Monday, February 16, 2015

Messianic Kingdom II


After the questions last week, I could see that I didn’t answer some of the most important questions that people had about the Messianic kingdom.  So I thought I’d spend a little more time on this topic to answer those questions in a better way.  Is that okay? 

Last time we talked about some of the things that will happen during the Messianic kingdom.  This time, we need to talk a little more about the beginning and the end of the Messianic kingdom.  The main question about the beginning of the Messianic kingdom is:  who will be in the Messianic kingdom?  Who will be alive at that time? 

There are two different opinions about this:  the first is that only the resurrected righteous will be alive at the time of the Messianic kingdom; the second is that there will be two groups of people in the Messianic kingdom—one group will be the resurrected righteous, the other will be fleshly unrighteous people, people who have not yet been resurrected, but who continue to be alive at that time. 

The second opinion, that says there will be two different groups, has become very popular with the spread of the teaching known as dispensationalism in the last 150 years.  Today, dispensationalism is the most common endtimes teaching in conservative churches and in the books being sold in Christian bookstores.  This is a teaching that traces back to John Nelson Darby in the mid-19th century and was popularized by Cyrus Scofield, who wrote the popular Scofield Reference Bible, which became very popular in the United States.  Today dispensationalism is widely taught in Baptist, Pentecostal, and Charismatic churches. 

What exactly is dispensationalism?  It’s the idea that God works in different ways in different times in history.  Each of these is called a different dispensation.  I’m not going to get into the whole of dispensational teaching today.  But let’s just say that it’s controversial, and that it’s a new teaching.  This was not the belief of any Christians before John Darby.  This alone should raise some questions about it.  It also contradicts many of the views of Christians before this time, including the views of the Early Church.  So this is another problem.  When it first came out, dispensationalism was opposed by everybody.  So why do so many teach this today?  One reason is that the other churches stopped teaching about endtimes over the years, so different points of view were no longer being heard.  And that left a situation where many people only know this one teaching and haven’t heard any others.  Maybe one of these days we’ll talk more about the problems with the dispensational teaching.

But not everything in dispensational teaching is new, and that includes the idea that nonbelievers will be on earth in the time of the Millennium:  opinion #2.  A form of this teaching was known in the time of the Early Church.  But this view was not as popular then as it is today.  Most of the Early Church fathers had a real problem with the idea that carnal living would continue in the Millennium, including marriage and giving in marriage.  In fact they said this idea came from Cerinthus, an early heretic, and rejected it.  Carnality in the Millennium was such a problem for the Early Church that some, including St. Augustine, rejected the whole idea of the Millennium because of it.  And this is why many of the older, traditional churches reject the Millennium teaching today. 

So what exactly does the Bible teach about the people that will be in the Millennium?  One of the expressions the Bible uses for the time when the Messiah comes and judges the nations is the “day of the Lord.” This phrase was so well known among the prophets that it is sometimes just called “the day,” as in the prophet Malachi:

Mal. 4:1:  “For look, the day is coming, burning like an oven; and all the proud and all who do wickedness will be chaff, and the day that is coming will set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that there will not be left to them root or branch.”  

Malachi tells us that “all” the proud and “all” the wicked, in other words all sinners, will be like chaff.  What is chaff?  That’s the part that’s left over after you thresh your grain.  It’s basically dried straw.  It’s very flammable.  And so in ancient times it would be used for starting fires, or sometimes just burned to get rid of it, since it wasn’t very useful. 

Malachi tells us that in the Day of the Lord, the wicked will be like chaff.  And what will happen to them on that day?  They will be set ablaze, which I think we would all agree means they will be destroyed.  This is also the meaning of the last part of the verse:  “there will not be left to them root or branch.”  No older generation, no younger generation will be left:  all will be destroyed.  So according to Malachi, when Messiah comes for judgment, all the wicked will be destroyed. 

This is certainly how John the Baptist understood this prophecy.  He said, speaking of the Messiah:

Matt. 3:12:  “whose winnowing fork is in his hand; and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the storehouse, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Once the wheat has been crushed to release the kernels of the wheat, you use a winnowing fork to throw it all in the air.  This separates the wheat—the part you want—from the chaff that you don’t want.  Then you gather up the wheat, and the chaff is burned with fire.  This is what Messiah is coming to do:  he’s going to clear everything off his threshing floor.  And when he’s done, all that will be left is the good wheat.  Everything else is going to be burned.  This is the same picture that we saw in Malachi. 

So why do the dispensationalists say there will be unrighteous people in the Messianic kingdom, when verses like these say they will be destroyed?  One of the key passages to understand this problem begins with Rev. 19:19, where it’s talking about the battle of Armageddon:

Rev. 19:19:  “And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their troops, gathered to make war with the one sitting on the horse and with his army.”

The one sitting on the horse is clearly identified a few verses earlier as the Messiah, the Word of God (Rev. 19:13).  His army is the believers, who were resurrected to meet him in the air (1 Thess. 4:16,17), and now are coming back down with him for the final battle.  This is when the armies of the world will gather against Israel and attack Jerusalem, which is when the Messiah will appear with his people to defend the city, just as Zechariah also teaches in Zech. 14: 

Zech. 14:2,3:  “And I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem for war... And the LORD will go out and wage war against these nations as in the day of his waging war in a day of battle.”

Then Revelation continues:

Rev. 19:20:  “And the beast was seized and with him the false prophet who did miraculous signs in his presence, with which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshipped his likeness:  the two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.” 

Without getting into all the details about who the beast and the false prophet are, we just want to notice now that these two leaders of the enemy are thrown into Gehenna, the Lake of Fire, into eternal punishment.

Rev. 19:21:  “And the rest were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the one sitting on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.” 

Who are “the rest” that are killed?  The dispensationalists say that this means only the armies that are gathered to make war against Israel.  And this is a reasonable conclusion if we look only at the three verses we’ve just read.  If this is true, then that means that everyone who is not fighting will not be harmed, and they will continue right on into the Messianic kingdom, which is what dispensationalism teaches.  But if we step back and look at the larger context of these verses, we get quite a different impression.  This will also help us understand the sword, for example, coming out of the mouth of Jesus. 

So let’s go, in the same chapter, to vs. 15:

Rev. 19:15:  “And from his mouth comes a sharp sword, that with it he may strike down the nations, and he will shepherd them with a rod of iron, and he treads the wine press of the wine of the fury of the wrath of God the ruler over all.”

In this verse, we have three important images to help us understand what the Messiah does when he comes.  The first is the sword coming out of his mouth.  Here it tells us that with this sword, he will “strike down,” in other words, he will kill “the nations,” a word that can also be translated Gentiles or ethnic groups.  There is no mention here that this will only affect the armies of the nations, but rather it says that he will destroy the nations themselves:  in other words, that all the people on earth at that time, all the unrighteous, will be destroyed, just as Malachi said, and John the Baptist.  This doesn’t include the righteous, of course, who will already have been resurrected and are with the Lord. 

This image of a sword coming out of the mouth of the Messiah comes from Isa. 49:2, in which the Messiah says:

Isa. 49:2:  “And he has made my mouth like a sharp sword.  In the shadow of his hand he has hidden me; and he has made me a shining arrow.  In his quiver he has concealed me.”

This verse describes the Messiah as a weapon of God, now hidden, but ready to be used at the right time.  And what will happen when God uses this sword?  In another section about the coming of the Messiah, Isaiah says:

Isa. 66:16:  “For with fire will the LORD contend, with his sword against all flesh; and those slain by the LORD will be many.”  

With his sword he will strike down “all flesh”:  again, everyone that is alive at that time and not with Jesus will be killed.  So the image of the sword coming out of the mouth of the Messiah in Rev. 19:15 is now quite clear to us:  it means the destruction of all the unrighteous when Jesus comes.

(Rev. 19:15:  “And from his mouth comes a sharp sword, that with it he may strike down the nations, and he will shepherd them with a rod of iron, and he treads the wine press of the wine of the fury of the wrath of God the ruler over all.”)

Okay, so what is the second image in Rev. 19:15?  “He will shepherd them with a rod of iron.”  What is this talking about?  This comes from Psalm 2, which is a famous Messianic psalm:

Psa. 2:8:  “Ask from me and I will give nations to be your inheritance and the ends of the earth to be your possession.” 

Here the Father God is speaking to the Messiah and telling him about the time when he will come to rule the nations in his Messianic kingdom.  And what will the Messiah do with those nations when he comes?

Psa. 2:9:  “You will break them with a rod of iron; like the vessel of a potter you will shatter them.” 

In the Septuagint, the old Greek version of the Old Testament, it says “you will shepherd them with a rod of iron,” which is a different way to read the same Hebrew letters here, and so that’s the way it appears in Revelation, “you will shepherd them with a rod of iron.” 

Normally the rod of the shepherd was made of wood, and it was used for smacking the sheep, to get them to go the right way.  But this is a rod of iron, like the rods of ancient rulers.  These were originally weapons used in war, but over time came to be symbolic, and became what we call scepters today that a king or queen will hold as a symbol of their office. 

But the rod of Messiah will clearly be used as a weapon.  And what will he do with it?  He will break the nations “like the vessel of a potter.”  Have you ever hit pottery with an iron rod?  You know what happens to it?  It smashes into tiny pieces.  It’s completely destroyed.  So what is this image telling us will happen when Jesus comes back again?  The nations are going to be completely destroyed!  This is just what it says about the Messiah in Isa. 11, one of the most famous Messianic passages in the Bible: 

Isa. 11:4:  “And he will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth and with the spirit of his lips he will kill the wicked.”

It’s going to be all over for the wicked when Messiah returns.  This same idea is in Psalm 110, a Messianic psalm often quoted by Jesus:

Psalm 110:2:  “The LORD will stretch out the rod of your strength from Zion.  Rule in the midst of your enemies.”

Here, again, we see Messiah ruling with his rod.  And what will he do with it? 

Psalm 110:5-6:  “The Lord at your right hand will smite through kings in the day of his wrath.  He will judge among the nations; he will fill them with corpses, he will smite through the ruler over a great land.” 

What is the Messiah going to do with that rod?  He’s going to smash that pottery!  This idea is even older than the Psalms.  In fact, it goes all the way back to the prophecy of Balaam in the time of Moses.  This is in Numbers 24, one of the oldest prophecies about the Messiah:

Num. 24:17:  “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near, a star will march out of Jacob, and a rod will arise from Israel; he will shatter the sides of the head of Moab and destroy all the sons of Seth.”

There’s that rod again, and it’s shattering again.  But who are the sons of Seth that he’s going to destroy?  Seth was the son of Adam and Eve after Cain and Abel, the ancestor of Noah.  So in other words, he’s the ancestor of everyone alive today.  This tells us that when the Messiah comes, he’s going to destroy everyone on the earth at that time:  “all the sons of Seth.”  So image of the rod is now also very clear to us:  it means that the Messiah is going to destroy all the unrighteous when he comes. 

(Rev. 19:15:  “And from his mouth comes a sharp sword, that with it he may strike down the nations, and he will shepherd them with a rod of iron, and he treads the wine press of the wine of the fury of the wrath of God the ruler over all.”)

And what about the third image in Rev. 19:15?  “And he treads the wine press of the wine of the fury of the wrath of God the ruler over all.”  This is also connected to vs. 13:

Rev. 19:13:  “And he is clothed in a garment dipped in blood, and his name is called the Word of God.” 

Why is his garment dipped in blood?  This is from another Messianic passage, Isa. 63:

Isa. 63:2:  “Why is your clothing red and your garments like one treading in a winepress?”

When somebody treads grapes in a winepress, their clothes can get stained a red color from the juice of the grapes. 

Isa. 63:3:  “I have treaded the winepress alone and from the peoples there was no one with me; and I treaded on them in my anger and I trampled them in my wrath, and their blood was spattered on my garments, and I have defiled all my clothing.”

So the red color on his clothes is not juice, but blood.  Why is the winepress a symbol of destruction?  Just imagine that you are a grape, and here comes a huge foot above you:  squoosh!  And then out comes what for a grape is juice, but for us is blood:  both of them red, and both of them stain clothes.    And who is the Messiah trampling?  “The peoples,” as it says again in vs. 6:

Isa. 63:6:  “And I treaded on the peoples in my anger, and I made them drunk in my wrath, and I brought their blood down to the earth.”  

Here again, the Messiah comes to destroy all the people alive on earth at that time.  So now the image of trampling the wine press of God’s fury is also clear to us:  it, too, is a symbol of the destruction of the unrighteous when Jesus comes. 

So now how do we understand vs. 21 in Revelation? 

Rev. 19:21:  “And the rest were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the one sitting on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.”

In context, “the rest” means that everyone else is destroyed, not just the armies that come up against Jerusalem.  As it says in Isaiah 34:

Isa. 34:2:  “For the wrath of the LORD is against all the nations, and his rage against all their armies; he has devoted them to destruction [kherem], he has given them to slaughter.”  

Here it’s clearly stated that God’s rage is not just against the armies of the nations, but also against the nations as a whole.  And so what has he done?  He has made them all kherem.  What does that mean?  It means that they are completely devoted to destruction.  Remember when Joshua and the children of Israel attacked Jericho?  God made Jericho kherem

Josh. 6:17:  “And the city will be devoted to destruction [kherem], it and all that is in it is for the LORD; only Rahab the harlot will live and all who are with her in the house, for she hid the messengers that we sent.”

Kherem means that nothing can be spared.  Everyone and everything must be completely destroyed.  This is what happened at Jericho, and this is what will happen when the greater Joshua, Jesus, comes, too. 

So who are “the rest” that are killed in Rev. 19:21?  Everyone.  But let’s not just rely on the Old Testament.  What did Jesus say? 

Luke 17:26,27:  “And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will also be in the days of the Son of Man:  they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered into the ark and the Flood came and destroyed them all.” 

Destroyed who?  Did anyone else survive the Flood except Noah and his family?  No.  It will be just the same when Messiah returns.  Either you go up to meet him in the resurrection of the righteous, or you are destroyed.

Luke 17:28,29:  “In the same way, just as it happened in the days of Lot, they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building, but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from heaven and destroyed them all.”

Destroyed who?  Did anyone survive the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah except Lot and his family?  No. 

Luke 17:30:  “It will be just the same way on the day the Son of Man is revealed.”

So then, if everyone is killed like this, who will be in the Millennium?  Only those who are caught up to be with the Lord in the resurrection of the righteous.  Everyone left behind on earth will be destroyed.  It will be just like in the days of Noah.  No one else survives.  It will be just like the days of Lot.  Only the righteous will be in the Messianic kingdom.  Just as Jesus said in Luke 20, that we looked at last week, only those that are worthy will be there:

Luke 20:34-36:  “And Jesus said to them, ‘The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; for neither are they still able to die, for they are like angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.’”

So where will the wicked be during that time?  They’ll be in Hades or Sheol, the place of death, just as Isaiah says:

Isa. 24:21:  “And it will be in that day (yom hahu) that the LORD will punish the army of heaven on high and the kings of the earth on the earth.”

This is the day of the Lord, the future prophetic day (yom hahu) of God’s judgment. 

Isa. 24:22:  “And they will surely be gathered together as prisoners in a pit, and they will be shut up in prison; and after many days they will be punished.”

The “pit” in the Old Testament is a synonym for Sheol or Hades.  The unrighteous dead will be in the place of death during the Messianic kingdom.  Only after that will they be judged.  Another verse in Isaiah also prophesies about this time according to the old Greek version of the Bible (the Septuagint or LXX).  This section starts:

Isa. 26:9:  “...for when your judgments come on the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.”

So this is talking about the time of God’s judgment.  And here’s the verse:

Isa. 26:10 LXX:  “For the ungodly one ceases; never will he learn righteousness on the earth; never will he do truth; let him be taken away that he may not see the glory of the Lord.”

This was understood by the early Church to be referring to the punishment of the wicked during the one thousand years.  (The verse is quite different in our Bibles today, which are based on a different Hebrew reading.)

So all of this means that the “rest” who are destroyed by Messiah in Rev. 19:21 are added to the “rest” of the dead in Rev. 20:5. 

Rev. 20:5:  “The rest of the dead did not live until the one thousand years were finished...”

This is when the wicked of all time will be in Hades or Sheol for the one thousand years.  And they are the same as the “rest” we saw last time in 1 Cor. 15, the last to be resurrected, which will be at the end of the Millennium. 

1 Cor. 15:22-24:  “For just as in Adam all die, so also in Messiah all will be made alive; but each in his own division:  [1] Messiah the first-fruit,  [2] then those who are of Messiah at his coming, [3] then the rest when he [Messiah] hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when he has removed every ruler and every authority and power.”     

Okay, so let’s quickly review to make sure we understand everything.  First, who will be destroyed by the Messiah when he returns?  All the unrighteous.  And who will be on earth in the Millennium?  All the righteous.  And where will the unrighteous be during the Millennium?  In Hades or Sheol.  Then at the end of the one thousand years, who is resurrected?  The unrighteous from all time.  This is “the rest” of the dead.  And then what happens? 

Some people are confused by the description of this second resurrection in Rev. 20.  The reason for this is that sometimes in the Bible there is a heading sentence, telling you what the next section is about, and then after that it goes on to describe what happens.  So for example in Gen. 1:1 it says:

Gen. 1:1:  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  

That’s the heading.  Then after that, it tells you how he did it. 

Gen. 1:2:  “And the earth was formless and empty, and darkness was on the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” 

Some people are very confused by this.  It sounds like God created the earth, and then suddenly the earth is gone.  People have made all kinds of complicated theories to try to explain this, like the gap theory.  But what actually happened?  Nothing.  It’s just that the first verse is a heading, and then it goes on to tell us the details.  And there are many other examples like this in the Bible.  That’s the same thing that happens in Rev. 20.  First we get a description of what’s going to happen:

Rev. 20:7-8:  “And when the one thousand years are finished, Satan will be released from his prison and he will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them to the battle, of whom their number will be as the sand of the sea.” 

This is a description of what’s going to happen.  It’s all in the future tense:  will be, will go, will be.  The focus here is on Satan, and what he will do at the end of the one thousand years, when all the rest, the unrighteous nations, are raised and fill the earth, whose number is as the sand of the sea.  So you can just imagine someone saying this during the thousand years, telling you what’s going to happen at the end of that time.  This is the heading, describing what’s coming.  But then, in the next verse, it brings us into the action when that time comes:

Rev. 20:9:  “And they ascended to the surface of the earth and surrounded the camp of the holy ones and the beloved city, and fire descended from heaven and it consumed them.”

Do you see how everything switches to the past tense to describe the action as if it’s actually happening?  Who ascended?  The rest of the dead:  all the unrighteous from all time.  And then the final war of Gog and Magog takes place.  The enemy surrounds the holy ones and the city of Jerusalem.  The righteous are pushed back to their last stronghold, Jerusalem.  It doesn’t look good for the righteous. 

But wait a minute!  The righteous are in resurrected bodies.  How could they be threatened like that?  Could a fleshly army do that to them?  This is what the dispensationalists teach:  that this is an army of fleshly men attacking God’s people.  But that’s impossible!  How could a fleshly army overwhelm a resurrected army like this?  The saints will be in their glorified bodies.  This means they can’t be hurt anymore.  How could a fleshly army compete with that?  All you would need to do is send out two or three resurrected people, and they could defeat an entire army of fleshly people.  So I think you can see that the idea that a fleshly army could do this to God’s people is absurd.  No, only a resurrected army would be able to push them back on the defensive like this. 

Then suddenly fire descends from heaven and consumes them.  But wait a minute!  How can resurrected people be “consumed” by fire?  Some people have a real difficulty with this. 

Well, let’s think about this end-time fire of God a little.  Will there be fire in the Lake of Fire?  Yes, of course.  But will that fire kill those that are in the Lake of Fire?  No, they will be in that fire forever, but it will not kill them.  Why not?  Because they’re resurrected.  They can’t die anymore.  So they will be tormented by the fire, they’ll be consumed by the fire, but the fire won’t be able to kill them.  Right?  Does that make sense?

Okay, so let’s take these same resurrected people, just shortly before this, and put them around the city of Jerusalem, and then the fire of God falls on them.  What will happen?  The fire will stop them from whatever they were doing, it will seriously bother them, but it will not kill them.  Why not?  Because they’re resurrected!  Do you get it? 

But the fire from God does destroy something.  What does it destroy?  If we skip over the verse about the devil being thrown into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:10), the next verse says: 

Rev. 20:11:  “And I saw a large white throne and the one sitting on it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled and no place was found for them.”

What?  Earth and heaven disappeared?  When did that happen?  That was the fire from God coming down!  As Peter put it:

2 Pet. 3:7:  “But the present heavens and the earth by the same word are reserved for fire, being kept for a day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”

The fire from God isn’t just directed at the people in the final battle.  It’s also directed at the heavens and the earth themselves.  When God sends the fire, it consumes everything:  the holy city, the camp of the saints, the earth, and the heavens above.  Everything is gone.  Only the people, all of whom are resurrected, remain.  And then comes the final judgment.  Amen?

Let’s pray:  Father God, we’re filled with awe at the plan that you have for the future.  Help us, Lord to be mindful of what is coming and to keep our eyes on the prize every day, so we will not be distracted, or caught off guard, or tempted by the lies of this world.  Help us to serve you with all of our hearts, to make the most of the few days that we have on this earth to reach out to others, and help them avoid the horrible destruction that is coming on the unrighteous.  Help us to bring your truth to a lost and a dying world.  And we ask this in Jesus’ name.  And everybody said?  

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