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...