THE ETERNAL ORDER AND ISRAEL
As has been abundantly shown, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel, returns to earth at the end of the Tribulation, mounts the throne of David, establishes a world-wide kingdom, and reigns for a thousand years. At the end of Christ's millennial reign Satan is released from the bottomless pit and allowed to come back to earth for a short time. Then he stirs up a rebellion against the authority of Christ, leading a vast host against Jerusalem, the capital of the world, and against the camp of the saints. Fire comes down out of heaven and consumes this rebellious host. Then Satan is cast into the lake of fire where he shall be tormented for ever and ever.
7 And when the thousand years are finished, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, 8 and shall come forth to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to the war: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. 9 And they went up over the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down out of heaven, and devoured them. 10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where are also the beast and the false prophet; and they shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Rev. 20:7-10).
I. THE GREAT WHITE THRONE JUDGMENT
All the saved of earth come up in the first resurrection, which is in three installments, and which is before the thousand years' reign of Christ. All the lost, upon death, descend into Sheol, or Hades, and remain there during the thousand years' reign of Christ. At the end of His reign upon earth, all the lost are raised from the dead and appear before Christ at the judgment of the Great White Throne.
11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat upon it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne; and books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13 And the sea gave up the dead that were in it; and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. 14 And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, even the lake of fire. 15 And if any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15).
All the unsaved dead, the great and the small, appear before the throne to be judged. The books containing the record of the life of each one and the "book of life" also are opened. Then each one is judged according to the facts recorded in these books.
There are two books¹ of life: one, the book of life, which originally contained the name of every individual who ever lives; and "the book of life of the Lamb," in which only the names of the saved are inscribed. Life is a period of probation for every individual. The invitation goes out to one and all to accept Christ and His salvation. The name of every one who refuses or neglects to do so and passes out of this life is blotted out of the book of life. On the other hand, if one accepts Christ and His salvationand is genuinely born againhis name remains in the book of life, but it is also inscribed in the Lamb's book of life. "And inasmuch as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this cometh judgment; 28 so Christ also, having been once offered to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time, apart from sin, to them that wait for him, unto salvation" (Heb. 9:27,28). There will be many erasures from the book of life, but not one from the Lamb's book of life. The names of those appearing before the judgment of the Great White Throne are erased from the book of life because they have never been regenerated.
II. THE PASSING OF THE PRESENT ORDER
When the Great White Throne Judgment is set, the entire material universe will pass awayvanish. "And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat upon it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them" (Rev. 20:11). A second time John mentions the passing away of the heaven and the earth. "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away; and the sea is no more" (Rev. 21:1). The Lord Jesus foretold the passing away of the material universe in Matthew 24:35: "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away."
Notwithstanding the fact that Jesus foretold the passing away of the heaven and the earth, and John spoke to the same effect, there are those who call attention to Psalm 148:5,6, attempting to prove that the psalmist affirms that the literal heaven and earth will stand forever:
5 Let them praise the name of Jehovah;
For he commanded, and they were created.
6 He hath also established them for ever and ever:
He hath made a decree which shall not pass away.
Here, therefore, appears to be a contradiction between the psalmist on the one hand, and Christ and John the Apostle, on the other. There are no contradictions in the Word of God. What often appears to be a discrepancy vanishes upon one's ascertaining the real facts in the case.
The true explanation to this difficulty is found by an investigation of the Hebrew word forever.² When the facts of the context are examined, where for ever is used, it is seen that this expression indicates continuity, duration, and perpetuity, the meaning being limited by the facts presented. King David, for instance, speaking of his reign, which lasted forty years, said that God had chosen him to be king over Israel forever, "Howbeit Jehovah, the God of Israel, chose me out of all the house of my father to be king over Israel for ever" (I Chron. 28:4a). In this passage for ever means continuity, duration. It cannot mean everlasting. Many passages could be presented which show that for ever does not mean everlasting, but continuity without interruption during the period of which the writer is speaking. There is, therefore, no contradiction between King David on the one hand, and the Lord Jesus and John the Apostle on the other.
At the conclusion of the Millennium, when the judgment of the Great White Throne is set, the material heaven and earth, constituting the present order of the physical creation, will pass away.
III. THE CREATION OF THE ETERNAL ORDER
The passing away of the present material universe is not a happen-soan unforeseen catastrophebut is one of the steps of an orderly development designed by the God of the universe for the blessing of His creatures and for the manifestation of His glory.
The Apostle John saw in a vision the eternal order, which consists of the eternal heaven and the eternal earth. Out of the eternal heaven descends the eternal Jerusalemthe city foursquareand rests upon the eternal earth. According to John the Apostle, this city will be fifteen hundred miles in each directionlength, breadth, and height. The description is far beyond our comprehension. New rays of eternal glory are constantly flashing from this description of the eternal order as the earnest truth seeker meditates upon it.
21 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away; and the sea is no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his peoples, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God: 4 and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more: the first things are passed away. 5 And he that sitteth on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he saith, Write: for these words are faithful and true. 6 And he said unto me, They are come to pass. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. 7 He that overcometh shall inherit these things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. 8 But for the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part shall be in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death.
9 And there came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls, who were laden with the seven last plagues; and he spake with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the wife of the Lamb. 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God: her light was like unto a stone most precious, as it were a jasper stone, clear as crystal: 12 having a wall great and high; having twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: 13 on the east were three gates; and on the north three gates; and on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. 15 And he that spake with me had for a measure a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof. 16 And the city lieth foursquare, and the length thereof is as great as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs: the length and the breadth and the height thereof are equal. 17 And he measured the wall thereof, a hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. 18 And the building of the wall thereof was jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto pure glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; 20 the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the several gates was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass. 22 And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God the Almighty, and the Lamb, are the temple thereof. 23 And the city hath no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine upon it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the lamp thereof is the Lamb. 24 And the nations shall walk amidst the light thereof: and the kings of the earth bring their glory into it. 25 And the gates thereof shall in no wise be shut by day (for there shall be no night there): 26 and they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it: 27 and there shall in no wise enter into it anything unclean, or he that maketh an abomination and a lie: but only they that are written in the Lamb's book of life.
22 And he showed me a river of water of life, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2 in the midst of the street thereof. And on this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve manner of fruits, yielding its fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 And there shall be no curse any more: and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be therein: and his servants shall serve him; 4 and they shall see his face; and his name shall be on their foreheads. 5 And there shall be night no more; and they need no light of lamp, neither light of sun; for the Lord God shall give them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever (Rev. 21:1-22:5).
IV. THE CITY FOURSQUARE, THE ETERNAL HOME OF THE REDEEMED
The glowing description of the eternal Jerusalem is found in Revelation 21:9-27. When one reads it, he sees that it beggars description by mortal man. The city is surrounded by a wall "great and high." There are twelve gates, at which are twelve angels. On each one of these gates is the name of a Jew, the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. This wall is erected upon twelve foundations, on each of which is the name of a Jew, the name of one of the Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Why is such prominence given to the Jews in connection with the eternal Jerusalem, the home of the redeemed? A hint that may lead to the answer is possibly found in the relation that Israel through history has sustained to all nations.
8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
When he separated the children of men,
He set the bounds of the peoples
According to the number of the children of Israel.
9 For Jehovah's portion is his people;
Jacob is the lot of his inheritance (Deut. 32:8,9).
The thought contained in this quotation has led someone to speak of Israel as the hub of the nations. This statement being true, we can see how the events of history have always eddied around the people of Israel. It is reasonable to suppose that the same principle will obtain in the eternal world.
There proceeded out from the throne of God and of the Lamb a river of water of life, flowing in the midst of the street. There doubtless will be myriads of streets, but the one of which mention is made is the principal one.
On both sides of this river is seen the tree of life, the leaves of which are for the health of the nations. Since there will be no disease or sickness in the eternal order, it would be better to translate the word in the original as health of the nationsthat which keeps the people in perfect physical condition.
In this eternal city there will be no night. Those who will live in the eternal Jerusalem "shall reign forever and ever."
V. SOLEMN WARNINGS AND PRACTICAL EXHORTATIONS
Having presented the picture of the Eternal Order (Rev. 21:1-22:5), the inspired Apostle John concludes his message to the churches with some solemn warnings and earnest exhortations.
6 And he said unto me, These words are faithful and true: and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show unto his servants the things which must shortly come to pass. 7 And behold, I come quickly. Blessed is he that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this book. 8 And I John am he that heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel that showed me these things. 9 And he saith unto me, See thou do it not: I am a fellow-servant with thee and with thy brethren the prophets, and with them that keep the words of this book: worship God.
10 And he saith unto me, Seal not up the words of the prophecy of this book; for the time is at hand. 11 He that is unrighteous, let him do unrighteousness still: and he that is filthy, let him be made filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him do righteousness still: and he that is holy, let him be made holy still. 12 Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to render to each man according as his work is. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. 14 Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have the right to come to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city. 15 Without are the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the fornicators, and the murderers, and the idolaters, and every one that loveth and maketh a lie. 16 I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright, the morning star. 17 And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And he that heareth, let him say, Come. And he that is athirst, let him come: he that will, let him take the water of life freely. 18 I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto them, God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book: 19 and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book. 20 He who testifieth these things saith, Yea: I come quickly. Amen: come, Lord Jesus. 21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with the saints. Amen (Rev. 22:6-21).
Whatever God says is faithful and true, "For no word from God shall be void of power" (Luke 1:37).
In view of the Lord's return (Rev. 22:7), "Blessed is he that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this book." One must study the Book of Revelation in order to know the message written therein.
According to verses 8 and 9, John asserts that he both heard and saw the things that are written in the Book of Revelation. John attempted to worship the angel who showed and gave him the message. The angel stopped him, however, and said, "Worship God." Man may respect others, but never to the point of worshiping them, neither is he to worship a celestial creature.
The angel told John not to seal up the words of the prophecy, "for the time is at hand" (v. 10). When nineteen hundred years are added to the date of the writing of the Book of Revelation, it becomes evident that we now are in the very last days. Let us be loyal to our absent Lord, being always busy about our Father's business.
When one reads verse 11, he is impressed with the thought that man, from one standpoint, is "master of his fate." God never forces or coerces anyone. Man is free to make his own choices. In this sense he is master of his own fate. God wants all men to be saved, but it is left to the individual to determine whether or not he will accept God's free sovereign grace.
Jesus reminds the churches that He is coming quickly and that He will reward each one according to his work (v. 12).
The Lord Jesus Christ is the "first and the last." He is the One through whom all things were created and for whom they exist (v. 13).
According to verse 14, those are blessed who wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb. They will have a right to the tree of life and will enter in through the gates of the city.
Everything will be holy within the city, but all moral perverts will be without the city (v. 15).
According to verse 16, Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, is the offspring of David. Moreover, He is the bright and morning star. The morning star appears just before dawn. Christ will appear before the dawn of the Millennial Age as the bright and morning star for those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
According to verse 17, the Holy Spirit sends out a world-wide invitation to all who are athirst for the water of life. It is the will of God that none should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Anyone who has partaken of the water of life may invite others to come.
In verses 18 and 19, God sounds a solemn warning against adding to, taking from, or in any wise changing the contents of the message of the Book of Revelation. God gave a similar warning to Israel regarding the revelation that was made through Moses.
4 And now, 0 Israel, hearken unto the statutes and unto the ordinances, which I teach you, to do them; that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which Jehovah, the God of your fathers, giveth you. 2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it, that ye may keep the commandments of Jehovah your God which I command you (Deut. 4:1,2).
Since God would not allow any alterations in the books of Moses, nor in the Book of Revelation, it stands to reason that these warnings apply to all that God has saidall the Scriptures.
In verse 20, John quotes Jesus as saying, "Yea: I come quickly." Then the Apostle John responds saying, "Amen, Come Lord Jesus." All born-again, spirit-filled, and scripturally taught people who understand prophecy say the same thing: "Come, Lord Jesus."
John's final message to the Church is found in verse 21: "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with the saints. Amen."
¹ It is obvious from the context that "book of life" and "Lamb's book of life" are figurative expressions. Since man keeps records in books, God chose these terms to convey eternal truth in human expression.
² The expression forever in the scripture text is two words, but in modern English it is written as a single word.