"It is striking to notice that much of that which is revealed to us of the state of the unforgiven sinner in the next life comes from the lips of our Lord Himself (Matt.22:13; 25:46; Mark 9:43; Luke 16:23,26), and His words certainly contain the suggestion of an irrevocable and endless destiny; other Scriptures too seem to be equally emphatic as to this (2 Thess.1:7-9; 2 Peter 3:7), while the last book in the Bible speaks with no uncertainty on this matter (Rev.20:10, cf verse 15 and ch.21:8), and however much of its language may be figurative, it needs to be remembered that the figure always falls short of the reality and however emblematic the details may be, the fact to be conveyed is terrible in the extreme."
It is still more striking to note that our Lord particularly emphasizes the fact that He had left much unsaid, which could not be borne by His disciples before His death, His resurrection, His ascension, and their filling with holy spirit (John 16:12,13). So that we cannot recognize it as intelligent reverence for our Lord's own words to prefer them to those made known through later revelation. Do you not think it more sensible to prefer God's latest revelation on any theme, not because it differs from our Lord's necessarily, but because it is added to His, and is more complete and is addressed to the more mature? What would you say to this order: Our Lord's words, those of the twelve who had been with Him, and last, but not least, Paul, with his final instalment of truth in Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians? Think it over.
I have already called attention to the fact that much perplexity arises from the use of loose phrases, not found in the Scriptures. A common one is "the next life." I am not a prophet, but I am going to venture a prediction. This is that the passages which are given as proof deal with a variety of matters which ought by no means to be bunched together under this phrase. (I have not looked at them yet). Do not be too hard on me if I am wrong!
|"The Next Life" |
The first reference given is Matthew 22:13, which reads: "Then the king said to the servants, `Bind his feet and hands and cast him into outer darkness.' There shall be lamentation and gnashing of teeth." It is a parable. Now whenever you read parables, remember what our Lord said about them in Matthew 13:13: "Therefore am I speaking to them in parables, seeing that, observing, they are not observing, and hearing, they are not hearing, neither are they understanding." I suppose you think, as I once did, that parables are easy. Any child can understand them! On the contrary, the Jews were accomplished scholars in the Scriptures, and our Lord spoke in this figurative way in order that they should not understand.
This parable condemned the kingdom of the heavens (Matt.22:2). What kingdom do you suppose that is? Daniel tells us about it, you remember. After explaining to King Nebuchadnezzar the meaning of the great image, with its head of gold, its breast and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of brass, its legs of iron, and its feet part of iron and part of clay he says: "In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed" (Dan. 2:44). The Jews were looking forward to this kingdom. But they had rejected the King, and now He is telling his disciples what will happen before He comes to take the kingdom, and how He will judge in it. This kingdom is often called the millennium, because it was later revealed that it will last just a thousand years.
|The Kingdom of |
I will not stop to tell the whole story, but a few details will help us to get our bearings. The kingdom is here compared with an Eastern wedding, which sometimes times lasted as long as a week. It must refer to Israel only, for they are the bride of the Lambkin. You see that, if we "apply" this parable now, we will get into all kinds of perplexities, and that is just what we are hoping to avoid. We want to get out of, not into, perplexities. Do not do as a preacher did, of whom I once heard. He read the early verses of this chapter and "gave out the invitation," saying, "All is ready, Come to the gospel feast!" After waxing eloquent over this for a while, and running out of ideas, he glanced at his Bible and read "the wedding, indeed, is ready, yet they who have been invited were not worthy." Poor fellow! It put a wet blanket on his oratory. He thought about it for a while, and then gave it up and sat down, leaving another to carry on the meeting.
This parable tells us of an invitation sent out, and the guests did not want to come. Is that not precisely what had happened in our Lord's own ministry? He had sent out His apostles, but the nation did not respond. That is why He now speaks in parables. Now notice a remarkable word in the fourth verse. The Authorized Version says, "my oxen and my fatlings are killed." But the CONCORDANT VERSION is more exact. It reads sacrificed. You see, in interpreting a parable, just as in detective work, we must watch for the most minute indications of something out of the ordinary. That is why we need to get past ordinary translations to the original by means of a concordance or a uniform sublinear, if we wish to clear up our perplexities. This invitation followed a sacrifice. And did not the invitation given by the apostles from Pentecost onward, in the book of Acts, follow the One great Sacrifice of Christ?
|The Judgment of Those |
Alive at the Coming of
the Son of Mankind
But the Jews again rejected the invitation and Jerusalem was destroyed, just as our Lord has here foretold. In the past, the Jews were not worthy. The kingdom has not come. But the time is fast approaching, when the church is gone, that the same message of the kingdom will be proclaimed, and the guests invited. Christ will return to the Jews as their King, and then He will judge them.
It was the custom, in Eastern lands, to provide the guests with wedding apparel. So our Lord will provide believing, faithful Jews with His own robe of righteousness. Yet it seems that some will enter the kingdom in their own self-righteousness. These are those whom He will thrust out of the brightly lighted hall where the wedding festivities are held. They will be compelled to stay outside in the outer darkness. Literally, they will not be allowed to participate in the light and joy of the millennial kingdom if they have not been faithful.
You will see how this helps us out of our perplexity. This refers only to a small class of sinners, only Israelites, living at the time when the kingdom is set up, not to all "unrepentant sinners" of every time. It would hardly be fair to apply it to sinners among the nations now, because they would be thrown out even if they had a wedding garment on! A man does not allow any and every one to attend his wedding. Suppose some zealous but misguided preacher invites you by mistake. That would not help, because then you are unworthy and would not go! Please do not "apply" Scripture. To "apply" is usually to lie. And a well-meant lie, a zealous lie, a holy lie is just -- no, it is far more to be feared than a naked fib. Perplexities are caused, not cured, by the practice of "applying" Scripture.
The next passage to illuminate "the state of the unforgiven sinner in the next life" is Matthew 25:46: "And these shall be coming away into eonian chastening, yet the just into eonian life." Who are the "these" here? But first, when does this occur? Verse 31 gives the answer, "Whenever the Son of Mankind may be coming in His glory, and all the holy messengers with Him, then..." So the time is nearly the same as that of the wedding festivities, in the future, at the coming of Christ to earth, to set up the kingdom. But here is no wedding. It is a court scene. The wedding guests are here seen as our Lord's brethren. Who are the sheep and the kids? Who else could they be but the gentile nations who enter the kingdom? Some will help Israel in the time of her distress. Others will not. When the kingdom comes some will be rewarded, the others will be disciplined.
So we see that this is only a very small company of sinners, and it has nothing to do with "the next life." Nothing is said of their death. They have not died and they do not die. They are alive when our Lord comes to reign and they are chastened during the whole course of that eon. They go into eonian chastening, not "everlasting punishment," as our venerable version inaccurately renders it. The word chastening is admittedly a term to denote corrective discipline everywhere else. Why should it have a special meaning here? This comes from associating it with "everlasting," another rendering which causes much needless perplexity. Most Bible students know that the phrase "the end of the world" simply means the end, or conclusion, of the age, or eon. We are very near the end of the world now. But it is not going to be burned up yet. That comes at the end of the next age, or eon. And these "kids" will be chastened during that whole eon. That is why it is called "eonian." An adjective should agree with its noun. What belongs to an eon is eonian. I like this word better than age, because we cannot say agian.
But what about the just? Is their life also limited to that eon? Are they killed at its close? Do not worry. We are intensely selfish, you and I. We would not worry overmuch if the whole of mankind were punished for ever, to insure our eternal welfare. So some say here that, if the everlasting in one case is not endless, neither is the other. Hence, if the punishment of the sinner is not everlasting neither is the life of the saint. Illogical reasoning, based on false premises. These are not saints and sinners. Their sins are not in question. They are judged as to their treatment of Israel, not as to their conduct or their faith in reference to God. We are not in this picture at all. When we are roused or changed we will possess deathlessness. Hence we will have eonian life (life for the next eon, which is here spoken of, and for the eon after that) as well as life for the endless future after that. We have far more than eonian life.
|Gehenna, the Future City Dump, |
Now a Pleasant Place to Stroll
This judgment scene has absolutely no reference to "the next life," but to this life. It is confined to the fate of the living nations during the eon in which the kingdom will operate. It has nothing to say as to the succeeding eon. During the kingdom the gentiles who came into it alive at its commencement will be treated according to their treatment of Israel during the time of their affliction. Those who helped them are the just, who will live for the eon. Those who did not will be chastened for the same period. Their future beyond that is outside the scope of this passage. Are your perplexities vanishing? I am sure that this will always be the case when we make a microscopic examination.
The third passage which is applied to the sinner of today is Mark 9:43: "And if your hand should ever be snaring you, strike it off. Is it ideal for you to be entering into life maimed, or, having two hands, to come away into Gehenna, into the inextinguishable fire where their worm is not deceasing and the fire is not being extinguished." When I first lived in Jerusalem I noticed that a column of smoke was almost constantly ascending near the northeastern corner of the city. It reminded me of this passage, for the fire did not seem to be extinguished. I have gone by it often since. It is the city dump, where the refuse is burned. In the days of our Lord, and in the time to come this will be done at a more appropriate place, the lowest spot in the whole city, the vale of Hinnom, which runs southeast, below the city, and joins the Kidron at its ancient southernmost point.
In the future, as in the past, not only will the refuse of Jerusalem be burned there by inextinguishable fires, but the bodies of criminals will be exposed to public gaze even after the worms have fed upon them, and finally burned, to prevent contagion. In the kingdom all law-breakers are in danger of this fate. Nowadays criminals often go unpunished. Not so then. The only safe course is to use the most drastic measures to avoid committing an offense. The perplexing "application" of this passage to the present has a tendency to bring the Word of God into contempt. No one takes this passage seriously. This breeds unbelief.
No one needs to fear Gehenna now. There is no fire there, and no worms. I visited it several times, and enjoyed the change, for Gehenna, in the autumn, is pleasant compared to some parts of Jerusalem. If you were not afraid, and we lived near Jerusalem, I would gladly take you along. The road leads along the southwestern wall at first, and then descends the ravine, which is filled with grey-green olive trees, a welcome sight in thirsty Judea. Unless it is a hot day, you will not mind the walk, and the exercise will be healthful, especially the return, for the road descends quite rapidly until Gehenna ends in the wider vale of the Kidron. I would not cut off any of my members to escape Gehenna now. This passage has no point whatever at present.
|"The Rich Man and Lazarus" is |
Part of a Five-Fold Parable
The last passage to show us the state of a sinner in the next life is Luke 16:23 and 26: "And in the unseen, lifting up his eyes, existing in torments, he is seeing Abraham from afar, and Lazarus in his bosom." The twenty-sixth verse: "And in all this, between us and you a great chasm has been established, so that those wanting to cross hence to you may not be able, nor yet may those thence be ferrying to us." This is, perhaps, the most perplexing passage of all to bring up in this connection, for it does not speak of the next life at all, but deals with the dead. It is part of a long parable of five parts, the Shepherd (15:3-7), the Lost Coin (15:8-10), the Prodigal (15:11-32), the Unjust Steward (16:1-13), and the Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31). In these the latter corresponds with the Prodigal Son. In both of these our Lord pictures the Pharisees and the Publicans.
The parallels between these two parables should help dissolve our perplexities. In the Prodigal Son we have the moral difference between these two classes. As the Prodigal was brought back to the father's heart so the Publicans, although far off, are brought nigh. The Pharisees are like the elder brother. In the Rich Man we see the dispensational gulf between them. The nation of Israel at present is dead, though, just now, their dry bones are rattling, and they may come to life at any time. Yet that part of them who have believed on Christ, are in the bosom of Abraham, the father of the faithful. But, even if Israel is dead, it is only in a figure, for the Jews are very much alive. In this death they are tormented. Surely you can see the point! It is antisemitism. These are the flames. And to this day there is an impassable gulf between the Jew who has believed and the self- righteous Pharisaic mass of the nation.
Some would have us take all this literally. Then the perplexities thicken. The whole narrative is contrary to the facts as to the death state. And then we must also insist that the Prodigal Son was literally dead, for the father distinctly says, "this my son was dead" (Luke 15:24). Israel is as good as dead so far as God is concerned, but they are no more literally dead than the Prodigal Son or the Rich Man. Then it is contrary to Scripture for the dead to have a body before resurrection. Many must be perplexed as to how Abraham feels when he is constantly refreshed by the sight of the torments of the damned. We can hardly imagine that this is a special hell for these two men. Then how can Abraham hold all the good people in his bosom? I do not envy Abraham the good seat he seems to have at the spectacle of the torments of condemned sinners. I do not think even Nero, of Rome, would enjoy such a sight without sickening of it eventually.
But these are comparatively unimportant perplexities in view of the doctrinal difficulties. We are saved by grace through faith. Lazarus received good things because he had received evil before. How would you like to receive evil in "the next life" because you have received good in this? Is that grace? Is that faith? Absolutely nothing is said as to Lazarus' faith in his lifetime, and we dare not inject it. He was not comforted in Abraham's bosom before he died. Then the only solace that he had was that the curs (gentiles) licked his sores. If we cling to the theology of this parable as to the way of salvation, we must throw away all the rest of the Scriptures. Only in its "dispensational" interpretation do all of the details fit the picture.
That this is a scene in "eternity" is absolutely denied by the location -- hades, the unseen, the imperceptible. In Revelation 20:14 we read that the unseen is cast into the lake of fire. Let us hope, if this is literal, that Abraham and Lazarus will not suffer too severely in the lake of fire, for they are not accustomed to the heat, as the rich man is. Some have sought to rescue him out of it at our Lord's resurrection, because He is said to lead a multitude of captives to heaven at that time. But you and I will hardly care to admit that Abraham and Lazarus are captives in this scene. No, if they only knew it, they need salvation far more than ever, for their place of comfort will be very hot in the days to come!
But what of the dread gulf that has been "fixed," and which cannot be crossed? This is easy to understand if we take it as a parable. Israel has been blinded until the coming of the Messiah. All the societies for the evangelization of the Jews and every other effort to lead them to a knowledge of God are foredoomed to failure, so far as the mass of the nation is concerned. There is an impassable, gulf so long as Israel is apostate. It is fixed. Only God can remove it. This "gulf," or" chasm," consists of water, as is clear from the word "ferry." This is suggestive, for only by water (baptism) can a Jew enter the kingdom. But, taking it literally, what would become of such a watery gulf when this "hell" is cast into the lake of fire? The word "fixed" is "established." But much that was established in the past is gone today. It cannot be taken as eternal.
|A Special Judgment |
for a Special Group
So there we are. Did I not predict it? As to time, the first three passages are clearly restricted to, the commencement of the kingdom, when Christ comes in glory to the earth. The fourth has a bearing on the present, but is confined to the nation of Israel in their apostasy. The wedding is only for them, and Gehenna is restricted to their criminals also. Only the parable of the sheep and the kids refers to the nations, yet not to those in this era of God's matchless grace, but to those living at the beginning of the millennium. Not one of them can possibly be applied to a sinner today. The passages for this purpose are to be found only in Paul's epistles, for he alone reveals God's dealings with the nations while Israel is apostate.
Which of the passages proposed suggests an irrevocable and endless destiny? Not a single one speaks of the last things, for the kingdom is only a thousand years in duration, and the "hell" of the rich man, if taken literally, gives way to the lake of fire (Rev.20:14). The "suggestion" lies in the mistranslation of the word eonian, and the injection of ideas into the passages which are not there, and, in general, to the failure to closely investigate. One does not need to be nearly as keen as Sherlock Holmes to discover that things are not as they seem, and that the blurred description given us of these passages is not due to anything in them, but to a very dirty pair of spectacles worn by the observer. You, would be surprised at the difference in the looks of a lily if you gaze at it through smudgy lenses, or a clean, powerful reading glass.
But hold! We are now given a passage in Paul's epistles to substantiate the idea that "unrepentant sinners," one and all, now and for ever, are to be eternally damned. It reads: "And to you who are being afflicted, ease, with us, at the unveiling of the Lord Jesus from, heaven with His powerful messengers, in flaming fire dealing out vengeance to those who are not acquainted with God and those who are not obeying the evangel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall incur the justice of eonian extermination from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of His strength, whenever He should be coming to be glorified in His saints..." I am sure you are disappointed, for, once more, we find ourselves at that special crisis in this world's history when evil is at its full, and Christ comes in judgment on the earth. It affects no one except the comparatively few who will live on earth at the era of the end.
Partition the administrations and many perplexities will disappear. Grace is being dispensed now and it has been free for nearly two thousand years. Soon this may change, for judgment will be dispensed when God commences to clean up the earth for the coming kingdom. But this will be as brief as it will be terrible. We know of only seven years. During this short period this passage has its fulfillment. It is not likely that one per cent of all who have lived since Adam will be present on earth when these terrific judgments occur. Those who are represented by the sheep and the kids (Matt.25:31-46), as well as those who are invited to the marriage festivities, must be subtracted from these, for they are not exterminated, but live on in the thousand years.
Our zealous translators have overshot the mark when they speak of "everlasting destruction" in this passage. The word is stronger than destruction. Our English term extermination is nearer the mark, for the idea is to rid the earth of their presence during the kingdom. But it cannot be everlasting annihilation, because God has sworn that every tongue shall confess to Him, and all the dead are roused for judgment before the great white throne.
|Torment for |
Three Supreme Sinners
The Second Death
for All the Rest
One of the most perplexing of all subjects is that of eternity. But the truth which unravels its mazes is not at all perplexing. It might take eternity to explain eternity to you, but I fear that, even then, I would not understand it myself. But the time periods in God's Word are not so futile as that. They do not perplex. Perhaps we will take it up together a little later.
Now let us see what "the last book of the Bible" has to say. Revelation 20:10 reads: "And the Slanderer who is deceiving them was cast into the lake of fire and sulphur, where the wild beast and where the false prophet are also. And they will be tormented day and night for the eons of the eons." Verse 15: "And if anyone was not found written in the scroll of life, he was cast into the lake of fire." Chapter 21:8 reads: "Yet the timid, and unbelievers, and the abominable, and murderers, and paramours, and enchanters, and idolaters, and all the false -- their part is in the lake burning with fire and sulphur, which is the second death." At last we have come to a passage which actually includes all "unrepentant sinners," or at least those who once were unrepentant."
Note that they are divided into two classes -- the three supreme sinners who do not die, who are not brought into judgment, and the rest, who appear before the great white throne, who die twice. There was a time when the supreme penalty was inflicted for trivial crimes, but now we shudder at the thought of hanging a child for stealing a bite to eat. Our sense of justice demands that the greatest criminals be dealt with quite differently from those who do wrong to save themselves from perishing.
One of the strangest things in this line, however, is the attitude of Christian people. They above all, should be just and gracious. Yet they will insist that the fate of the big three -- the "Devil" (as they call him) the Antichrist (as they call him), and the false prophet, by far the greatest enemies of God and man -- they insist that the sentence passed on them "applies" to all "unrepentant sinners!" God says these will be tormented. They insist that all sinners will be tormented. Let us believe God! The mass of mankind will not be tormented. They will die the second death, and there can be no torment in death.
Traitors need not be tried. The big three receive no trial, for their guilt is open to all the world. But the rest appear before the great white (not black!) throne, and are judged. This word, in English, wears a black robe. It should be clothed in white. Judgment is not doing wrong, but setting right. At this throne our Lord Jesus Christ will put to rights all the wrongs of the eons. Suppose you were present and saw all wrongs righted. Everyone who had done aught of evil against you would make amends. And all this due to the presence of the august Judge upon the snowy throne. Will they not change their minds about Him and about God? How can they help it? But this is "repentance." It is, literally, an after mind. If I could set up such a judgment throne on the earth now, I would guarantee that everyone would repent. There can be no doubt that all men will repent at the great white throne.
But, you say, will they not then be saved? By no means. Repentance is the ticket into the millennial kingdom. You cannot use a ticket for entrance into the millennium after it is over. Do not imagine that repentance is a condition of salvation at all times. Abraham did not repent. He believed. Repentance is not a condition today. It has to do with the kingdom, and leads to the pardon of sins, not to justification, which is our much higher privilege. So repentance at the great white throne does not lead to immediate salvation, in one sense, though, so far as the experience of sinners is concerned, it seems to be the door to immediate deliverance. This is because, in death, there is no account of time. The moment of death coincides with the moment of awakening or resurrection. After the great white throne judgment they will enter the lake of fire as the second death, and then, at the close of the eons, they will be made alive (1 Cor. 15:22).
|The Second Death |
We shudder at the thought of the lake of fire, and well we may, and, indeed, we should, when we consider the fate of the Slanderer and his two human dupes, who are tormented in it. But it is the height of folly and injustice to extend this to the rest, for whom it is death, the second one, for they, unlike the big three, have been roused from the dead. But death by fire is not such a terrible experience necessarily. We cannot say that God would not allow it if they had repented, for He has allowed some of His most loyal and courageous witnesses to be burned at the stake, with slow torture, which is a thousand times worse than being cast into a lake of fire, where the agony, if any, is over in an instant. If He has allowed the best and holiest of His saints to die such a death we need not be surprised that He gives these sinners a much more merciful fate. But let us remember that, so far as they are aware, death has no duration. They step from this life into the judgment, and from the judgment into the glorious consummation, when God is All in all (1 Cor. 15:28).
Fire is often used in a figurative sense of the judgments of Jehovah in time to come (Ex. 3:2; Deut. 4:24 1 Kings 8:51; Jer. 11:4; Isa. 48:10; Ezek. 22:18-22; Mal. 3:2; Obadiah 18). "The eonian fire made ready for the Slanderer and his messengers" (Matt. 25:41), is later called "chastening" (verse 46). But in all these cases it refers to the living. The lake of fire cannot be included in this category. Great pains are taken to show that it is literal. First it is given as a definition of the second death. If we say that death, in a certain case, was hanging, no one thinks of saying that he died of a slow torture, by poison. So here the second death is the lake of fire. And, conversely, death is caused by literal fire, not by figurative flames. There really need be no perplexities here unless we import them. I sympathize with those who seek to improve on God's mercy, but their improvement is far more cruel than the actual literal lake of fire.
THE DURATION OF BLISS AND PUNISHMENT
"It is worthy of notice that the same Greek word (aionios) is used to describe the duration of the bliss of the righteous and of the punishment of the sinner (Matt.25:46), and in another place the same word is contrasted with things measured by time (2 Cor. 4:18). In the book of the Revelation the expression `for ever and ever' (Lit. to the ages of the ages) occurs thirteen times; nine references are to the reign of God and Christ (Rev.1:6; 4:9,10; 5:13,14; 7:12; 10:6; 11:15; 15:7), one to the reign of the righteous (Rev.22:5) and three to the duration of the punishment of the devil and of the wicked" (Rev.14:11; 19:3; 20:10).
It is always commendable to note where the same Greek word is used, but it is not well to restrict it to a few passages, and withhold all the evidence, when that would reverse the decision. First, however, let me remind you of our previous chat about the "sinners" in Matthew 25:46. This passage refers to only a very few living people, who are not judged for their sins, but for their treatment of Israel. A lawyer would say that this example is incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial. What refers to a fraction of the whole cannot be predicated of all. What refers to the living must not be applied to the dead, or those roused from the dead. In this passage the "just" and the "cursed" are dealt with for the millennial eon only. The "bliss" and the "punishment" are eonian. In neither case does it refer to ninety-nine per cent of mankind. And by no means to sinners today.
Let us apply this rule, that the same word must have the same meaning at all times. I think you will agree with me that it is the best thing in the whole leaflet. If it had been followed, the "truths" would not have perplexed. But let us go at it thoroughly and scientifically. Here is a little example which I hope you will appreciate and emulate. Whenever you wish to know the meaning of a word in the Scriptures, get it for yourself from the contexts. Use a concordance! In order to introduce you to this most profitable way of studying the Scriptures, I will give you all the occurrences of the Greek word proskairos, which is translated temporal in 2 Corinthians 4:18:
|Matt. ||13:21 || but dureth for a while |
|Mark ||4:17 || and so endure but for a time |
|Luke ||8:13 || which for a while believe |
|2 Cor. ||4:18 || the things which are seen are temporal |
|Heb. ||11:25 || to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season |
Here is a most interesting and instructive exercise. Study these passages in this way. Be sure you know the context. The first three refer to the seed sown on rocky places. It sprouts, springs up, but lasts only a little while. The time is short. The same is seen in Hebrews. The temporary enjoyment of sin did not appeal to Moses because it was short. Sin gives pleasure, but, at the same time, it shortens our life term. These passages have no point unless the time is short. They may be rendered temporary, but we utterly destroy their force if we render them temporal (during the course of time), as in the other passage. Then, according to the rule laid down, the same Greek word is used of the stony ground hearer as of the things that are seen (2 Cor. 4:18). The contrast is not between time and eternity, but between short, temporary, visible things and those which last for a whole eon or for all of the eons. The contrast does not call for endlessness. The longest time period known in Scripture fully satisfies it, without any need of extending it beyond the limits of the eonian times.
This is the way the CONCORDANT VERSION was made. You will see why I "changed" the word from temporal to temporary. And now I will give you the same passages as they appear in that version. The italics always denote the word which translates the Greek word we are investigating. The quotations are from the revised International Keyword edition.
|Matt. ||13:21 || he has no root in himself, but is temporary |
|Mark ||4:17 || they have no root in themselves, but are temporary |
|Luke ||8:13 || have no root, who are believing temporarily |
|2 Cor. ||4:18 || what is observed is temporary, yet what is not observed is eonian |
|Heb. ||11:25 || preferring rather to have evil with the people of God than to have a temporary enjoyment of sin. |
I think you will agree with me that the word eonian is not "contrasted with things measured by time." Now try this game. Put these words in the other passages and see how silly they sound. He has no root in himself, but is measured by time! Moses preferred evil to the enjoyment of sin during the course of time! It is some times difficult to express clearly just why a word is wrong, but if you will try it out in this way it will be much easier to detect doubtful renderings.
THE LENGTH OF CHRIST'S REIGN
|Christ's Reign |
is Not Eternal
but Ends in His
The same plan is the best to use in studying the occurrences of the phrase "for ever and ever" in the book of the Revelation. But the Authorized Version will not bear a microscope here, for it does not give us what is in the Greek. I think we were agreed not to use any means of enlargement in looking at men's words, unless they are faithful copies of God's. So we will give these passages from the CONCORDANT VERSION, which simply substitutes the English word eon for the Greek aioon, so cannot be accused of bias or of wrong translation, for it is no real translation at all, but rather a transliteration.
THE EONS OF THE EONS
|Rev. ||1: 6 || to Him [Christ] be glory and might for the eons of the eons. |
| ||18 || Living am I [Christ] for the eons of the eons. |
| ||4: 9 || Him Who is sitting on the throne, Who is living for the eons of the eons |
| ||10 || will be worshiping Him Who is living for the eons of the eons |
| ||5:13 || To the Lambkin be bliss...for the eons of the eons. |
| ||7:12 || The bliss...be our God's for the eons of the eons. |
| ||10: 6 || And the messenger...swears by Him Who is living for the eons of the eons |
| ||11:15 || and He [Christ] shall be reigning for the eons of the eons |
| ||14:11 || the fumes of their [worshipers of the wild beast] torment are ascending for the eons of the eons |
| ||15: 7 || God, Who is living for the eons of the eons |
| ||19: 3 || her (Babylon's] smoke is ascending for the eons of the eons |
| ||20:10 || they [the Slanderer, the wild beast, and the false prophet] will be tormented day and night for the eons of the eons |
| ||22: 5 || they [God's slaves] will be reigning for the eons of the eons. |
We have included Revelation 1:18, evermore, for it is the same as the others in the Greek. Revelation 5:14 omits this phrase in the best Greek texts.
Now we can go to work. How many refer to the reign of God? I can find none, can you? That is a relief, for God has promised to give the reins of this World into the hands of His Anointed. God is, indeed, sitting on the throne (4:9), but we want to make a microscopic examination this time, and reigning is spoken of only of Christ (11:15) and His slaves (22:5). You will see how important this accurate evidence is when we consider the fact that all such reigning is emphatically not "forever and ever." Christ is going to give up the kingdom to God. All sovereignty, authority, and power is going to be abolished or abrogated (1 Cor. 15:24). The reign of God alone might be eternal in a certain sense. But not the reign of Christ or of His slaves. How long, then, do they reign? Use your microscope. "For the eons of the eons." We have already seen that Christ will reign for the next eon, in which lie the thousand years. And we also know that He will reign in the eon after that, in the new earth (Rev. 22:5). That makes two eons. But what does the rest of the phrase mean, "of the eons?" There are altogether five eons, the two future eons already mentioned, the one in which we live, the one before the deluge, and the one before the disruption of the second verse of the first chapter of Genesis. Now these five eons correspond to the tabernacle in a way, with its five zones, (1) outside the camp, (2) the camp, (3) the court, (4) the holy place, and (5) the holy of holies. The last two are called "the holies of the holies" (Heb. 9:25) precisely as the last two eons are called "the eons of the eons." The first three eons are wicked because they are under man. The last two are righteous because they are under Christ.
Now we are in a position to say how long the fumes of the worshipers of the wild beast will ascend (14:11), how long the smoke of Babylon will ascend (19:3), and how long the big three will be tormented. (Make a note however, that this phrase is not applied to any others). It will last as long as the reign of Christ and His slaves (not of God), until He hands over the kingdom to God, until He Himself becomes subject, until the consummation (1 Cor.15:28). This phrase puts before us definite, limited periods of time, not endlessness.
But what of those passages which speak of the life of God? Do they not imply endlessness? Why should they? God lived yesterday. Does that imply that He is dead today? He will live tomorrow, but that will not cause His decease on the day thereafter. Implication is one of the feeblest forms of reasoning, for its principal premise is ignorance. Now if I should say that I lived during the period of the world war, that would have some meaning. And if I say that I will live during the next two eons, that would have much more contained in it. It tells us that, while most of mankind are dead because of their sins, I, through the grace of God and the blood of His Christ, have eonian life. And to say that God lives during these eons is intensely significant, for that is the secret of their goodness, and that is what gives them their character. In those eons He will be the living God in a sense in which He has never yet been known.
This is still more clearly seen in the bursts of acclamation (5:13; 7:12). The consummation, and the time after it, is not at all in view in this Unveiling. For the thousand years on this earth, and for many thousands on the new earth, we not only wish bliss and honor and glory and might and wisdom and thanks and power and strength to be God's and His Anointed's, but they will be displayed in His judgments and in His goodness to mankind through His eonian nation, Israel. But let us not reason, just because I wished you good upon your birthday, that I wish you ill on every other day, or in the years to come! There are special blessings on birthdays, gifts and food and friendship. And so there are special blessings for God and Christ in these two eons, in the interval of time between our Lord's coming power to take the reins of human government, and the time when His task is complete, and man no longer needs the restraint of rule. It is a most notable epoch, of surpassing splendor and increasing glory.
THE TIME OF RECONCILIATION
"There is no promise in Scripture of any opportunity of reconciliation after death; it need hardly be said that the testing fire of Christ's judgment (1 Cor.3:11-15) is for the Christian's works, not for the sin of the unrepentant; sin is never purged with fire, it is cleansed by blood" (1 John 1:7).
A favorite maxim of Christian thought is that destiny is fixed in this life, not after death. And it has some basis in fact. No one can be reconciled while he is dead, hence none of the dead can be conciliated to God until roused from the dead. And there is no hint in the Scriptures that reconciliation takes place at the great white throne. The dead will be judged and condemned, not reconciled. Nor is there any opportunity in the second death, the lake of fire. The earliest possible moment when this can occur is when death is abolished (1 Cor. 15:26) and all are made alive. But then it is impossible that it should not occur. Then it must take place. A man who has had his whole life set right at the great white throne, and who receives a life that allows of no sin, such a man cannot remain at enmity with God.
This phrase, "after death," is misleading. It should read "after being made alive." Then its falsity would be apparent. You see that this phrase takes for granted that death is the end of all, whereas Scripture assures us that the opposite is true. Death shall be abolished. Death is indeed the last enemy, but it shall become idle, inoperative. It is replaced by life and deathlessness. The saints obtain immortality, but this occurs long before the last enemy is dealt with. Only the unbeliever, the sinner, can be held by the last enemy. Only the second death can be the final foe. So there is a definite and undoubtable Scripture which brings life to all at the consummation, and with it reconciliation (Col. 1:20).
Reconciliation is a wonderful thought. Let us not make it salvation from sin, which comes through Christ. There is something even worse than sin. It is enmity. It is directed against God. It is a fearful thing to be against the living God and to feel that He is against us. Thanks be to Him that He is not arrayed against the race in this day of grace. Even if men, His enemies, are at war with Him, He refuses to retaliate now. He is conciliated. On His side there is peace, and nothing can move Him to break it until we, His ambassadors, have been withdrawn. And when we hear the evangel, the glad tidings of God's love in the gift of Christ and His shed blood and glorious resurrection, when we learn that God is conciliated, then we accept this conciliation, and there is mutual reconciliation. So it is with us now. And so it will be at the consummation. All other enemies will have gone, even death. Then the enmity in the heart of the unbeliever will also vanish. Only thus can God be All in all (1 Cor. 15:28).
SAVED AS THROUGH FIRE
The unbeliever, who is cast into the lake of fire, is not the only one who attains to salvation through fire. There is a sense in which this is true of us who believe also. You see, water and fire are the two cleansing agents in the Scriptures. Water in the past, fire in the future. Of course nothing can harm what we have in Christ, for He has ascended as the great Burnt Offering. But there is much about us all which is not of Him. Many of our deeds are not worthy. All that the believer does will be tested by fire, and only what is left after the flames are gone will be counted in dealing out the awards. Methinks many of us are building up a big bonfire, are we not? But, thanks be to God, we will not be cast into it. Only our works will feed the flames, if not wrought in God. Saved, not through fire, but as through fire.
WALKING IN FAITH
"In this as in all other matters, concerning the past, present and future, the Christian may walk securely in faith, knowing that the Judge of all the earth shall do right (Gen.18:25), and that though, by reason of our finite understanding, it is only to be expected that many things connected with our supernatural religion cannot be adequately explained or even understood (John 16:12,25; Rom.11:33; 1 Cor. 1:25), yet the fuller light of heaven will make clear all that is now darkly seen and we shall know even as we are known" (1 Cor. 13:12).
What is faith? On what is it based? Does it float in the air like a balloon, or has it a fixed foundation? From experience, you will agree with me, faith is very unsteady in most of those who claim to have it. For instance, when, to all appearances, they must acknowledge that God is not doing right, and they are unable to defend Him even to their own hearts, they fall back on Abraham's question, when Sodom was about to be destroyed, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen. 18:25). But the reference is unfortunate. Abraham was badly mistaken about Sodom, and Jehovah did the very thing that he thought would not be right. Sodom was destroyed. Cold comfort for Abraham, who did not want it judged. And the undoubted fact that God will do right is the very lowest grade of faith, which borders on unbelief. It reveals a lack of acquiescence and a sad absence of communion with Him in His blessed operations.
Such a faith is anything but secure. Every wind will toss it about. Real faith listens to God's words on these perplexing themes, loses its perplexity, and rests in Him. It is nothing more than a groping in the dark to "know" that the Judge of all the earth will do right. More than that, our hearts are not satisfied with a God Who does right, or, rather, as the real point here is, Who does no wrong. He did that in the case of Sodom, and He has the right to burn up the whole universe in the same way. For that He needs no Christ. For that He need not have sent His Son. The sufferings of Christ were wrong if that is all that they effected. A God Who merely does right would damn us as well as others! No, no! We want a God Who will display His love, for faith tells us that His essence is affection, not justice.
Faith, real faith, which refuses human words and deductions as well as accepts God's declarations, is not satisfied with ignorance of God's purpose and plans. Love responsive forces us to be interested in the future of Christ and God, as well as mankind and creation, and is not satisfied with a knowledge of our own safety. And faith will not be satisfied until certain universally rejected portions of the Word of God, the fifth of Romans, the fifteenth of First Corinthians and the first of Colossians, have been thoroughly explored, for they, and not the miscellany usually presented, actually treat of the theme of racial and universal destiny.
CAN GOD BE UNDERSTOOD?
We have seen how God has locked up all in stubbornness, that He shall be merciful to all (Rom.11:32). Does He, in the same way, blind the minds of believers also, that they cannot explain or understand His words, or is this due to their individual stubbornness, so that they can understand, no matter how supernatural the Bible is? First let us look at the passages proposed to prove our inability. The first is John 16:12,25: "I have much to say to you still, but you are not able to bear it at present. Yet whenever that may be coming, the spirit of truth, it will be guiding you into all the truth..." And verse 25: "These things have I spoken to you in proverbs. The hour is coming when I shall no longer be speaking to you in proverbs, but shall be reporting to you boldly concerning the Father."
That the disciples of Christ will one day be guided into all truth, is placed beyond doubt by this passage. The only question is, When is this to be? Is it when we get to heaven, or here and now? As these disciples never will go to heaven, seeing that they will reign with Christ on earth, that idea is untenable. The time is clearly stated. It is to be when the spirit of truth comes. Our Lord referred to this after His resurrection, saying that they should remain about Jerusalem for the fulfillment of this promise (Acts 1:4,8). A short time later, after His ascension, on the day of Pentecost, the spirit came. Since it was to guide into all truth, there is no good reason for waiting if we have the holy spirit of promise (Eph.1:13). And, if we have not, we cannot hope to enter into the things of God at all. "That which is of God no one has known except the spirit of God. Now we obtained, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God, that we may be perceiving that which is graciously given to us by God" (1 Cor. 2:11,12).
|God's Secret Purposes |
are now Revealed
in His Word
In contrast to this assertion, let us recall a few words in this same chapter. "We are speaking wisdom among those that are mature...`That which the eye perceived not, and the ear hears not, and to which the heart of man ascended not -- whatever God makes ready for those who are loving Him.'" This is often quoted to show how unattainable is knowledge of the deep things of God. But the passage does not end here. It proceeds: "Yet God reveals it to us through His spirit, for the spirit is searching all, even the depths of God." Is not that delightful? We are not condemned to spend our days in a musty underground religious cell, where man's miserable makings are all that we perceive, but we are free to go out into the sunshine and breathe God's fresh air, and regale ourselves with the flowers and fruit of His fields, and bow with awe before the glory of His heavens. If we have God's holy spirit there is no limit to our understanding Him.
But it says that God's judgments are inscrutable and His ways untraceable (Rom. 11:33)! Yet here also, it is a thing of the past, for it continues, "who knew the mind of the Lord? or who became His adviser?" His ways with Israel and the nations have been before the reader in the previous paragraphs. No one could have known how He would play one against the other in the days of old. But now all is clear. His ways are revealed. He has confided in us as in Abraham, and we know what He will do. Knowing this fully, we do not plead with Him to reconsider His plans of judgment and of grace, we do not demand that He do right, for we know that He will do infinitely more than that. Sorry is the plight of those who, like Lot, do not know the divine way or its goal! It will cost them much! They should acquaint themselves with His plans and be at peace.
We are reminded that the stupidity of God is wiser than men (1 Cor. 1:25). But is not this a figure of speech? You do not mean to tell me that God is stupid, do you? I can understand that what God does and says may seem stupid to men, and still be far beyond their wisdom, but I cannot ascribe stupidity to God. More over, are not men here those who do not accept His wisdom, who reject His counsel, and also neglect His revelation of the future? Even a man who knows God's stupidity is wiser than other men who rely on human wisdom. Please do not degrade those who sit at His feet to the level of men who have not heard His Word.
But do not the Scriptures clearly say that "now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then I shall know even as also I am known" (1 Cor.13:12)? Certainly. Have you ever noticed that, in the CONCORDANT VERSION, there are two different words for now in this passage? In the sentence quoted it is at present. In the next verse, however, it reads, "Yet now are remaining faith, expectancy, love -- these three." What do you suppose is the difference between at present, and now? In the lexical concordance it is explained. At present is in contrast with both past and future, while now is in contrast with the past only, and already with the future only. We could make a diagram of it like this:
|------- already |
------- at present -------
The dimness was to last during the time that "already" and "at present" overlap, not in the future, now."
When mentioning maturity, we have already seen that the apostle was speaking here of an era that ended when he wrote his epistles to Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. It would do our hearts good to read these epistles through again just to note the passages which speak of completing the word of God (Col. 1:25), of our hearts being enlightened to perceive the prospect ahead of us, and the glorious riches of our allotment (Eph. 1:17,18). Paul prays that we "may be filled with the realization of His will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding...and growing in the realization of God" (Col. 1:9,10). We have now a full-orbed revelation. No more installments are due. We may see face to face. The sun is shining, but believers are hiding themselves in a dim religious crypt of their own fashioning, dark, damp, and dismal.
"It cannot be too strongly emphasized that a humble attitude of mind is essential, not only to a proper understanding of the Word of God (Psa.25:9; James 1:21), but also to any usefulness in Christian service (Micah 6:8; Col.3:12; 1 Peter 5:5,6), for it is with the humble spirit that the Holy God Is pleased to dwell (Isa.58:15) and to the lowly that grace is given" (Prov.3:34).
And now, my young friend, I see that your perplexities have vanished, and you are eager to spread the light which brings you so much consolation and joy. Far be it from me to hinder you, but I wish to warn you of the pitfalls that lie in your future path. I feel sure that you do not feel proud. Rather the reverse. You feel humiliated at the thought that all was so easy and clear, yet you were blind to it. But others may not grasp the truth so quickly as you have, and it will hurt their pride severely if you let yourself loose as you would like to. Take special pains not to offend those older than yourself, particularly those over you in religious life, who should know these things and teach them, but who dare not even consider them seriously, lest it become known and their whole career be blasted. We are living in evil days.
Humility is one of the most evasive of virtues. When you think you have it most you have it least. It is most offensive for anyone to claim it. Some of you may remember Uriah Heep. To me he is one of the most repulsive characters in English literature, and yet he was the embodiment of apparent humility. Never speak of your own meekness, or it will vanish. I would not have called your attention to it, or to your pride, but to Christ, if I had not been compelled to do so. It is true that (Psa.25:9)
"He is causing the humble to tread with judgment, And He shall teach the humble His way."
But this refers only to true humility, not that which does not wish to know His way and prefers darkness to light. Such never "receive with meekness the implanted word" (James 1:21). Indeed, they do not receive it at all.
You will, very likely, soon have a test, which will reveal to you the shallowness of your humility, for it is the fate of all who are not ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of Paul, His prisoner, to suffer evil (2 Tim.1:8). Do not be disturbed if you find your humility shallow, and the evil unbelievably exasperating and unbearable. Turn away from yourself to the Humble One and the Good One. God has committed an ideal deposit to our care, and with the apostle we can say that we know Whom we have believed and we are persuaded that He is able to guard what is committed to us, for that day (2 Tim.1:12). We will walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8) only so long as we distrust ourselves and lean upon Him.
We are living in "ferocious" or perilous days (2 Tim.3:1). Remember that others have their trials as well as we, and treat them with sympathy. By all means do not be a hypocrite, but that is a very different matter from putting on Christ. We have a right to put on what really belongs to Him. The tie of maturity is love. "Put on, then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, pitiful compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing, with one another, and dealing graciously among yourselves, if anyone should have a complaint against any. According as the Lord also deals with you, thus also you" (Col.3:12,13). I do not think that we need to go to Peter's epistle (1 Peter 5:5,6). I once used to quote "casting all your care upon Him," but when I found that I should let nothing worry me (Phil.4:6), I had no care to cast! Pauline experience is far above that in Peter's epistles. Do not descend to that.
|Believers Endure Evil at Present |
for Fidelity to God and His Word
To the humble grace is given (Prov.3:34). Therefore humble yourselves before God, for His favor alone is worth craving. Quite a few Hebrew words are translated "humble" in our Bible. There are lower, prostrate, submit, trample, crush, etc. But the one which is best so rendered is still another, which has the literal sense of respond. The word answer is almost the same. The picture presented is most impressive. In the East a subordinate or servant stands with his eyes fixed on his master, ready to respond to the slightest word or gesture. This is the essence of humility. Keep, your eyes on God's Word and be ready to respond to its slightest hint, as to either doctrine or conduct. It is astonishing how easily a servant senses the least glance of his lord. May we all become as sensitive to the most minute monitions of God, as conveyed in His living, loving, illuminating Word!
TRUTHS THAT DO NOT PERPLEX
You will agree with me, I am sure, that there are times when the most remarkable feature of a given thing is the absence of that which is not there. So it is with this little leaflet. The passages of Scripture which clear up the perplexity are not even mentioned. It takes much longer and is ever so much more tiresome to unravel a mass of tangled string than to use it before it is tangled. So you will not need much more patience. A few texts from the proper place, and all will be clear.
GET "NON-PERPLEXIBLE" TRUTH
If these "truths" perplex you, why don't you get a different brand? In daily life you would not pay the light company's bill if they darkened your dwelling. If the sugar makes your tea sour, get another kind. It can't be genuine. But, you say, light does not darken, and sugar does not sour. They are not light or sugar at all. Right you are. Neither is that which perplexes truth. So have done with it, and get the genuine kind. Do not rest in it and call it "truth." That is like putting a bandage on your eyes and calling it a reading glass. Do not try to deceive yourself. Others will attend to that for you. If you will only hold your head still they will tie the bandage so tightly that you will never see daylight again. And they will pat you on the back and feed you with a spoon.
Let us now seek for the passages of Scripture which actually treat of the subjects which have been discussed, and set them forth clearly and conclusively. We will keep the old names, even if they are wrong, so as to preserve the connection. But we will draw a white line through the words which are non- or unscriptural. This will spoil the looks of our page, but that will only more emphatically express the fact that they spoil that which is far more important. We will only cite passages from God's Word, and let Him speak for Himself. The CONCORDANT VERSION is used, as that is more exact, and expresses our desire to use the utmost precision and exactitude, and thus honor and exalt and extol the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In the following pages we present a few pertinent passages, expressing truths that satisfy.