ACST 63: The Destinies

 

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There are only two eternal destinies: life or death. The saved will be rewarded with permanent life, while the lost will suffer permanent death.

In this chapter, I contrast the two eternal destinies: The inheritance of the saved is permanent life, and the fate of the lost is permanent death.

John

The apostle John had a way of taking ultimate reality and boiling it down to simple statements that captured its essence. For example, he divided the whole of the human race into two categories – two destinies. He said “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”[1] By that he meant that the objective of life today is to gain eternal life in the future, and only those who are in Christ will accomplish that objective. Jesus implied the same thing when he said “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”[2] He spoke of only two eternal destinies: to perish forever, or to live forever. Those destinies will each begin with a resurrection. Believers will experience a “resurrection of life” but unbelievers will experience a “resurrection of judgment.”[3] That judgment will culminate in the second death.[4]

Paul

Paul taught that the world has those same two destinies. He said “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”[5] You will notice that both apostles only refer to believers as having life. They each must have been out of class the day their teacher taught them Platonic dualism, and the notion of all human souls being immortal. Paul taught that only God is now immortal,[6] and that Jesus brought immortality to light through the gospel.[7] Only those who respond to the gospel and put their faith in Christ will receive immortality, and even then it will only be at the resurrection when Jesus comes.[8] In the mean time, people have a choice. They can either live according to the flesh, and earn the judgment of destruction, or live according to the Holy Spirit, and reap the grace of eternal life.[9]

So, Paul designates two kinds of people. Those who are being saved are contrasted with those who are perishing.[10] He presents it this way so that his readers may know that the choices they make today will determine the nature of their eternal destiny. For Paul, there are two main events in history, and we stand between them. The first main event is the cross, where Jesus took on the punishment for all the sins of the world. But for those who regard the message of the cross as foolishness, God will allow them the privilege of paying for their own sins in hell. Those who choose to do so are perishing, even as they live. Their “destiny is destruction.”[11] But for those of us who choose to cling to the cross, we are being saved, even as we die.

The author of Hebrews

The author of Hebrews speaks of these two destinies as well. He says that those who have faith “preserve their souls” — a reference to not being eternally lost. But those who “shrink back” and do not have faith will be destroyed.[12]

Peter

Peter spoke of believers being heirs of the grace of life.[13] He said that God has called believers to his own glory and excellence, and his power has granted us all things to pertain to life and godliness.[14] But the unsaved will be “destroyed in their destruction.”[15] They are being “stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”[16] Two destinies – count them – two.

Jesus

Jesus had taught those same two destinies. He was even more clear in distinguishing the two. He said that the right choice leads to life, but the wrong choice leads to destruction.[17] He said that we should fear God, who is able to destroy souls and bodies entirely in hell.[18] He warned the Jewish leaders who were not tending the Master’s vineyard that they would be destroyed when the Master returns.[19]

Jesus never defined salvation as a ticket to a nice place to retire after you die. He defined salvation in reference to destruction in Gehenna hell. That is what people are being saved from. Eternal life in the new heaven and earth is what people are being saved for.

Having determined that the Bible is clear about the ultimate destinies of both the saved and the lost, we can now examine the steps that our LORD will take in bringing about those two destinies.

The Destiny of the Saved

1. A GLORIOUS REUNION

Believers will be reunited with Christ when he returns. Paul taught that the same God who foreknew us in eternity past, also predestined us to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus. The same God who called us and justified us by the death of Jesus, also has glorified us.[20] For God, it has all been done, since he resides outside time. For us, some of it has been done, and some of it awaits our reunion with Christ, for it to be perfected. We are foreknown and predestined, but we do not yet conform completely to our Savior’s likeness. We have been called and justified, but we await the reunion for our glorification.

The reunion will be with Christ, but it will also be a reunion with all those in Christ who have fallen asleep. The Lord will appear, call the believing dead from their graves, and then those in Christ who are alive at that time will join that meeting in the clouds. It is then, and only then, that all believers will be “with the Lord.”[21] This event is what Paul was referring to when he said he desired to depart and be with Christ.[22] Being with Christ at the reunion is the best thing that could happen to us today. It is better than any ministry we could have in this life, or any martyrdom we could have in death.

Jesus promised that we would be with him at that reunion. He said he was going to prepare a place for us – but not for us to go to at death. He said “if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”[23] Jesus is the way to the Father.[24] No one gets to the Father’s presence until Jesus comes back and takes us. This will happen at the reunion, and not before. Death does not take us into the Father’s presence – Jesus will.

2. A GLORIOUS TRANSFORMATION

At the same moment when we are reunited with our Savior, we will also be changed into his likeness. Our mortality will be replaced by his immortality. Paul puts it this way “we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory.”[25]

Some translations add the word “body” to this text, because the translators believe that souls are already immortal, so they think Paul is talking about immortal souls putting on resurrection bodies. But that is not what Paul is talking about. Most of the mortal bodies will have already died. Most of the perishable bodies will have already perished and totally decayed into nothingness. For Paul, the whole being is “this mortal” and “this perishable.” The whole being takes on immortality, never to perish again.

John told his readers that “we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him”[26] Our transformation will include more than just immortality. It would be a crime to impose immortality on a race of beings who do not have the purity and integrity of Christ.

Plato believed that all souls are given immortality at their creation, and Augustine followed him in that belief. Out of that syncretistic combination of Greek philosophy and Roman Catholic dogma came the terrible doctrine of an unending hell. God is charged with the crime of predestining the vast majority of the souls he created to an eternity of suffering.

The real story of eternity is that God plans it only for those who are transformed by grace to be in the likeness of Christ. As the four spiritual laws put it, God has a wonderful plan for your life. That plan begins to take place the moment of your glorification. Our entire lives are lived in anticipation of that event.

3. A GLORIOUS CELEBRATION

While the battle of Armageddon is raging on this planet, destroying and causing chaos as never imagined before, believers will be safe in the clouds with our Savior. John writes “Let us be glad and rejoice, and let us give honor to him. For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself. She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear.” For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.””[27] All the hopes of humanity will come true at this great feast, while all the fears of humanity will come to pass at the battle of Armageddon.

4. A GLORIOUS DOMINION

As strange as it may seem, Christ’s return will not immediately destroy all evil

from this planet. It will, however, end all opposition to his rule in the political and religious realms. John describes this reality when he speaks of the beast and false prophet being thrown into the lake of fire.[28] They will be tormented for their crimes for ages and ages, but will eventually be destroyed, because the lake of fire is the second death (not another form of life). The beast and false prophet are spirit beings, but not immortal beings. They will receive punishment appropriate for their sins, and the sins that they caused the kings and false prophets of the earth to commit. That will take ages and ages, but not forever.

Removing them from the scene will allow Christ’s will to prevail in the political and religious realms. Imagine that – no opposition to Christ’s rule on earth, no deception or rebellion caused by false religion. Christ must reign on the earth “until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”[29] Those who serve him today will reign with him then.[30] They will rule as princes and lead people to him as priests. This reign will last for a thousand years.[31]

5. A GLORIOUS VINDICATION

Believers will be absolved of all guilt at the judgment. Although they will be judged according to their works, like all others, they will be vindicated and declared not guilty due to the finished work of Christ, the Lamb. The book of life lists all these believers in Christ, and is the basis for this vindication.[32] As a result of this vindication on the Judgment Day, believers will not be destroyed in the lake of fire, but all others will.

6. A GLORIOUS SATISFACTION

Believers will receive rewards for faithful service, for those deeds done out of a Spirit led obedience to Christ and his kingdom. No good work will escape judgment, although some works that we might think are worthy of reward will burn up when evaluated. They will not have proved to be quality work.[33] Paul’s instruction is that believers should be careful to build their works on the proper foundation. Even good works are eternally insignificant if they do not follow Christ’s commands, or lead people to the cross of Christ and his grace.

7. A GLORIOUS PERPETUATION

Believers will live and reign eternally in the new heavens and new earth. John envisioned a continuation of the millennial reign which will go on forever and ever, after judgment and the destruction of all evil.[34] This is the ultimate answer to what it means to be saved, and it is the reason that we are saved to begin with. Our loving God wants us to have eternal freedom from sin, eternal sanctification, and eternal life.[35]

The Destiny of the Lost

1. THE LOST WILL SUFFER SHAME AND REJECTION.

The lost will suffer public shame at having their sinful lives exposed on the judgment day. Those who have pretended to be believers will be exposed as the imposters they are.[36] Those who have trusted in other ways of salvation will discover that their gamble has not paid off. There was only one way to salvation and they rejected the way and chose the wrong way.[37] No secrets will remain unannounced.[38]

2. THE LOST WILL SUFFER JUST PUNISHMENT FOR THEIR SINS.

Unbelievers will also experience just punishment for every transgression they have committed, whether in word or deed, commission or omission. The nature, severity, and duration of that punishment will be determined by God, whose omniscience and righteousness insures that it will be just. God cannot overlook sin which has not been atoned for. Thus this punishment awaits all who are not protected by the blood of Christ. The Bible describes this punishment as trouble and distress,[39] torment,[40] darkness, weeping (out of remorse for losing salvation) and gnashing of teeth (out of anger against God),[41] and being beaten with whips.[42] While some of those images are no doubt symbolic, they describe a future reality that is horrible to imagine. We need to keep these images in mind so that we can pray urgently for our unsaved friends, loved ones, and enemies, and seek to win them all to Christ.

3. THE LOST WILL EVENTUALLY SUFFER PERMANENT DEATH.

On the previous two points, all evangelical believers would agree. But some insist that God will not only punish sinners for their rejection, but keep on punishing them throughout eternity. Thus they say that not only is God’s punishment eternal, but also the act of punishing itself. Many base this belief on the assumption that human souls are already immortal by nature. That issue has already been addressed.[43]

The Bible makes it clear that the punishment received at the judgment is not the last part of the bad news. The wages of sin is not perpetual suffering in hell, it is death.[44] Those who overcome are promised not that they will avoid an eternity in a bad place, but that they will avoid the second death.[45] The unsaved will suffer punishment according to their sins, and then will experience this second death.[46] The lake of fire must consume and bring about the second death to all those thrown into it, then it will destroy death and Hades.[47]

Typically, those who favor the view of eternal conscious torment redefine the term death as it has to do with the destiny of the lost. Since, in their view, both saved and lost will continue to live eternally, death cannot mean the loss of life.

But Jesus’ descriptions of the fate of the lost imply loss of existence, not just a conscious painful existence forever.

  • He spoke of the house built on the sand collapsing and falling over.[48] That is the end of the house.
  • He spoke of the weeds gathered up and burned with fire.[49] That is the end of the weeds.
  • He spoke of the good fish being gathered into containers, but the bad fish are thrown away to rot.[50] No more bad fish.
  • He spoke of plants not planted by his Father as being uprooted.[51] An uprooted plant dies.
  • He spoke of branches that do not abide in the vine as being thrown away, drying up, being gathered and cast into the fire.[52] Burning branches burn up.
  • He spoke of tenants who reject their master’s authority as being destroyed,[53] not just punished.
  • He said that the unrepentant will perish like those on whom the tower of Siloam fell.[54] Those unfortunate people didn’t just suffer. They died.
  • He likened hell to Noah’s flood, which destroyed everyone outside the ark.[55]
  • He said that hell would be like the day Lot went out from Sodom, and all the inhabitants of Sodom were destroyed.[56]

There are only two eternal destinies: life or death. The saved will be rewarded with permanent life, while the lost will suffer permanent death.


[1] 1 John 5:12 ESV.

[2] John 3:14-16 ESV.

[3] John 5:28-29.

[4] Revelation 21:8.

[5] Romans 6:23 ESV.

[6] 1 Timothy 6:16.

[7] 2 Timothy 1:10.

[8] Romans 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15:53-54.

[9] Galatians 6:8 NIV. The ESV uses the word corruption for the Greek fthora, but Peter uses the same term in 2 Peter 2:12, and there the ESV translates it “born to be caught and destroyed.”

[10] 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 2:15; Philippians 1:27-28.

[11] Philippians 3:9 NIV.

[12] Hebrews 10:39.

[13] 1 Peter 3:7.

[14] 2 Peter 1:3.

[15] 2 Peter 2:11.

[16] 2 Peter 3:7 ESV.

[17] Matthew 7:13-14.

[18] Matthew 10:28.

[19] Luke 20:16.

[20] Romans 8:28-30.

[21] 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

[22] Philippians 1:23.

[23] John 14:3 ESV.

[24] John 14:6.

[25] 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 NASB (1995).

[26] 1 John 3:2 NLT.

[27] Revelation 19:7-9 NLT.

[28] Revelation 19:20-21.

[29] 1 Corinthians 15:25 ESV.

[30] 2 Timothy 2:12.

[31] Revelation 20:6. {see chapter 65: The Reign, for more details}.

[32] Revelation 20:11-15.

[33] 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.

[34] Revelation 22:3-5.

[35] Romans 6:22-23.

[36] Matthew 7:21-23.

[37] John 14:6.

[38] Luke 12:3.

[39] Romans 2:8-9.

[40] Revelation 14:9-10.

[41] Matthew 25:30.

[42] Luke 12:47-48.

[43] see chapter 15: The Immortal One, and chapter 21: The Mortal Being.

[44] Romans 6:23.

[45] Revelation 2:11; 20:6.

[46] Revelation 21:8.

[47] Revelation 20:14.

[48] Matthew 7:26-27.

[49] Matthew 13:40.

[50] Matthew 13:47-48.

[51] Matthew 15:13.

[52] John 15:6.

[53] Luke 20:16.

[54] Luke 13:4-5.

[55] Luke 17:27.

[56] Luke 17:29.

ACST 62: The Timing

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To quote the previous chapter: “Rather than being a singular event, the first advent was an entire era, consisting of a series of events in which the Holy Spirit prepared the world for its Savior, who had come. It is not unreasonable to suggest that the second advent will be a similar inter-related series of events.” In our preaching, we often lump all that is promised about the end times into one single “when Jesus comes” event. The New Testament authors did that as well.[1] But that does not mean that everything prophesied will happen at once. One can place the prophecies into three distinct categories, based on the timing of their fulfillment: those actually taking place before the second coming, those which occur immediately at the second coming, and those which happen some time after the second coming.

before the second coming

Firstly, a number of events that people tend to equate with the second coming do not have to happen at that time. It takes discernment to sort through all the traditions that interpreters have pieced together and lumped with the second advent. Some church traditions are so tied to those interpretations that they even make them a test or standard for fellowship. Advent Christians do not do so. Many of us see at least three events which are typically paired with the return of Christ as having been fulfilled in the past, or presently being fulfilled.

Jerusalem’s tribulation

The Bible describes a great deal of trouble for the nation of Israel. Jesus predicted that they “will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”[2] Since the re-emergence of Israel as a separate nation in 1948, some interpreters have suggested that this time of Israel’s tribulation will begin at some point after Jesus returns. Traditionally, however, interpreters have seen the establishment of Israel as a sign that we are nearing the end of the times of the Gentiles, not its beginning. There is no exegetical need for Jerusalem and the temple to be rebuilt and destroyed again.

Jesus’ predictions of a 40 year period of trouble and warfare for Jerusalem[3] were completely fulfilled in the period between his Olivet discourse and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD. He predicted nine specific characteristics of that tribulation period:

  1. Jerusalem surrounded by armies.
  2. Immediate flight from Jerusalem.
  3. Unequalled distress for those in Jerusalem.
  4. An abomination that desolates temple.
  5. Jews will fall by the sword.
  6. Jews will be taken as prisoners.
  7. Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles.
  8. The days will be shortened.
  9. Fulfilled before this generation (40 years) ends.

All of these characteristics were found in that 40 year period. Prediction fulfilled. It does the church and the world no good to reintroduce those predictions and seek to integrate them into a last-days scheme. That kind of exegesis only leads to confusion and tarnishes the reputation of the church.

the “great tribulation”

Jesus also predicted a period of worldwide tribulation.[4] The specific attributes of that tribulation are as follows:

  1. False messiahs.
  2. Wars, rumors of wars, revolutions.
  3. International strife.
  4. Famines, earthquakes, pestilences.
  5. Fearful events, great signs from heaven.
  6. Apostasy and schism.
  7. Persecution, false prophets.
  8. Martyrdom.
  9. Increased wickedness.
  10. Love grows cold, family betrayal.
  11. Gospel preached to all nations.

Jesus is describing this entire age in which the church has the opportunity to preach the gospel and seek to bring the world to Christ. Yet, many insist that these are signs of the end-times, and seek to place them in the future – perhaps in the time immediately preceding Christ’s second coming. None of these characteristics are new to this age. All of them are characteristic of this entire era from the time of Christ’s first advent to the present. But some traditions teach that this worldwide tribulation is unique to a seven year period immediately after Christ’s rapture of the saints.

What the Bible reveals about this great tribulation era:

A Christians encouraged to be patient since they will endure it until the Lord comes (James 5:1-2).

B It will occur during a long age in which several signs will be repeated as birth pangs (Matthew 24:4-14 and parallels).

C During this age Christians are warned to stay alert for the 2nd coming (Matthew 25:1-13).

D During this age Christians are warned to stay committed to kingdom work (Matthew 25:14-30).

E During this age Christians are warned to be authentic, not just to do things that look real (Matthew 25:31-46).

F During this age most people (as in Noah’s time) will reject the gospel message and not seek salvation (Luke 17:26-30).

These statements do not agree with the assumption that the great tribulation is limited to a short period of time after Christ’s return. They are consistent with the teaching that we are currently enduring this great tribulation period, and that Christ’s return will end it.

the apostasy

The apostle Paul predicted a time of rebellion to occur within the church during this great tribulation age between Christ’s first and second advents.[5] Many traditions have emerged regarding a global Antichrist which do not jive with what Paul said in that text. He is purported to be a political figure, yet Paul says he leads an apostasy – the word apostasia being the Greek for rebellion here. That term suggests a spiritual leader in the visible church. Paul says he will be destroyed by Christ’s second coming, but many teach that Antichrist will not even appear until after Christ comes and raptures the church away. That would make an apostasy impossible, and it would make Christ pave the way for the Antichrist instead of destroy him.

What the Bible teaches is that an apostate Church will emerge in history between Paul’s time and Christ’s second coming. This apostate Church will introduce demonically inspired pagan teachings and rituals and forbid marriage and institute dietary restrictions.[6] It will be lead by imposters who oppose the truth, and introduce myths into its official teachings.[7] It’s leaders will be guilty of such hypocrisy and corruption that the whole of Christianity will be blasphemed.[8]

There is plenty of historical evidence that apostate churches and movements have emerged within the last 2000 years. There are also numerous attempts to reform the churches that suggest that at many times those who have professed faith have wandered away from that professed faith. It does not make sense theologically to cast all that evidence aside and insist that another great apostasy must occur, and after the church is taken away. For that reason, it makes sense to place the Apostasy among this list of things that have already taken place, and not in the list of events to occur during or after the second coming. This issue will be treated more extensively in chapter 64: The Apostasy.

at the second coming

There are five events prophesied as occurring at and as an immediate result of the second coming of Christ. These are the eschatological events which are next on the historical horizon. As such, they are tremendously important, and should not be trivialized. Many churches preach about these events, but seem to emphasize other things.

the parousia

Christ will reverse his ascension to heaven, and appear in the sky just as he had disappeared.[9] It will be his physical presence (Greek parousia) instead of his physical absence.[10] Many speak of this coming of Christ as being secret or silent, but Christ described it as a sudden, unexpected, worldwide cataclysmic event.[11] Notice the elements of the actual coming of Christ that he points out in his Olivet discourse:

1. He will come like lightning.

2. The Sun will darken.

3. The Moon will eclipse.

4. Stars will fall.

5. Heavenly bodies will shake.

6. Nations will mourn.

7. Angels will be sent with a loud trumpet call.

8. Men will faint from terror.

9. The Elect will be gathered.

That does not sound like an event anyone is likely to miss. Jesus had been asked for a sign by his disciples. They did not want to miss his return. Jesus taught them that, unlike his first coming as a babe in a manger, this one would not be secret. All the world will know. For Christ to be any more specific as to the timing of his parousia would be to defeat its purpose. It is supposed to catch the world off guard. It is to be sudden, like the coming of a thief.[12] The church must be prepared for the parousia at any time.[13]

the first resurrection

Christ’s first priority when he comes is to raise the dead in him. Paul spoke of the order of the harvest, where Christ’s resurrection was the firstfruits, and the second stage is “at his coming those who belong to Christ.”[14] This was Paul’s hope, to be among those raised from the dead.[15] John called this the first resurrection, and spoke of those who experience it as blessed.[16] Although dead now, those who are raised at Christ’s return are blessed because Christ will revive them, and they will never experience death again. Paul describes the event this way: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.”[17] It is the first thing of Jesus’ to-do list when he comes.

the rapture

His next task is to transform those in Christ who are still living so that they, too have immortality and are fit for eternity with him. Paul says “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”[18] Paul expected to be among this group, but we know now that he will be among the first. Regardless, both groups will become one, as we are caught up (raptured) into the air to meet with Jesus.

Armageddon

Meanwhile, back on earth, World War ? has broken out. The demons and people who have not bowed the knee to Christ are suddenly left in charge of a world without redeemed humanity. Angels from heaven have been summoned by a trumpet blast to wage war against them. The nations mourn because it becomes clear that Christ has come, and they were all left behind. Nations fear because natural disasters are creating chaos everywhere.[19] Demonically controlled leaders seek to unite this population for this battle, which is worldwide, but has a focal point at the mountain (Hebrew har) of Megiddo.[20] The world will be caught unprepared, and sudden destruction will come upon them.[21]

the Wedding Supper of the Lamb

Meanwhile, back in the air, the Bride of the Lamb is celebrating her wedding feast with her Bridegroom. This feast does not take place in heaven. It is the wedding feast celebrating the reunion of Christ and his church. He has come for us, not to bring us to heaven, but to rule with us on earth. But before the king and queen co-rule, the wedding must occur.

We will be as we are now, only perfected, since the Bible teaches that “when he appears we shall be like him.”[22] Perfection meets perfection in a wedding unlike any other in all the ages. The wedding gifts include the “the unfading crown of glory”[23] No shame will ever attach itself to us again. When he appears in his glory, we will appear in glory with him.[24]

after the second coming

The Bible does not specify how long the battle of Armageddon lasts, nor how long the wedding supper of the Lamb lasts. The duration of these events is not as important as the fact that other events prophesied must take place after them. It is, therefore, appropriate to speak of these next events as taking place after, and as a result of — the second coming.

the destruction of the beast & false prophet

Jesus and his church are not to remain celebrating in the air forever. At some point in time – it does not really matter when – Christ and his glorified bride will descend to earth. Having concluded the celebration of their reunion, they must now conclude the other consequence of the coming of Christ – the judgment of this world. John in Revelation speaks of Christ destroying the Beast and False Prophet:

“And the beast was captured, and with it the

false prophet who in its presence had done

the signs by which he deceived those who

had received the mark of the beast and those

who worshiped its image. These two were

thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns

with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the

sword that came from the mouth of him who

was sitting on the horse, and all the birds

were gorged with their flesh.” [25]

“This is the second death, the lake of fire.”[26]

John says that these two spirit beings (like Satan) are to be judged. They are the spirit beings who have led humanity in its rebellion against the LORD and his Christ throughout the ages. The Beast has led the kings of the earth in rebellion against God’s political rule. The False Prophet has masterminded and taught the religions of this world to reject Christ and his gospel.

John sees them suffering torment “for ages and ages.”[27] Most translations render that phrase “forever and ever” which is not literal, and it does an injustice to something else that John asserts about the lake of fire, namely, that it is the second death. In a logical universe, you cannot have both. Either these spirit beings will suffer eternally, and not die, or they will suffer for ages, and eventually die. John asserts the latter.

The Beast and False Prophet are eternally put out of commission at this point by having been thrown into the lake of fire. Satan remains, but he will also be rendered useless in the next event as divine history progresses.

the binding of Satan

Satan’s judgment is not immediate destruction. Before he is thrown into the lake of fire, he will be allowed to live to see the undoing of his defilement of planet earth.

“And he seized the dragon, that ancient

serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and

bound him for a thousand years, and

threw him into the pit, and shut it and

sealed it over him, so that he might not

deceive the nations any longer, until the

thousand years were ended. After that

he must be released for a little while.[28]

He will know that redeemed humanity will be undoing the curse that his influence had put on God’s creation. He will not be allowed to deceive the nations during this incarceration. He will have no control over the world that he had controlled for ages.

the millennial reign

A separate chapter will deal with the description of, and an evaluation of the theological debate over the millennium.[29] Suffice it to say that – in this presentation, a thousand year earthly reign of Christ and his church[30] fits into the overall plan to judge the enemies of Christ, and to redeem his creation, vindicating the dominion over the earth that God originally gave humanity.

the final battle

After Satan is released, he will immediately seek to lead the world in rebellion again:

“And when the thousand years are ended,

Satan will be released from his prison and

will come out to deceive the nations that

are at the four corners of the earth, Gog

and Magog, to gather them for battle;

their number is like the sand of the sea.

And they marched up over the broad plain

of the earth and surrounded the camp of

the saints and the beloved city, but fire

came down from heaven and consumed

them.”[31]

It is difficult to understand how a rebellion like this can occur after a thousand year reign of righteousness. Such is the power that Satan holds over us. But the good news is that this rebellion is put down, and then its instigator is definitively dealt with. His place is in the lake of fire prepared for him and his angels, which is the second death.[32]

the second resurrection

John’s vision of the final events continues with a reference to the sea and death and Hades giving up the dead who are in them.[33] This second resurrection will involve all those who have died from the beginning of creation – with the exception of those who have already been raised at the parousia. Its purpose is to have all those who have ever lived face Christ as their judge.

the great white throne judgment

The purpose for this judgment is to determine two things: the status of all people who have ever lived, and the extent of each unbeliever’s punishment before their destruction. There are only two statuses: saved or unsaved. We will either be in the Lamb’s book of life or not. For those who are not, they will each be judged based on their own works. While their works cannot save them, their works will determine the extent to which they obeyed the light that they had. The punishment will be proportional. Here is another biblical reason to reject the notion that all the lost will be punished perpetually. The sequence is that the lost will be judged “according to what they had done”[34] and then “thrown into the lake of fire”[35] afterward – to be destroyed.

the second death

This lake of fire is the second death, and it will do what the first death did. It will put the lost out of conscious existence. The difference is that there will be no resurrection from the second death. In that since, it will be aionios – permanent.[36]

the new heavens and earth

After finally destroying all traces of unredeemed humanity, the LORD will recreate the universe to make it suitable for the saved. The new Jerusalem that John saw in Revelation 21 is a picture of that new beginning. Just as the old Jerusalem was intended to represent God’s presence on earth, so the new Jerusalem/heaven and earth will be that presence. God will be among and within us. The second advent will then be complete.


[1] 2 Thessalonians 1:10 (for example).

[2] Luke 21:24 ESV.

[3] Matthew 24:15-22; 32-35; Mark 13:14-20; 28-31; Luke 21: 20-24; 28-33.

[4] Matthew 24:4-14; Mark 13:5-13; Luke 21:8-19.

[5] 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 ESV.

[6] 1 Timothy 4:1-3.

[7] 2 Timothy 3:1-13; 4:3-4.

[8] 2 Peter 2:1-3.

[9] Acts 1:11.

[10] parousia combines the prefix para (alongside) and the noun ousia (substance, presence).

[11] Matthew 24:23-31; Mark 13:21-27; Luke 21:25-27; 34-36.

[12] 2 Peter 3:3-13.

[13] Matthew 25.

[14] 1 Corinthians 15:23 ESV.

[15] Romans 6:5; Philippians 3:10, 20-21.

[16] Revelation 20:5-6.

[17] 1 Thessalonians 4:16 ESV.

[18] 1 Thessalonians 4:17 ESV.

[19] Luke 21:25-26.

[20] Revelation 16:16.

[21] 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3.

[22] 1 John 3:2.

[23] 1 Peter 5:4.

[24] Colossians 3:4.

[25] Revelation 19:20-21 ESV.

[26] Revelation 20:14.

[27] Revelation 20:10.

[28] Revelation 20:2-3 ESV.

[29] see chapter 65: The Reign.

[30] Revelation 20:4-6.

[31] Revelation 20:7-9 ESV.

[32] Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:14.

[33] Revelation 20:13.

[34] Revelation 20:13.

[35] Revelation 20:15.

[36] see chapter 63: The Destinies, for more on the meaning of aionios.

looking at 1 Thessalonians 5:10

 

baptism 109The Holy spirit has given us a masterpiece of precision in the Bible. Its words are crafted with such care that readers usually stumble upon the correct meaning of texts without much preparation and study. On the other hand, the human brain is a complex organ, and capable of creative interpretation. Sometimes we get rather creative in how we read the Bible.

1 Thessalonians 5:10 provides evidence of this proposition. Paul tells the Thessalonian Christians that Christ “died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”[1] Exegetes need to ask (at least) two questions of the text here: “What does ‘awake’ and ‘asleep’ mean in this context?” and “Is this verse an affirmation of dead believers consciously living with Christ before the resurrection?”

“awake” and “asleep”

The passage within which this verse is found is 4:13-5:11. The primary subject matter is the second coming of the Lord. Paul writes “we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”[2] In that verse, those considered awake are alive, and “those who are asleep” have died. The question had begun to present itself to believers as to what is happening to their loved ones who died after Jesus’ ascension. Paul does not tell them that it is none of their business. He has an answer to their questions. He does not want his readers assuming (as the godless do) that the dead are gone forever. He wants them to have hope, and a specific hope – not just the anticipation of some kind of life beyond the grave.

The basis for the believer’s hope in life after death is the fact “that Jesus died and rose again.”[3] It is not based on something about human nature, or the existence of something essentially immortal within all human beings. If Jesus had not physically rose from the dead and walked out of his tomb, the hope would not be there. Jesus had been asleep in the tomb, and brought out of that sleep by a resurrection. Paul promises that Jesus will be the means by whom God will bring all the dead in Christ out of their sleep. Jesus said the same thing to Martha. He said that he is “the resurrection and the life.” He spoke of that coming resurrection day when he said that whoever believes in him, will live then, even if he is dead now.[4] He went on to promise that whoever is living at the time of that resurrection, and believes, will never die. So, for both Jesus and Paul, there are only two classes of believer, the living (or awake) and the dead (or asleep). Both await Christ’s second coming.

Paul assures his readers that Christ is not going to return and set up his kingdom on earth without first raising those asleep in him. He says that “that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.”[5] Perhaps someone had taught the Thessalonians that the dead would stay buried until after the millennial reign, or some other event. Paul says, no, when Jesus returns, raising the dead is the first thing on his list.

The second coming will be an unmistakable cataclysmic event. It will be preceded by three unmistakably loud sounds: a command shouted from the Lord himself, the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet call. Then, all the dead will burst from their tombs.[6] When God acts to raise the dead, everyone will know it. It has not happened yet, but we will know it when it does.

with the Lord?

Those believers who are “awake” at the second coming of the Lord will be caught up in the air, together with the resurrected believers. From that time on, all believers will be “with the Lord” always.[7] This is an interesting way for Paul to put it. Many today assume that all believers have to do to be “with the Lord” is to die. But for Paul, being “with the Lord” requires Christ’s return. Until then, neither the “awake” or “asleep” believers are with the Lord. The awake are alive “in the Lord” and the dead die “in the Lord” (en kuriō),[8] but neither are “with the Lord” (sun kuriō) until his return.

So, what did Paul mean when he told the Corinthians that he “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord”?[9] He meant, simply, that he would rather be away from his present mortal body (his earthly tent) and, at the same time at home with the Lord (pros ton kurion). That is not going to happen until the resurrection, when this temporary mortal “tent” is replaced by his eternal “building from God”.[10] Since this resurrection does not occur until the return of Christ, Paul’s theology is consistent. The hope he speaks of to Corinth and to Thessalonica is the same: a reunion with Christ at his return.[11]

parousia

The New Testament describes the coming of the Lord as a “parousia,” his physical presence, as opposed to his physical absence. It is the combination of ousia, meaning substance or being, and para, meaning close proximity. It’s opposite is apousia, meaning absence.[12] This meaning is implied throughout the uses of parousia in the New Testament. It always applies to Christ’s physical reappearance at his second advent. This is made clear by the New Testament uses of the word when it do not refer to the second coming, but to someone else’s physical presence.[13] For Paul, the hope of the saints is not some spiritual presence at death, but the actual physical presence of Christ at his second advent. At this parousia, those who belong to Christ will be raised to life again.[14] At this parousia, Paul will rejoice over those he has won to Christ.[15] That is because the parousia will be the time when our Lord will appear “with all his saints.”[16] In this verse, 1 Thessalonians 3:13, the English word “coming” – the most popular word used to translate parousia – leads us astray. Popular teaching – based on this mistranslation – has Jesus coming from heaven with the disembodied souls of his saints. Then he reunites these souls with their resurrected bodies. Paul is not saying that Jesus will come with the saints. He is saying that Jesus will appear with the saints. One little word shows that this is the correct interpretation: the word all. All the saints includes those who are alive (awake) as well as those who are dead (asleep). At the parousia, these two groups will be reunited with the Lord.

alive or alert?

Midway in Paul’s description of the second coming, he starts using the words asleep and awake in a different sense. He teaches that Christ will come suddenly, like a thief. On the basis of that sudden coming, he instructs the Thessalonians “let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.”[17] His contrast has changed. Instead of contrasting the two categories of believers (living saints and dead saints), he now contrasts unbelievers (those who will be caught sleeping at the parousia) and believers (who live in the light, and so will be ready when Christ comes.

This change in the use of the awake/asleep metaphors has some interpreters concluding that Paul is not referring to the death state at all. The New English Translation renders 1 Thessalonians 5:10 as “He died for us so that whether we are alert or asleep we will come to life together with him.” This translation takes Paul as rendering assurance to believers who are not ready for Christ’s return! One commentator writes “This destiny not only belongs to those Christians who are wide awake when Christ comes, but also to those who are sound asleep.”[18] But Paddison argues that even though the verb translated “to be awake” in 2 Thessalonians 5:10 can mean to be alert, the theological logic of Paul in the entire section argues that Paul is using it in reference to the alive in Christ.[19]

Christ will come for all believers, regardless of their spiritual condition at the moment of his coming. Yet, it is not clear that Paul is giving that assurance in this text. He is, in fact, warning the Thessalonians not to be caught sleeping. It would make no sense for him to turn around and say, in effect, that regardless of their obedience to this command, Christ will accept them anyway.

the intermediate state

What does this verse tell us about the intermediate state – the state of the dead between death and the resurrection at Christ’s parousia? It does not say that believers who are asleep in Christ are presently living with him. It affirms that Christ died “for us” – and that his death is applied equally to all believers, whether living or dead. But only (as the context makes clear) at the parousia will the subjunctive clause become indicative. Only then will both categories of believers live with him. The NLT puts it well: “Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever.”

What this passage does affirm about the intermediate state is that there is a contrast between believers who are living and those who are dead. While both will live with Christ when he returns, only those who awake are living now. The dead in Christ are asleep. While their eternal inheritance is assured, their present walk has been cut short by death. They are unconscious, awaiting the parousia, when we will all be “gathered together to him.”[20] Those of us who have lost loved ones can take courage, because Christ’s death on the cross assures us that their rest is temporary, not eternal.


[1] 1 Thessalonians 5:10 ESV.

[2] 1 Thessalonians 4:13 ESV.

[3] 1 Thessalonians 4:14 ESV.

[4] John 11:25.

[5] 1 Thessalonians 4:15.

[6] 1 Thessalonians 4:16.

[7] 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

[8] Revelation 14:13.

[9] 2 Corinthians 5:8 (NIV).

[10] 2 Corinthians 5:1.

[11] For a more comprehensive treatment of 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, see “Away from the body” (http://www.afterlife.co.nz/2011/bible/away-from-the-body-2-corinthians-5-8/).

[12] In Philippians 2:12, Paul contrasts his presence (parousia) with his absence (apousia).

[13] 1 Corinthians 16:17; 2 Corinthians 7:6-7; 10:10; Philippians 1:26; 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:9.

[14] 1 Corinthians 15:23.

[15] 1 Thessalonians 2:19.

[16] 1 Thessalonians 3:13.

[17] 1 Thessalonians 5:6.

[18] Keith Krell, “No Sleep Walking” (https://bible.org/seriespage/no-sleep-walking-1-thessalonians-51-11).

[19] Angus Paddison, Theological Hermeneutics and 1 Thessalonians, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 186.

[20] 2 Thessalonians 2:1.