The Kingdom of God the Final Instrumentality in the Great Scheme of Human Redemption
In all God’s doings, there is purpose. Everything is planned; everything adapted with the utmost exactness of wisdom to the accomplishment of a pre-determined end. All His plans are characterised by illimitable comprehensiveness of bearing, like His own mind, which takes into account the infinitude of minute circumstance and remote contingency that surround us, “knowing all things from the end to the beginning.” He is wise—He makes no mistakes; and He is economical—He wastes no effort. He accomplishes as much as possible with as little as possible. The result always transcends the means: the good always overtops and outnumbers the evil.
When, therefore, we are called upon to contemplate any declared purpose of God, we are presented with a subject of study which is sure to have in it a depth and fertility delightful to the mind to explore. This is true of God’s natural wonders in creation, where we see all these principles abundantly exemplified; how much more is it true of His schemes in relation to the intelligent creatures whom He has formed in His own image?
Now the testimony advanced in previous lectures clearly demonstrates the purpose of God to interfere in human affairs, to destroy every form of human government at present existing on earth, and to establish a visible kingdom of His own. It shows that when the time arrives, He will take the power out of the hands of the erring mortals who now possess it, and transfer it to Jesus Christ and his “called, chosen, and faithful” ones, who will administer the affairs of the world in wisdom and righteousness. This being the purpose, it now remains for us to enquire what is the object of the purpose, and what its consummation. To some, the idea of a literal governing of mankind upon earth will seem out of joint with the scheme which proposes the restoration of the human family to friendship with their Creator, and their exaltation to angelic existence. The question will be asked, Is the Almighty’s purpose with mankind to rise no higher than perfection in the government of mortal generations? Is this the glorious salvation which dwelt from everlasting in the bosom of the Eternal, which the prophets sung, and which the Son of God confirmed in tears and blood? The answers to these questions, derivable from the Scriptures, will allay the incredulity indicated by them, if the questioner be conscientious and devout.
The kingdom of God is itself but an instrumentality—another step in the march of God’s beneficent scheme—another stage in the accomplishment of His purpose to “gather together in one all things in Christ” (Eph. 1:10). It only lasts for a thousand years (Rev. 20:6). What is to be accomplished during this period? Paul says, “He (Jesus) must reign, till he hath put ALL ENEMIES under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (I Cor. 15:25–26). Hence the millennial mission of Christ is to subdue “all enemies,” which he will accomplish within the period of a thousand years. The “enemies” spoken of are not necessarily personal enemies, for death is mentioned as the last of them, which we know to be an event, and not a personal adversary. Hence, we may understand Paul’s statement to mean that “he must reign till he hath subdued every evil.” This being so, we have a starting point supplied to us in our endeavour to understand the mission of the kingdom of God. It is to subdue “all enemies,” or every evil.
Now the “all enemies” are of various kinds. The first class that will be subjected to the subduing power of the kingdom are the governments of the earth. “It shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms” (Dan. 2:44). This is the first operation—to break up the existing arrangement of things political—to take the government of mankind out of the hands of mortals, and place it in the hands of the King whom God has prepared as the all-wise, and all-just, and all-humane “governor among the nations.” Now it must be admitted that this will be a great thing accomplished, a great enemy subdued; for some of the greatest evils that affect the present state of man originate in bad government. This is true in a more extensive sense than is commonly apprehended, though the connection is beginning to be suspected, and in some countries loudly proclaimed. The crudest illustration of the subject is visible in what are called “savage” countries. There, for want of government, there is no civilisation Violence rules the day, and prevents the development of excellence of any kind; caprice and passion reign; might is right; brute force, under the guidance of selfish instinct, is in the ascendant; and mankind, instead of dwelling together in social unity and concord, herd in warring factions, and disgrace the name of man by their ways. Human life and the possession of property are the uncertainties of the hour. “The dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty” (Psa. 74:20).
Are semi-barbarous nations much better? In some respects they are worse. Ignorance and class interests provide and enforce laws which outrage justice, and multiply the evils of oppression. The uncertain barbarities of African life are, in some respects, to be preferred to the consolidated tyrannies of Asiatic rule; for, in the former case, encroachment may be resented with success—man against man—tribe against tribe; but there is no chance for the individual against organised oppression.
In Europe, things are a little more decent; but not much the better for their decency. There is “order” of a certain sort, but not the order of well being for the populations. It is the “order” of iron-handed repression—the military enforcement of despotism in all that relates to private life; and the consequent dwarfing of intellect, stunting of moral life. and withering of the enterprise of the population.
And do we find no bad government in our own favoured country? Some would answer, No. Enlightenment will give a different answer. Is there no class usurpation? No monopoly of the soil? No surfeiting of a pampered few at the expense of starving and groaning millions? No brutalising of the mass by perpetual toil and pinching? Ay, there are more evils than the neck accustomed to the halter is sensible of. There is more ill-being and misery and crime in this country than decent, well-to-do people, absorbed in their own little Concerns, can realise. In great part, as many are beginning to see, the evil comes from a system which keeps the wealth of the country in a few hands, and deprives the majority of the opportunity of realising the true objects and enjoyments of life. The law also is administered with a circumlocution and expense which defeat the true objects of justice. These are evils that cannot be remedied in the present age. They are the inevitable results of government by human fallibility and impotence. They will disappear only when the adequate means provided by the kingdom of God are applied.
Surveying the world of human government as a whole then, we see the greatness of the first enemy which the kingdom of God will subdue. The subjugation of the powers that be will be its first achievement, resulting in the “kingdoms of this world” becoming, “the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ” (Rev. 11:15). For one government will take the place of many: God in Christ will reign, instead of mortal man. “The Lord shall be King over all the earth; in that day shall there be one Lord, and His name one” (Zech. 14:9). The result of this will be the cure of all the evils enumerated. Savage countries, Asiatic countries, European countries, will all come under the sway of His “rod of iron,” which will “break in pieces the oppressor.” All inimical institutions and practices will fall before the vigour which destroys kingdoms; individual misdemeanours will be restrained, and individual ways regulated, by the indomitable power that breaks dynasties. A universal absolutism, wielded with wisdom and humanity, will rule in general and detail—nothing too vast for its scope, nothing too small for its notice: and thus will the world know the blessedness of true government for the first time:—
“He shall judge the poor of the people, He shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. They shall fear Thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations. He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass; as showers that water the earth. In His days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth. He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before Him; and His enemies shall lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before Him; all nations shall serve Him. For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper. He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy. He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence, and precious shall their blood be in His sight. His name shall endure for ever; His name shall be continued as long as the sun; and men shall be blessed in Him; all nations shall call Him blessed” (Psa. 72:4–14, 17).
But another enemy may survive when those of a political character are destroyed. The caste, ignorance, and depravity of the people would continue to be a great curse under the best political arrangements. Men are now trying to cure this by various agencies: educational works, Blue Ribbon movements, Mechanics’ Institutions, Temperance Societies, Missionary Societies, “Salvation” Armies, Home Missions, etc., are among the instrumentalities by which reformers hope to improve the world, and bring about the “millennium.” The idea is vain. The regeneration of the world is beyond human accomplishment. A partial benefit no doubt results from the educational and reformatory activities of the present century. Knowledge is extended; but that does not necessarily mean improvement. Morality and religion are not progressing with education. It is now admitted by the thoughtful among public reformers, who once thought more sanguinely, that the world, if getting more clever, is not growing better; and facts justify the belief. Robust and manly principle grows more stunted as knowledge increases. Flippancy is the order of the day; scepticism is leavening society with alarming progress; and instead of an approaching millennium, we are, to all human appearance, drifting upon an age when the exigencies of self-interest and commercial competition will have eaten out the moral sense, and blunted all generous feeling in the people; when morals will be practised merely for the purpose of keeping on the right side of the law, and religion professed with a view to customers.
But another and a different prospect appears when we turn to the Scriptures; when we contemplate the coming of the kingdom of God:—
“The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).
When the earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, it follows that the ignorance and barbarism of the present time will have vanished. But how is this result to be practically attained? The machinery of the kingdom of God is the answer. When the governments of the earth have been overthrown, and divine authority established with firm hand in every part of the globe, it will be an easy matter to enlighten and emancipate the “people, nations, and languages” that will render allegiance to the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. This is done by a process which will afford pleasure and honour to the rulers of the age, while conferring benefit on the subject people. The centre of activity is Jerusalem, as in the case of the gospel in the first century. “At that time,” says Jeremiah, chapter 3:17, “they shall call Jerusalem THE THRONE OF THE LORD, and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart.” Here is a turning from evil on the part of the nations as the result of their subjection to Jerusalem, when occupied as the throne of the Lord. What is the connection between the two things? How does the one result from the other? The answer is, because from Jerusalem emanates a teaching and a law which, divinely administered, works an intellectual, moral, and social reformation. This is evident from the following testimony:—
“And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of HIS WAYS, and we will walk in HIS paths: for OUT OF ZION SHALL GO FORTH THE LAW, AND THE WORD OF THE LORD FROM JERUSALEM. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isa. 2:3, 4).
Jerusalem, once more the centre from which divine illumination will irradiate, will be so this second time, on a larger and grander scale, and with more glorious results:—
“And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. AND HE WILL DESTROY IN THIS MOUNTAIN THE FACE OF THE COVERING CAST OVER ALL PEOPLE, AND THE VAIL THAT IS SPREAD OVER ALL NATIONS. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall He take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it. And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God: we have waited for Him, and He will save us; this is the Lord, we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation” (Isa. 25:6–9).
The feast is to be provided in Mount Zion; this is the reason why the nations gather there to partake of it. Their gathering, however, will not be simultaneous. “God is not the author of confusion,” says Paul: the aggregation of the world’s populations in such a comparatively small neighbourhood would certainly involve confusion. The prophetic testimony shows that there will be a pilgrimage from all parts of the earth from one year’s end to the other in which all nations will take their turn. It will be periodical, and take place in every case once a year, as is evident, from Zech. 14:16, 17:—
“And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up FROM YEAR TO YEAR to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles. And it shall be, that who will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, even upon them shall be no rain.”
This annual pilgrimage will be fraught with many blessings. To individuals it will be annual relief from the routine of common life (which routine, at the same time, will be vastly less laborious, both as to the duration and manner of occupation, than the present modes of life), and an annual refreshing physically by travel, and spiritually by contemplation of the objects of the journey, and by the actual instruction received at “the city of the great king.” Nationally, it will be a yearly riveting of the bonds of happy and contented allegiance that will bind all people to the throne of David, occupied by his illustrious son—Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, and King of the Jews. This glorious epoch in the world’s history finds the following fore-shadowing from Psalm 102:13–22:—
“Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion; for the time to favour her, yea, the set time is come. For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof. So the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth thy glow. When the Lord shall build up Zion, HE shall appear IN HIS GLORY. He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer. This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the Lord. For He hath looked down from the height of His sanctuary: from heaven did the Lord behold the earth: to hear the groaning of the prisoner: to loose those that are appointed to death; to declare the name of the Lord in Zion, and His praise in Jerusalem, when the people are gathered together, and the kingdoms, to serve the Lord.”
Thus will the earth become filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea, and thus will be realised the petition, “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” Then for the first time will be fulfilled the prophetic song of the angels, chanted at the birth of him who is to be its accomplisher, “GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST, AND ON EARTH PEACE, GOODWILL TOWARD MEN.”
“And the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” Death will continue during the thousand years’ preliminary phase of the kingdom—not among the rulers, Jesus and the saints, who are immortal, but among the subject nations who continue as they are now, the death-stricken descendants of the first Adam. “The child shall die an hundred years old” (Isa. 65:20). Death may happen at a hundred years, but, even then, a man will be considered a child. As for an “old man,” the term will never be applied to any one that has not run his centuries, as of old. By reason of the certainty of life, and the stability of the new order of things in the hands of Christ and his brethren, the houses they (Israel) shall build, they shall inhabit; the vineyards they shall plant, they shall eat the fruit of (Isa. 65:20, 22). It will not happen as it frequently has happened in past times, that the work of their hands has been enjoyed by others, even as Moses foretold to them, saying, “Thou shalt build an house, and thou shalt not dwell therein; thou shalt plant a vineyard, and shalt not gather the grapes thereof” (Deut. 28:30). As the days of a tree (which flourishes for centuries) shall be the days of Jehovah’s people; they shall wear out the works of their hands.
But more blessed still shall be their rulers and the rulers of the nations; for they shall not die any more (Luke 20:36), and they shall inherit the land for ever. But, ultimately, death will be abolished in all the earth. Its subjugation, however, comes last in order: all other enemies are got out of the way first; and then the greatest and most formidable is removed for ever. On what principle? Seeing that all the saved pertaining to this and past dispensations will be admitted to eternal life at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and associated with him in the government of the world, on what principle are the mortal subjects of Messiah’s reign to be dealt with, so as to admit of their participation in the glorious gift of immortality? We are admitted to the answer in Rev. 20. We shall quote entire that part of the chapter which relates to the point in hand, verses 7–15:—
“And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city; and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away, and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them; and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”
Here we have a predicted insurrection at the close of the millennium, which is allowed to gather strength, and come to a head, and which is then to be summarily suppressed by an outburst of divine judgment at “the beloved city”—Jerusalem. This is followed by a general judgment. Now who are arraigned at this judgment? It cannot be the saints who have been associated with Christ in government during the previous thousand years, who at the beginning of his reign have been welcomed as “good and faithful servants” into his joy. These have been judged already. They appeared before his judgment-seat at his coming, and gave an account, and were dealt with accordingly.
Who, then, are thus to be judged at the close of the thousand years? Obviously those who have lived during the thousand years. The subjects of Messiah’s kingdom will be placed under a different system from that which we are connected with, and no doubt it will be of such a nature as to call for the exercise of faith, notwithstanding the visible manifestation of divine power among them, for, “without faith it is impossible to please God.” However that may be, the result of their judgment is that many of them are found “written in the book of life,” and receive eternal life.
But what becomes of the remainder? The answer is, “Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” This lake of fire is one of the symbols employed in the Apocalypse. The Apocalypse is full of symbol. It is “the revelation of Jesus Christ … SIGNIFIED by his angel”—a revelation indicated by sign, as the sequel shows. The prophetic facts intended to be communicated are portrayed in symbol, and an occasional hint of interpretation is dropped to enable “his servants” to decipher the hieroglyphs employed. The hint dropped in this case is this (chapter 20:14): “This is THE SECOND DEATH”; or, to make the matter more certain (Rev. 21:8), “All liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, WHICH IS THE SECOND DEATH.” Here, the lake of fire is introduced to us as a symbol signifying the second death.
What is the second death? “Second” implies a first. We cannot conceive of a second without the antecedent figure—one. Where, then, shall we look for the first death? Obviously to that “accident of life” which overtakes all the living; “It is appointed unto men ONCE to die.” A wicked man dies in the natural course of events; but, if amenable to judgment, he is raised again—restored to life for punishment. And what follows judgment? Condemnation—few stripes or many stripes. And what after the stripes? Death a second time; but a death different to the first, inasmuch as it is directly inflicted by divine displeasure, and consigns its victims to an oblivion from which there is no reclaim by resurrection. It is a death that wipes away every vestige of their being from God’s creation. “The day that cometh,” says Malachi (chapter 4:1), “shall burn them up, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” And David’s declaration is, that “The enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs. They shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away” (Psa. 37:20).
How appropriate a symbol of such a fate is a lake of fire. The only conception we can have of such a thing is supplied by the pools of incandescent iron to be seen at blast furnaces. Throw an animal into one of these pools, and what is the result? Instant annihilation. Not a vestige of the creature’s substance survives the action of the destructive element. Complete, and immediate, and irretrievable destruction, then, is the idea suggested by a lake of fire; and how appropriate is such a symbol to signify the second death, which will destroy, with double destruction, even “soul and body” (Matt. 10:28).
When every one not found written in the book of life is cast into the lake of fire, what remains but the fulfilment of Paul’s statement, that “death shall be destroyed?” All that are sinful, and, therefore, deathful, are destroyed, and death is, therefore, literally destroyed with them, because there will then be none left upon whom it can prey. And, death being destroyed, what is the picture? A population of deathless beings, reclaimed by God’s intervention from the sin and death which now curse our planet. With these considerations in view, the following testimonies will be fully appreciated:—
“The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth” (Psa. 34:16).
“Let the wicked be ashamed and let them be silent in the grave” (Psa. 31:17).
“For evil doers shall be cut off; but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth; for yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be; yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be; but the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace” (Psa. 37:9–11).
“Wait on the Lord, and keep His way, and He shall exalt thee to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it” (Psa. 37:34).
“Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked BE NO MORE” (Psa. 104:35).
“The upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it; but the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it” (Prov. 2:21, 22).
“As the whirlwind passeth, so is the wicked no more: but the righteous is an everlasting foundation.… The righteous shall never be removed, but the wicked shall not inhabit the earth” (Prov. 10:25, 30).
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5).
The idea has been suggested that although the subject-inhabitants of the kingdom will not be immortal, the obedient among them may “live on” to the end of the thousand years, and then be immortalised. This idea assumes that the judgment scene of Rev. 20:11–15, is at the beginning and not at the end of the thousand years. Even if this were granted, it would not remove the general objections to the idea of no death during the thousand years.
The work of immortalising mankind is spoken of as a harvest in its final form. This being so, analogy would require us to find the nature of the harvest in the first fruits—Christ and his brethren. They are the “sample of the bulk.” Are the first fruits produced on the principle of “living on” till the time of change?
He (Christ) was the first of the ripe fruit of the life-harvest which God proposes to raise for His own glory in the earth (I Cor. 15 23: see the shadow in Lev. 23:10–20, in the presentation of the first sheaf of fruit, which coincided in point of time with Christ’s ascension). Now the rest of the harvest must follow in the same process of raising. Christ attained to life by faith and obdience (Phil. 2:9; Heb. 5:7). His brethren of the present dispensation attain it in the same way through him. They do not “live on to the end” of the times of the Gentiles. They die as other men. The principle observed in the process of their development requires this. This principle is faith, which is confidence in the promise of God. If, the moment a man believed in the gospel, his mortal life were made sure till the coming of Christ and the change to the incorruptible, the principle of faith, by which a man honours God, “against hope, believing in hope,” would be destroyed: for all the world would “see” that there was advantage in the way of the gospel, and they would flock to the gospels not because God had promised, but because they perceived an actual present advantage in believing. It is, therefore, an absolute necessity for the exercise of faith that there should be no present apparent difference between those who serve God and those who serve Him not, but that this difference should only be perceived in the day of recompense (Mal. 3:18).
Now, what is true of the “called” in the time of the Gentiles is true of the called of the millennial age. It is necessary that they should not “live on to the end” of their particular dispensation, for faith is just as necessary for them as us, and if they did not die like other men, there would be no scope for faith and they would be an exception to Abraham and all who have gone before. They would not be of the same harvest. It would be a different crop altogether, raised upon a different principle. Though men will live longer than they do now, death will continue indiscriminately, as the law of faith requires, till the grand final triumph, when the great enemy will be destroyed for ever, and every inhabitant of ransomed earth be able to say, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”
There is this difference between the introduction of death and the introduction of resurrection unto life: death passed upon all men at once, whereas in resurrection, there is a gradual order of development, marked by three stages. Paul states this order in the following terms: “But every man in his own ORDER: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming: then the end (‘cometh’ is not in the original), when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all authority and power. For he must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (I Cor. 15:23–26).
Here we have a “first,” an “afterwards,” and a “then,” as the “order” of resurrection. The introduction of the word “cometh” interrupts the “order.” There is resurrection at “the end,” for the end is introduced expressly in connection with the order of the resurrection, and not only so, but Paul makes the reign of Christ result in the putting down of all enemies, including “death,” which he makes the “last.”
That this destruction of death involves resurrection, is illustrated in the case of “those that are Christ’s at his coming.” Death in their case is “swallowed up (or destroyed) in victory,” in their being raised from the dead no more to see corruption. The nature of the case demands that there should be resurrection at the close of the thousand years; for when Christ comes, those only are immortalised who are his own. And if the rest are not immortalised, they must die as Abraham and all the saints have died, for it is the nature of mortality to die. And dying in faith, how are they to receive the promise if they rise not? And when should they rise but at “the end” of the millennial dispensation, where Paul places it? The figure that likens the 144,000 to “first fruits,” requires that they should be followed by a harvest in the resurrection of all who come to moral ripeness in the age, but physically fall asleep, as all the fathers have done.
The fitness of things requires this. “To whom much is given, of them is much required.” The first-century believers enjoyed the privilege of the Spirit gifts and the company of personal acquaintances of the Lord; and they were required to prove their faithfulness in confiscation and prison, and at the executioner’s block. We of the latter days have no open vision or witness of the Spirit in its wonder-working power. We have but the written and historical evidence of God’s operations in the past. Having received “less” than our brethren of old, we are not called upon, like them, to go to prison and to death, but have times of liberty and peace wherein to manifest our love. In the age to come, privileges such as have never fallen to the lot of mortal man will be enjoyed by the peoples, nations, and languages, who will rejoice in the rule of Christ and the saints. Instead, therefore, of their position calling for exemption from death, it rather requires that their faith and obedience should be developed and tested by its prevalence until the time for its destruction as the “last enemy” arrives, in the resurrection and glorification of all who in that blessed age secure the approbation of God.
The performance of sacrifice in that age (Zech. 14:21; Mal. 3:4; Isa, 60:7; Ezek. 44:29, 30), involves the conclusion that death is in operation among the offerers. The existence of priesthood (for the saints are priests as well as kings) carries with it the same conclusion; for priesthood arises out of the existence of sin, and sin brings death. If there were no death, it would argue the absence of sin—a fact which would exclude sin-offerings from the office of priesthood. But death continues until it is destroyed at “the end.”
There is express recognition of the existence of death in Ezekiel’s description of the temple service of the future age. Thus, of one order of priests it is said, “They shall come at no DEAD PERSON to defile themselves” (Ezek. 44:25). Again, in the selection of wives, they are prohibited from marrying “a widow or her that is put away,” but may take “a widow THAT HAD A PRIEST BEFORE” (22), from which it follows that death is a common occurrence at the time.
It cannot be suggested that the dead in these cases die for contumacy: for the people shall be all righteous (Isa. 60:21). Death prevails in common, whence springs the necessity for resurrection at the end—that is the end of the thousand years; for how otherwise are the highly responsible dead of those times to be dealt with according to their deeds? “Old men that have not filled their days” belong to that time (Isa. 65:20) with staff in their hands for very age (Zech. 8:4), which argues death at the completion of their natural term without any idea of judicial infliction. Children die an hundred years old (Isa. 65:20). The time of judgment for those then in probation for eternal life is “when the thousand years are expired.” The dead, small and great, come forth multitudinously—we may say universally, as times of universal knowledge will have required. The sea gives up the dead: death and hades give up the dead which are in them, and they are judged every man according to their works (Rev. 20:12–13). Every one not found written in the book of life is given over to the second death (15). We can understand, on this principle, how it is that the casting of the rejected into the lake of fire is the casting of death and hell (hades—the grave) there; for with the rejected will for ever perish from the earth all trace of death and the grave.
This post-millennial resurrection is mentioned in connection with the resurrection of the first fruits—those who “live and reign with Christ a thousand years,” and who are, therefore, raised at the beginning of that period. John seeing them enthroned after their resurrection, says, “But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished” (Rev. 20:5).
Some think the idea of a post-millennial resurrection of the righteous is excluded by the next statement: “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.” They understand this to mean that all are cursed who rise at the end of the thousand years. A close consideration of the verse, however, will show that the statement bears exclusively on those who rise and are approved when Christ comes, and not at all on those who rise at the third and last stage.
Some read this “first resurrection” as “resurrection of the first fruits.” No doubt, those who rise then are “the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb,” but this is not a translation of John’s words. John wrote “the first resurrection,” ὴ αναστασις ὴ πρωτη. Whichever way this is treated, it implies another resurrection besides itself. Understood as first in rank, it points to another lower in rank. “Resurrection of the first fruits” would refer by implication to resurrection of harvest. First in order would necessitate another or others in order. So that no sublimation or modification of the phrase can dispense with the conclusion that John contemplated another resurrection besides the one represented before his eyes in the enthroned multitude of accepted saints.
A true construction would combine all these ideas, and point to the resurrection that takes place at the coming of Christ as the one that will exceed in blessedness all other resurrections. It will introduce those who have part in it to the highest honour in store for mortals—the honour of leading mankind from their present miseries to the blessedness promised in Abraham. As Christ will always be the head of his people in the endless ages, so, doubtless, the saints that govern the millennial age will always occupy a position of glory and dignity over the ransomed multitude that will by their means enter into eternal life at the close of the thousand years.
Rev. 21, first four verses, introduces to view the post-millennial blessedness on earth, when death is abolished. “No more sea” points to this, whether taken symbolically or literally. There will be both literal ocean and “many waters” of nations during the thousand years. After the thousand years, there is no more sea of nations, for there is then but one nation, and that the immortalised multitudinous Israel of God.
But even supposing these verses were held to be descriptive of what takes place at the beginning of the thousand years, they could not be used to sanction the idea that there is to be no resurrection at the close of the thousand years. The proclamation, “There shall be no more death!” could in that case only be understood as an intimation that the abolition of death would be the ultimate effect of the New-Jerusalem government of men. The cases already cited of death during the millennium, and above all, the wholesale infliction of death on myriads at its close—(see Rev. 20:8–9)—would preclude the absolute significance which the argument in question would seek to attach to it. It would in that case be on a par with the proclamation of the angels at the birth of Christ: “On earth peace, and goodwill toward men,” which, taken by itself, would seem to intimate that peace was to begin immediately Christ was born; but, as experience has taught us, it only meant that peace would come on earth at last through the Deliverer then cradled at Bethlehem. But the wording of the glorious verses in question clearly relates to a time when “the former things” of sin and sorrow shall have passed for ever from the face of the earth.
We have to note another feature of the change that takes place at the end, indicated by Paul in the following words:—
“Then cometh the end, when he (Christ) shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father, when he shall have put down all rule, and all authority and power; for he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death … and when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all” (I Cor. 15:24–28).
From this we learn that Christ at the end of the thousand years is to abdicate the position of absolute sovereignty, which he occupies in the earth during that period. It would seem as if, on the accomplishment of his mission in the complete redemption of the world, that God Himself is manifested (without a medium) as the only eternal Governor. The idea will be apprehended in the light of Paul’s statement that “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of Christ is GOD.” During the thousand years, it is Christ’s headship that is the institution of the day: after that, it is the headship of the Father in some specially manifested form. The headship of the Father is the fact now, but it is in the background. The state of things upon the earth does not admit of its manifestation or even its recognition. During the thousand years, the headship of the Father is a visible fact in the headship of Christ. But at the end of the thousand years, the headship of the Father is manifest direct.
It, therefore, seems that the change to take place then is more a change in the aspect of things as they appear to man, than as they exist in themselves. Though no longer the supreme ruler of the earth, Christ will continue in his position of peculiar preeminence as “Captain” of the “many sons” whom he will have been instrumental in “bringing to glory.” God will be “all in all.” He will be manifested as the power, and supporter, and constitutor of all, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and ending, the only self-Almighty one. He will no longer work by interposition. He will no longer deal with man mediatively: He will establish direct communication with His perfected children; and the world—freed from sin and death—will become a happy, loyal, glory-giving province in that already universal dominion which extends to the utmost bounds of space, reflecting the wisdom and the goodness of the Highest. The divine scheme of redemption will then have been consummated: and earth’s glorified inhabitants in holy gratitude—exalted employment—and an eternity of unbroken felicity lying before them, will realise the perfection and glory and gladness of life as it is in God.
It will thus be seen that the kingdom of the thousand years is but a transitional period between the purely animal and purely spiritual ages. It will blend the elements of both. It will exhibit the perfection of the eternal ages in the Lord Jesus and the saints who will be immortal and incorruptible, and the imperfection of the human age in the mortal population who will constitute the subjects of their rule. Both will co-exist for a thousand years, and will constitute a state of things as superior to the present dispensation as it will be inferior to the glory ages beyond. The Kingdom of God will lead us by a bridge of a thousand years from the age of sin and death defection to the age of restoration to the bosom of the Deity, in righteousness and life eternal.