of it that it is really a city in heaven. This both Ezekiel had knowledge of, and John beheld." (Against Marcion, III. xxv).

Tertullian recognizes, then, the correspondence between the temple seen by Ezekiel and that later behold by the blessed Apostle. The two must be perceived as one and the same--that city, in fact, that Jesus Christ will bring down to earth when He establishes His presence among us. For it is proper that the King should have a glorious habitation from which to rule and reign over all the earth. As a matter of fact, if we look closely at Ezekiel's prophecy, we'll find that the King Himself shall enter by the east gate: "And of the glory of the Lord came into the house by the way of the gate whose prospect is toward the east (Ezek. 43: 4); and after He has entered, the gate shall be shut (Ezek. 44: 2). For he (the prophet) says: "It is for the Prince; the Prince, He shall sit in it to eat bread before the Lord; He shall enter in by the way of the porch of that gate, and shall go out by the way of the same" (Ezek. 44: 3).

Christ is seen ascending from the east, for He is "the bright and morning-star" (Rev. 22: 16), Who brings a new dispensation down to men. And when He arrives, the New Jerusalem will be established, and the whole house filled with glory. In no uncertain terms did the prophet Haggai predict this, when he wrote: "The glory of this latter house shall be greater than that of the former, saith the Lord of Hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of Hosts" (Haggai 1: 9). Again, the prophet intimates when this shall be fulfilled: after the Lord has shaken all nations (Hag. 1: 7)-- that is, after the Great Tribulation. To this John has reference when he saw "a great multitude" of "all nations, and kindreds, and peoples and tongues" (Rev. 7: 9) "which came out of great tribulation" (Rev. 7: 14) serving the Lord day and night in His temple. "And He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them." (Rev. 7: 15). Wherefore Ezekiel, not inconsistently, writes: "And the name of the city from that day shall be, The Lord is there" (Ezek. 48: 35).

But Ezekiel also speaks of the partitioning of the land among the children of Israel. "And it shall come to pass, that ye shall divide it by lot for an inheritance unto you, and to the strangers that sojourn among you: and they shall be unto you as born in the country among the children of Israel; they shall have inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel" (Ezek. 47: 22). It is evident that the prophet is referring the ancient land promises, which shall have their true fulfillment in that day. As the Lord Himself gave promise, so David also predicted, "But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace" (Psa. 37: 11). The context of the prophecy shows that this will occur after the destruction of the wicked (Psa. 37: 10). Thus, the inheritance of the earth can in no wise be interpreted in a spiritual sense, nor can it be said to have fulfillment during the present time. It is a real and substantial promise, which shall have fulfillment when the Lord returns.

Let us call to mind the promise that God to made to Abraham himself, when He said: "Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art, northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: for all the land that thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever" (Gen. 13: 14-15). Again, He said: "Arise, walk through the land in the length of it, and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee" (Gen. 13: 17). This precludes any kind of spiritualizing, for if God promised Abraham a celestial inheritance, He would not have told him to "walk through the land in the length of it, and in the breadth of it." The inheritance, then, can only be realized on earth. But, Abraham himself never received the promise during his own lifetime. For Stephen says: "And He gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that He would give it to Him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child" (Acts 7: 5).

Now, after Sarah died, the Hittites, then in possession of the land, were willing to give Abraham the cave of Machpelah as a burying-place, which gift Abraham refused, purchasing it of Ephron for four hundred shekels of silver (Gen. 23). For Abraham was unwilling to receive from men what God had already promised to give him. For He said: "Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt, unto the great river the river Euphrates" (Gen. 15: 18). This promise, far from being a matter of doubt, was ratified in a solemn covenant (Gen. 15: 17-18). Thus, if Abraham received a promise that he and his seed would inherit the whole land of Canaan, and if he himself never received it, but sojourned as a stranger and pilgrim upon the earth (Heb. 11: 13), then it is manifest that the promise still holds good, and that it shall be fulfilled to the letter in the First Resurrection.

Irenaeus writes: "If, then, God promised him the inheritance of the land, yet he did not receive it during all the time of his sojourn there, it must be, that together with his seed, that is, those who fear God and believe in Him, he shall receive it at the resurrection of the just. For his seed is the Church, which receives the adoption to God through the Lord, as John the Baptist said: For God is able from the stones to raise up children unto Abraham. Thus also, the apostle says in the Epistle to the Galatians: But ye, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of the promise. And again, in the same epistle, he plainly declares that they who have believed in Christ do receive Christ, the promise to Abraham thus saying, The promises were spoken to Abraham, and to his seed. Now He does not say, And of seeds, as if He spake of many, but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And again, confirming His former words, He says, Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith are the children of Abraham. But the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, declared to Abraham beforehand, That in thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which are of faith shall be blessed with faithful Abraham. Thus, then, they which are of faith shall be blessed with faithful Abraham, and these are the children of Abraham. Now God made promise of the earth to Abraham and his seed; yet neither Abraham nor his seed, that is, those who are justified by faith, do now receive inheritance in it; but they shall receive it at the resurrection of the just. For God is true and faithful; and on this account He said, Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." (Against Heresies, V. xxxii, 2).

Consider also the promises which Isaac made to his sons Esau and Jacob. To Jacob, he said, "Therefore, God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine. Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee; be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother's sons bow down to thee: cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee" (Gen. 27: 28-29). And yet these promises were never fulfilled in Jacob's own lifetime. For the nations did not serve him; rather, he fled from his brother Esau and served Laban the Syrian for twenty years. And upon his return, he bowed down to Esau his brother (Gen. 33: 3). Then, too, he never received any abundance of corn and wine, for he emigrated to Egypt because of the great famine that then prevailed in the land; and upon coming thither, he became subject to Pharaoh. Once again, Irenaeus writes: "The predicted blessing, therefore, belongs unquestionably to the times of the kingdom, when the righteous shall bear rule upon their rising from the dead; when also the creation, having been renovated and set free, shall fructify with and abundance of all kinds of food, from the dew of heaven, and from the fertility of the earth." (Ibid., V. xxxiii. 3).

Then, to Esau Jacob says: "Behold, thy dwelling shall be the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above; And by thy sword shalt thou live, and shalt serve thy brother: and it shalt come to pass when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck" (Gen. 27: 39-40). Now, Esau never served Jacob in his own lifetime. Rather, it was the other way around. The fulfillment, then, is future. But, we grant that these things also denote the two dispensations. For in the promises made to Jacob may be seen the blessings bestowed upon the church, which receives, first, the spiritual promises (the dew of heaven) and the earthly promises (the fatness of the earth) in the Millennium; while those made to Esau denote the blessings bestowed on the children of Israel, who received the earthly promises first, and will later be grafted back in through the Gospel. But, there is one people, one elect church, composed of both Jews and Gentiles. And these shall rule and reign together with Christ.

To this Ezekiel alludes when he writes: "Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in my hand" (Ezek. 37: 19); the "tribes of Israel his fellows" referring, no doubt, to the Gentiles, who lie beyond the portion of Ephraim, as it is written: "The land of Zebulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles" (Matt. 4: 14). When Christ comes to reign, He will rule over one elect nation composed of Jews and Gentiles alike. "And David my servant shall be King over them, and they shall all have one Shepherd; they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them" (Ezek. 37: 24). Judging from the context of Ezekiel's vision, we learn that fulfillment will take place upon the raising of the dry bones; that is, the First Resurrection.

And the prophet continues thus: "And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt, and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children's children, for ever: and my servant David shall be their Prince for ever. Moreover, I will make a covenant of peace with them: it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. My tabernacle shall also be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And the heathen shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore" (Ezek. 37: 25-28). No one who compares this prophecy with John's vision of Rev. 21: 2-3 ff., will doubt that both speak of the same blessed state of God's people during the times of the Millennium. And we look forward to these times with "exceeding great joy."

Therefore, our conclusion is, that the fulfillment of the earthly blessings are not now, nor can they attained in the celestial realms, for they relate to the things of this world. But they have regard to a time in the near future. It is true that the world must first be renewed and refreshed, that blessings may indeed be conferred, and that the promises be not frustrated by the presence and power of evil. For, where the wicked prevail, righteousness must suffer. But where the righteous prevail, the wicked must be driven out. So, then, as the present age is that of the dominion of the wicked, the Millennium shall be that of the dominion of the righteous. And then shall the land promises be fulfilled. And all Israel will dwell in peace and safety, for they shall stand in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, King of all the earth.

To be continued...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Reformed Chiliasm (Part 17)

Having cleared up those more abstruse issues concerning the First Resurrection, let us discuss what the world will be like during the times of the Millennium. What will be the conditions of living? We've already spoken of the glorious, personal return of Jesus Christ, at which time He shall punish the "host of the high ones that are on high" (Isa. 24: 21). Whether this means that He will destroy all the wicked in one definitive moment,--whether the battle of Armageddon will result in the annihilation of every unrighteous person living on earth, is difficult to conjecture. However, as previously intimated, we do not feel that this will be the case. The central scene for the Battle of Armageddon will be the city of Jerusalem. But, while the battle admits of some localization, it is equally certain that it demands fulfillment more wide-reaching than that within the confines of Palestine. Lactantius writes that the nations shall not be utterly extinguished. (Divine Institutes, VII. xxiv).

However one decides to view certain passages, it is evident that the Lord's return will result in a "new heavens and new earth" in which the conditions of life will be substantially changed. From our study of the Scriptures, we are not to suppose that all evil will be abolished when our Lord comes to reign. Rather, we incline to the view that there will be a wholesale suppression of evil, and that conditions of vastly greater blessedness will prevail for all men.

Indeed, Peter speaks of the dissolution of the heavens and earth in the day of the Lord's judgment (2 Peter 3: 7, 10, 12). But, we have already given our opinion, that the new heavens and earth will be commenced in the regeneration, but not completed until after the general judgment. Thus, the destruction of which the apostle speaks must be placed at the end of the day of the Lord, and not at its beginning. Nevertheless, we deem it not unlikely that the prediction, in accordance with prophetic usage in general, may have reference to both near and distant fulfillments.

Keeping that in mind, let us discuss what life will be like when our Lord comes back to reign. We believe that upon our Lord's return and the destruction of the wicked, there will be great upheavals throughout the whole world, insomuch that the geological structure of the earth will be altered and changed. In John's Apocalypse, at the opening of the sixth seal, "the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places" (Rev. 6: 14). John saw a great opening made in the heavens preceding the coming of Jesus Christ with all His saints. At this time, the earth itself suffered convulsions. By this we are not sure what is meant exactly, but is quite reasonable to suppose that the Lord's coming will be felt throughout the entire world. The whole earth will quake and tremble in that day.

The prophet Micah confirms this, when he says: "For behold, the Lord cometh forth out of His place, and will come down, and tread upon the high places of the earth. And the mountains shall be molten under Him, and the valleys shall be cleft, as wax before the fire, and as the waters that are poured down a steep place" (Mic. 1: 3-4). Moreover, Zephaniah informs us that the land of Palestine itself will be entirely swept clear when Jesus Christ returns: "I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the Lord. I will consume man and beast; I will consume the fowls of the heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the stumbling-blocks with the wicked; and I will cut off man from off the land, saith the Lord" (Zeph. 1: 2-3). Those who are not gathered by Jesus Christ will be left to desolation and destruction. And this view accords with those who hold that there will be a "rapture" before the pouring out of the seven vials.

The vials themselves, in their effect, will be far-reaching throughout the world. All the life in the sea will die (Rev. 16: 3) and the solar rays will be augmented to such an extent that men will be scorched by their heat (16: 8). There will also be "a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great" (16: 18). The cities of the nations shall fall at this time (16: 19), signifying that the devastation will be massive in its results. Aside from these general details, we are unable to determine much more concerning these upheavals that will shake the globe. However, we know that they will culminate in the glorious reign of King Jesus, to which Christians of all nations look forward in anticipative joy. "For thus saith the Lord of Hosts; yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the Desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of Hosts" (Haggai 1: 6-7).

Then will the New Jerusalem come down to earth, and be planted in the midst the nations. As Lactantius writes: "After His coming the righteous will be collected from all the earth, and the judgment being completed, the sacred city shall be planted in the middle of the earth, in which God Himself the builder shall dwell together with the righteous, bearing rule in it." (Divine Institutes, VII. xxiv). As we've already discussed the nature of the New Jerusalem, we must move onwards. However, we may make one additional remark: that Irenaeus sees the establishment of a preparatory New Jerusalem during this period. He writes: "But in the times of the kingdom, the earth has been called again by Christ (to its pristine condition), and Jerusalem rebuilt after the pattern of the Jerusalem above, of which the prophet says, 'Behold, I have depicted thy walls upon my hands, and thou art always in my sight' [Isa. 49: 16]". (Against Heresies, V. xxxv. 2). The reader must decide which view to accept. We ourselves incline to the teachings Lactantius, Commodian, and Tertullian.

Regardless of the finer mechanics, however, one thing is certain-- that the city will be established in that day, and the Lord shall dwell in the midst of His people (Ezek. 36: 26-28). Then all nations shall flow unto Jerusalem (Isaiah 60), and do homage to the Prince of Peace. The world will know a new age of righteousness, the which man has never yet seen, though often longed for. It will be, in short, a realization of the Golden Age foretold by the Hebrew prophets and sages. The healing waters will rush forth from the city to cleanse the earth from its defilement, renewing the face of the land. Then shall life flourish once more. But as the devastation preceding the Lord's return will be wholesale, there shall be during this epoch a universal repairing of the desolated places. Isaiah, as well as the other prophets, speak of the Millennium as a time of rebuilding.

(Isaiah 58: 12) "And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in."

(Isaiah 61: 4) "And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations."

(Ezekiel 36: 33-35) "Thus saith the Lord God; In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities I will also cause you to dwell in the cities, and the wastes shall be builded. And the desolate land shall be tilled, whereas it lay desolate in the sight of all that passed by. And they shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the Garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are become fenced, and are inhabited."

I realize, of course, that some men interpret these passages in a strictly moral sense; and we cannot deny that in a true (albeit, limited) manner, such verses have their fulfillment in the Gospel. Nevertheless, they also look forward to the time when Christ's atonement will be fully accomplished,-- that is, during the Millennium. For the consummation of atonement will issue in the resurrection of the just. So, then, when Jesus Christ leaves the Holy Place "without sin unto salvation" (Heb. 9: 28), and returns to earth to reign, these prophecies will have their true and complete fulfillment. As the world will have been destroyed under Antichrist's rule, the Millennium will be the time of restoration and renewal. And the saints shall take an active part in the work of renovating the cities and supervising the cultivation of the ground.

Of course, the earth will of itself yield such abundance, that the work of tillage will be attended with much less hardship than it is now. As all the technological contraptions of man's making will be abolished in that day, and the earth restored to its primitive purity, the vine will no longer hold back its abundance, nor will the ground remain sterile and unproductive, but nature in all its offices will be enhanced. Joel writes: "And it shall come to pass in that day; that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with water, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim" (Joel 3: 18). Amos, too, predicts the abundance that shall be in those days: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that the ploughman shall overtake the reaper, and the trader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt" (Amos 9: 13).

Nonetheless, Isaiah paints the most detailed account of the times we are considering. Isaiah 30: 25-26: "And there shall be upon every high mountain, and upon every high hill, rivers and streams of waters in the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall." That is, after the battle of Armageddon, the world shall be refreshed, resulting in a new earth. Then, the prophet continues thus: "Moreover, the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the Lord bindeth up the breach of His people, and heal the stroke of their wound." That is, when the stroke of our wound (death) is nullified, there shall be, not only a new earth, but also new heavens.

Meanwhile, wickedness and evil, though not abolished entirely, will be rendered futile and powerless. Isaiah speaks of this period, not as consisting of the abolition of all wickedness, but of its subjugation under the reign of the Messiah. "The vile person shall no more be called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful" (Isa. 32: 5). He elsewhere speaks of sinners as being accursed under this new administration (Isa. 65: 20). David, in the Psalms, also prophesies the following: "Say unto God, How terrible art thou in thy works! through the greatness of thy power shall thine enemies yield feigned obedience unto thee" (Psa. 66: 3, Margin). Again, he writes: "The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thy enemies" (Psa. 110: 2). From these passages and others, we are not to infer any total abolition of enemies, but rather a glorious reign of righteousness, wherein enmity shall be overruled by the power of the Highest.

And in that day, the saints shall share in Christ's judicial administration, as Paul had previously intimated, "Do ye not know, that the saints shall judge the world?" (1 Cor. 6: 2). When Christ returns, He shall reward His servants, placing them as rulers and governors over cities (Luke 19: 17, 19). The prophet Micah foresaw this in vision, when he wrote: "And the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people as a dew from the Lord, as the showers upon the grass, that tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men. And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles in the midst of many people as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep: who, if he go through, both treadeth down, and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver. Thine hand shall be lifted up upon thine adversaries, and all thine enemies shall be cut off" (Micah 5: 7-9).

Micah is clearly predicting the enforcement of righteousness throughout the whole world. While Christ shall reign from Jerusalem, the saints will bear rule with Him over the nations, and evil will shrink back under this new state of things. In fine, the Millennium will issue in the re-institution of Christian knighthood throughout the world. If any oppresses his neighbor, judgment shall be swiftly administered, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Then, too, those nations that keep not the Feast of Tabernacles will receive no blessings (Zech. 14: 17). In fact, all who do not follow Jesus Christ will be rendered miserable, even as those now who follow Him are made sorrowful by the prevalence of evil. Truly, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5: 5).

We see, then, the Millennium as being a period of great blessedness unto them that love the Lord's appearing, who have patiently waited for His return. Although they have suffered tribulation and hardship, their reward shall be great. For then shall be fulfilled the antitype of the Lord's Supper: "But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of the fruit of the vine, until that day when I will drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom" (Matt. 26: 27). That is, we shall enjoy His personal presence, and will dine with Him in His kingdom. "Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when He cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that He shall gird Himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them" (Luke 12: 37). Of course, there are many other evidences we can adduce from Scripture, that speak of these times. But, whether the dining is to be taken metaphorically, it is not for us to decide. Only concede that all such prophecies will be fulfilled upon Christ's personal, visible, and glorious return, and you will not be far from the truth.

To be continued...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Reformed Chiliasm (Part 16)

But, lest anyone should scoff at these doctrines, a few more statements need to be brought into clearer focus. If the First Resurrection is the re-union of souls and bodies in the presence of God, and if it involves the restoration of man to his primitive condition, then it's obvious that no sinful conceptions may be attributed to the saints in that day. Remember, God instituted marriage while Adam and Eve were in a condition of blameless purity. Evil concupiscence came after the fall. For, man's soul was made rational accoring to the Divine image. The irrational element did not enter until after they yielded to temptation. Now, what do we mean by this?
We all know that man is composed of both body and soul. There is a higher part made after the image of God, which we term the soul; and a lower part fashioned from the earth, which we call the body. As it is the office of the heavens to govern the earth, so it is the function of the soul to govern the body. It is not natural that the body, or lower part of man, should rebel against the soul. And yet this is precisely what the present state of man is, due to his primal yielding to temptation. Prior to eating of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve had not yet experienced any warring of the members against their will. They stood clothed in a grace the loss of which they did not realize until "the eyes of them both were opened" (Gen. 3: 7). In fine, their wills were in entire subjection to God and to themselves.
But when they yielded to temptation, disgrace entered, and they became endued with a new knowledge. Pride, envy, lust, shame, and divers evils now attended their new condition. Not only was the soul divided against itself, due to an irrational element that entered from without, but the members of the body warred against the will of man. And that which was previously pure now becomes shameful and evil. I speak of the office of generation. Augustine writes: "Justly is shame specially connected with this lust; justly, too, these members themselves, being moved and restrained not at our will, but by an independent autocracy, are called 'shameful.' Their condition was different before sin. For as it is written, 'They were naked and were not ashamed,'-- not that their nakedness was unknown to them, but because nakedness was not yet shameful, because not yet did lust move those members without the will's consent; not yet did the flesh by its disobedience testify against the disobedience of man." (City of God, XIV. xvii).
So, the state of man today is much different from that in which he stood before the fall. Paul testifies to this when he writes: "For I delight in the law of God, after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is my members" (Romans 7: 22-23). That is, the body or lower part of man, now wars against the will, so that we "cannot do the things that we would" (Gal. 5: 17). But the blessed apostle says: "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 7: 24-25). The Lord Jesus Christ ordained to annul this warfare; firstly, by purging our sins in His own blood, thus cleansing the conscience from guilt; then, by sending the Holy Spirit upon us to renew our wills, that we may follow that alone which is acceptable to God; and finally, when He comes again, to re-unite soul and body in their pristine condition. Until that time the warfare must continue. But, when it is ended, how will any man attribute to the saints the works of the flesh? Such an one must show his ignorance of the power of God.
[.... edit]

For, think ye, how does one suppose that sin is transmitted from generation to generation? We believe in the doctrines of Traducianism, that is, that sin is transmitted in the act of conception. Which truth is borne out by the Scriptures; as, for instance, when Job says: "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one" (Job 14: 4); or David, when repenting before God, he cries: "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psalm 51: 5). From these texts, and from the teachings of the orthodox fathers, we rightly infer that sin is transmitted in natural generation from father to son. And anyone who disagrees must be willing to give their view of the origin of the soul--an important doctrine that mustn't be laid aside.
There are three views of the origin of the soul. The view which we hold, called Traducian, teaches that soul and body are conceived, formed, and perfected in element simultaneously. And this may be confirmed when we consider that no life can exist without the conjunction of the soul and body. Thus, in order for life to begin, soul and body must begin together. As Tertullian writes: "Now we allow that life begins with conception, because we contend that the soul also begins with conception; life taking its commencement at the same moment and place that the soul does. Thus, then, the processes which act to produce separation by death, also combine in simultaneous action to produce life." (De Anima, xxvii). The two views which are opposed to Traducianism are respectively known as "Creationism" and "Pre-Existence." Creationism typically holds that the soul is created at some point after conception; whilst Pre-existence teaches that the soul exists from eternity.
Obviously, both of these opposing views are false. For the one implies that bodies are formed before souls, the other that souls are formed before bodies. The abortionists would have us to accept the former, whilst those who preach a Gnostic/ subjective salvation would necessarily incline to the latter. Regarding Creationism, let us hear from Gregory of Nyssa: "As man is one, the being consisting of soul and body, we are to suppose that the beginning of his existence is one, common to both parts, so that he should not be found to be antecedent and posterior to himself, if the bodily element were first in point of time, and the other were a later addition." (On the Making of Man, xxix).
Concerning Pre-Existence, it is enough to say that any soul which existed in past eternity would be unbegotten; and this would place souls on an equality with God Himself--an impious and irreverent absurdity. Then, too, such a view itself would cancel out any requirement of the soul's salvation, considering that the soul, existing as it did in past eternity, would only return to its eternal state after death. For, if some new thing should befall the soul, God's eternal purpose would be divided against itself. But, if no new thing can befall the soul, (and this affirms the immutability of the Divine counsel,) what need is there for salvation?
The concept of Pre-Existence, which can be traced back to Plato, has been refuted so eloquently by the fathers, that we need not dwell upon it much further. A single quote from Irenaeus will suffice: "But all things which proceed from Him, whatsoever have been made, and are made, do indeed receive their own beginning of generation, and on this account are inferior to Him Who formed them, inasmuch as they are not unbegotten. Nevertheless they endure, and extend their existence into a long series of ages in accordance with the will of God their Creator; so that He grants them that they should be thus formed at the beginning, and that they should so exist afterwards." (Against Heresies, II. xxxiv. 2).
What, then, may be infer to be the truth of the matter? Certainly that the soul, having no prior existence in eternity, is formed in the act of conception, by what precise means we do not know, nor do we think it wise to peer too closely into such matters. Again, that the body, in order to have life at all, must have its own soul, so that soul and body begin together. And if you think about it, you'll soon discern that Traducianism is the correct doctrine. For if it were false, what need would there be for an Immaculate Conception? But, Christ being sinless, it was first of all necessary that He should be born of a Virgin. Then it was needful that Mary should conceive, not by man, but by the Holy Spirit. "And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest should overshadow thee: therefore also that Holy thing that shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God" (Luke 1: 35).
Where are we going with all this? We are saying, in the clearest terms possible, that the sinful condition brought upon the race by Adam's transgression, and which includes physical death, and the transmission of ills from father to son, will be removed and blotted out in the First Resurrection--and that not hypothetically or subjectively, but in a real and objective sense. For as the warfare between the spirit and the flesh is experimental, so it will be removed in an experimental sense. As shame and disgrace are moral experiences, they must be removed experimentally, and not hypothetically. But, first man must be melted down in the crucible of death, that, rising into life from the ashes of corruption, like the Phoenix of yore, he may attain to that blessed newness of the First Resurrection. [... edit]..

Perhaps Isaiah had regard to these things, when, in predicting the "new heavens and new earth," he wrote: "They shall not labor in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them" (Isaiah 65: 23). And elsewhere he writes: "And their seed shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people: all that see them shall acknowledge, that they are the seed which the Lord hath blessed" (Isaiah 61: 9). And the Psalmist, as if envisioning this new and glorious race to come in the days of the Messiah, writes: "There shall be an handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon: and they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth" (Psa. 72: 16). [..edit...].

However, let those who yet stand in doubt as to non-resurrected Israelites bearing children in that age, only bethink themselves of the doctrines of A-Millennialism, and even Post-Millennialism. Now, the former holds that we are living in the Millennium today. And yet the saints continue to bear children. According to their scheme marriage is not taken away until the second resurrection. Then, also, the great majority of Post-Millennialists teach that the "thousand years" are still future. Now, we teach nothing at variance with either A- or Post-Millennialists. For Chiliasm holds that the Millennium is future, that the non-resurrected, but wholly regenerated remnant of Israel, shall marry and have children, and that after the age is finished they shall be made "equal unto the angels" (Matt. 22: 30). [edit...]

...Although Commodian holds the belief that the resurrected saints will marry, other Chiliasts hold that we shall be made "equal unto the angels" when the First Resurrection begins. And really, the distinction is probably not a very vital one. After all, so long as one believes that there must be a personal return of Christ to restore all things, he should not be far from the truth, no matter which opinion he adopts. But, as Christ's advent is still future, there are struggles to endure, and trials to overcome. First, there must be a gathering together of the elect from the four corners of heaven (Matt. 24: 31). Next, a destruction of the wicked must take place. After that, a marvelous regeneration of the whole fabric of the world will occur. Then shall commence an age of glory, the likes of which man has never seen before.
To be continued...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Reformed Chiliasm (Part 15)

In order to gauge the precise nature of the "First Resurrection," we must understand exactly what is meant by the term "death." In accordance with the uniform teachings of historic, orthodox Christianity, we unhesitatingly aver that by "death" is meant the departure of the soul from the body. For what is "life," but the conjunction of the soul and body, by which union the body lives? Since, however, there are indications that death enters the soul's domain as well, a more detailed definition is required. But rather than invent some new theory of our own, let us go back to the teachings of the Christian church and try to fetch forth a more explicit definition.

There is really no better synopsis of the matter than that which has already been given by St. Augustine. In his discussion of "what death God intended, when He threatened our first parents with death if they should disobey his commandment," he writes: "When, therefore, it is asked what death it was with which God threatened our first parents if they should transgress the commandment they had received from Him, and should fail to preserve their obedience--whether it was the death of soul, or body, or of the whole man, or that which is called second death, --we must answer, It is all. For the first consists of two; the second is the complete death, which consists of all. For, as the whole earth consists of many lands, and the Church universal of many churches, so death universal consists of all deaths. The first consists of two, one of the body, and another of the soul. So that the first death is a death of the whole man, since the soul without God and without the body suffers punishment for a time; but the second is when the soul, without God but with the body, suffers punishment everlasting. When, therefore, God said to that first man whom he had placed in Paradise, 'In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die,' that threatening included not only the first part of the first death, by which the soul is deprived of God; nor only the subsequent part of the first death, by which the body is deprived of the soul; nor only the whole first death itself, by which the soul is punished in separation from God and from the body;--but it includes whatever of death there is even to that final death which is called second, and to which none is subsequent." (City of God, XIII. xii).

You'll see in Augustine's synopsis a definition of both the first and second deaths. The "first death" involves a separation of God from the soul on account of sin. But it also comprises a separation of the soul from the body. These two component factors are brought forward in Scripture: the first by Paul, who says, "And you hath He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2: 1)-- intimating that the soul became separated from God on account of transgressions of His law-- and the second, in the common account which we often read in passages such as: "And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years; and he died" (Gen. 5: 5). Adam "died" when his soul and body were sundered one from the other. This is physical death, as the former is spiritual. And these twin components of the first death are experienced by every member of humanity.

Now, following Augustine's definition, it becomes clear the second death involves a re-union of the body and soul, but in a state of permanent separation from God. It is to this death our Lord has reference when He says: "But rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10: 28). In no uncertain terms Christ is announcing that soul and body will be re-united when this "destruction," or second death, takes place. And John tells is that this will occur during the second, or general, resurrection (Rev. 20: 11-15).

What, then, is the nature of the "first resurrection"? Let us follow logic, and see where it guides us. Whatever the first resurrection may be, it obviously repairs and annuls the first death. But, we read in the sacred texts that it also seals one from the "second death" (Rev. 20: 6): "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years." So, it is the reparation of the first death, the antithesis of the second. The definition, then, is easy to determine. As the second death concerns the reunion of soul and body in permanent separation from God, so the first resurrection involves the reunion of soul and body in God's permanent presence. This is the "First Resurrection."

At one point, St. Augustine apparently followed these truths to their evident conclusions, embracing a Chilast system of Divinity. Alluding to his original view, he makes an interesting remark: "And this opinion would not be objectionable, if it were believed that the joys of the saints in that Sabbath shall be spiritual, and consequent on the presence of God; for I myself, too, once held this opinion." (City of God, XX. vii). However, he later dropped Chiliasm in preference to A-Millennialism; and his spiritual interpretation became prominent, insomuch that it has since been the official teachings of the Roman church on the the Millennium.

Nevertheless, Augustine's own definitions of the first and second deaths seem to confute any A-Millennial theory. For, according to that system, the "first resurrection" is simply the restoration of the soul to God, effected in the Divine work of regeneration. But that does not cancel and repair the "first death" entirely, but only partially. And herein it is manifest that A-Millennialism is false. For the saints already enjoy the resurrection of regeneration (Titus 3: 5), but nonetheless are exhorted to await a "better resurrection" (Heb. 11: 35). What must this resurrection be, if not the re-union of soul and body in the presence of God? For the fathers had the anointing of the Holy Spirit, as well as ourselves (Ps. 51: 11-12). And yet we, as well as they, await this "better resurrection" (Heb. 11: 39-40). That is, the entire assembly of Christ's elect await that time when their bodies and souls will be re-united, and they shall enter the kingdom of Jesus Christ when He comes to reign on earth. And in that day we shall stand in His presence, in that exact same condition which Adam enjoyed before he sinned. This is the meaning of the "First Resurrection."

This resurrection was foretold by the prophet Ezekiel in his vision of the raising up of the dry bones. He writes: "The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones. And caused me to pass by them round about: and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and lo, they were very dry. And He aid unto me, son of man, can these bones live? and I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest. Again He said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord. So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. Then said He unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army. Then He said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dry, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts. Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, And shall put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord." (Ezek. 37: 1-14).

Of course, there be some who allegorize these prophecies, and assert that the passages do not at all speak of the raising up of our bodies, but must be understood in a mystical sense. Such an one was Origen, who evidently taught that the raising of the dry bones was figurative of the release of the Israelites from their Babylonian captivity. It is obvious, however, that this view is totally subjective. Tertullian, commenting on such opinions, writes: "Unquestionably, if the people were indulging in figurative murmurs that their bones were become dry, and that their hope had perished--plaintive at the consequences of their dispersion--then might God fairly enough seem to have consoled their figurative despair with a figurative promise. Since, however, no injury had as yet alighted on the people from their dispersion, although the hope of the resurrection had very frequently failed amongst them, it was manifest that it was owing to the perishing condition of their bodies that their faith in the resurrection was shaken. God, therefore, was rebuilding the faith which the people were pulling down." (De Resurrectione Carnis, xxxi).

Tertullian's view, which represents that of the early fathers in general, must be recognized as the correct and orthodox position. In recent years it has been contested and overthrown, and that primarily by men who have little faith in the ability of God to accomplish His own designs (as evidenced by their practical and dogmatic rejection of the Holy Spirit's ministry), but limit everything to according to their own power. Perhaps science has had something to do with this departure from the faith; yet not science as the legitimate pursuit of knowledge, but "oppositions of science falsely so called" (1 Tim. 6: 20); the scientific positivism which reduces all knowledge to that alone which it has already verified. This kind of science is the dry-rot of humanity. It draws a circle about our perceptions of truth, beyond the bounds of which no man is permitted to venture. If he should do so, he is branded as ignorant or superstitious, perhaps both.

But, as all Divine truth lies outside this circle of skepticism, it becomes plain that reason alone can never account for that which it is God's prerogative to fulfill in His own time. God has promised a resurrection, and it shall be fulfilled. Should science deny such a resurrection, this cannot alter God's purpose, nor His ability to effect His will. Therefore, science as a means of "yeaing" or "naying" the dictates of the Almighty, is both vain and futile. But faith is everything.

We've determined that the precise nature of the "First Resurrection" is the re-union of the souls and bodies of the saints, and that such re-union will restore them to those conditions in which Adam stood before he transgressed. Man will no longer be corruptible, but shall be rendered incorruptible. As Gregory of Nyssa defined it, resurrection will be the "re-constitution of our nature in its original form." (On the Soul and the Resurrection). Notwithstanding, there is some distinction to be made between this renewed nature and that which will render us "equal to the angels" (Luke 20: 36). For, Adam was never equal to the angels; but David saith: "Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor" (Psa. 8: 5). Thus, if the "First Resurrection" is tantamount to the "restitution of all things," then the rendering of man equal to the angels must and can only occur after the thousand years have been completed.

And, this view, far from being unacceptable, is advanced by all of the early Chiliasts whose writings I've consulted. In the third article of this series, I made mention of Commodian's belief, that during the thousand years those raised to life would marry and beget children; and this would seem to be countenanced by Ezekiel, when he says: "And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt, and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children's children for ever: and my servant David shall be their Prince for ever" (Ezek. 37: 25). The view, of course, would be somewhat questionable if it were not countenanced by certain Patristic authority. To our regret, Lactantius is not clear whether the saints will bear children or not. He writes: "Then they who shall be alive in their bodies shall not die, but during those thousand years shall produce an infinite multitude, and their offspring shall be holy, and beloved by God; but they who shall be raised from the dead shall preside over the living as judges." (Divine Institutes, VII. xxiv).

Commodian alone makes an implicit statement that the saints of the First Resurrection will marry and beget children. Nevertheless, Irenaeus, Lactantius, and Tertullian, and himself all agree that the First Resurrection is not that which will make us "equal unto the angels," but is rather the resurrection that commences that process. Irenaeus writes that the Millennial kingdom is the commencement of incorruption, by which we are gradually accustomed to partake of the Divine nature. (Against Heresies, V. xxxii. 1). He also says that during this period the saints shall be "disciplined beforehand for incorruption" (Ibid., V. xxv. 2). That is, they shall not be made perfect until the thousand years are complete. Lactantius, too, places the perfection of our resurrection after the Millennium: "But when the thousand years shall be completed, the world shall be renwed 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." (Divine Institutes, VII xxvi).

Tertullian is not very explicit in his statements concerning the Millennium. However, enough may be fetched from his writings to infer that he likewise held that the First Resurrection was only the beginning of the perfection of the saints. He writes: "Not that we indeed claim the kingdom of God for the flesh: all we do is, to assert a resurrection for the substance thereof, as the gate of the kingdom through which it is entered. But the resurrection is one thing, and the kingdom another. The resurrection is first, and afterwards the kingdom. We say, therefore, that the flesh rises again, but that when changed it obtains the kingdom." (Against Marcion, V. x). Referring again to the Millennium, he writes: "After its thousand years are over, within which period is completed the resurrection of the saints, who rise sooner or later according to their deserts, there will ensue the destruction of the world, and the conflagration of all things at the judgment: we shall then be changed in a moment into the substance of angels, even by the investiture of an incorruptible nature, and so be removed to that kingdom in heaven of which we have now been treating." (Ibid., III. xxv).

Of course, Tertullian sees the incorruptibility of the body as being confirmed in the second resurrection-- not the first. But we rather believe that the First Resurrection will render us incorruptible, inasmuch as Adam knew no corruption before he sinned. And our Lord's own resurrection released Him from the bonds of corruption (Acts 2: 31; 13: 30-37); and after forty days among His disciples, He ascended into heaven. But whatever view you choose to adopt, it must be admitted that the bearing of children was something made possible to Adam and Eve before they sinned. For, it is written, "And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth" (Gen. 1: 28). In the restitution, therefore, when Paradise is restored to earth, and man once more stands in the presence of God, we must believe that he shall have power, of his own will, and without sinful passion, of begetting children who shall be "holy unto the Lord."

To be continued...