Confirming Evidence Of The Future Kingdom
In the Olivet discourse, our Lord placed the Kingdom Age as following His return to earth. Confirmation of this position is found in many passages throughout the Scriptures, but in this connection I will be calling special attention to three forceful quotations.
In the book of Immanuel (Isa. 7-12) we have some vivid pictures of Messiah's birth, conquest, and reign. In 7:14 appears the forecast of the virgin birth of King Messiah. In ch. 9 the prophet looked forward to the time when God will have increased the joy and wealth of the nation. He explained how the Lord brings this about, for, he declared, the oppressor, has been slain and all the implements and weapons of war have been destroyed. The reason assigned for the destruction of all the weapons of war is:
For unto us a child has been born, unto us a son has been given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of Jehovah of hosts will perform this (Isa. 9:6,7, author's translation).
The earthly reign of King Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, is shown in the eleventh chapter of Isaiah. The Messiah is presented in vs. 1 under the symbolism of a plant growing out of a stump of a tree which has been cut down. The following verse is the literal prediction that the sevenfold Spirit of God will rest upon Messiah. (This passage seems to be the foundation for the expression "the seven Spirits" of God found in Rev. 1:4.) In these two verses therefore the birth and public ministry of our Lord are presented.Isaiah 24
In the three following verses the scenes which will be enacted at the Second Coming of our Lord are described. Thus the entire Christian dispensation is passed over in silence between vss. 2, 3. That vss. 3-5 foretell the Second Coming is evident from the fact that in them Christ is represented as coming in judgment, executing vengeance upon all the wicked, and exercising the authority of Judge.
From the Gospel narrative we see that Christ refused to exercise His judgeship at the first coming. On one occasion a young man insisted that the Lord Jesus arbitrate concerning an inheritance, but immediately He declined to do so. His sole work when here upon earth over nineteen hundred years ago was that of a spiritual ministry.
In John 5:22 Jesus said that all judgment had been committed unto the Son by the Father. In John 12 we have a reference to a vision which Isaiah was privileged to see wherein the ancient prophet saw the Lord Jesus on His throne of glory--the apostle thus interpreted the passage in vs. 41. Having placed this vision of glory before the minds of His auditors, John states that Jesus declared He was not judging any man but that He had come to save all who believe.
Following this declaration, our Lord most clearly and emphatically stated that "the word that I spake, the same shall judge him in the last day" (vs. 48). Going back to Christ's statement in John 5:22 that He is to be the Judge, we must understand this declaration relative to the Word's judging the unbeliever in the last day as an affirmation that Christ Himself will judge all unbelievers by the message which He gave. Since He will not perform the function of a judge until He returns and since when He does come back He will slay all of the wicked, we are driven to the inevitable conclusion that Isa. 11:3-5 is a clear prediction of the Lord's return and of His dealing drastically with the wicked and judging the world in righteousness.
In view of the above facts, we see that in Isa. 11:1-5 the two descriptions of the first and second comings of Jesus blend just as pictures frequently do when thrown on the screen by a stereopticon (or when using a dissolve control). Verse 1 throws a picture of the first coming of Christ upon the prophetic screen. Rapidly fading, it blends with the dim outlines of one which presents the scenes of His Second Coming as seen in vss. 3-5. The prophets constantly blend their descriptions of the First and Second Comings of the Messiah, passing entirely over the present Christian dispensation.
In Isa. 11:6-9 we have a wonderful description of the lifting of the curse from the animal creation when "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the falling together; and a little child shall lead them."
This has been interpreted in two ways: 1) as a figurative expression, indicating the conversion of the wicked, evil men who become like little children after their regeneration; and 2) as a prediction of the lifting of the curse and the restoration of the animal kingdom to its primitive condition prior to the fall. Which of these versions is the correct one?
To determine this question we must remember the Golden Rule of Interpretation which says that we are to take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless there is positive evidence in the context indicating a figurative or symbolic meaning. Is there any warrant in this context to indicate that the Lord used this language figuratively? In vain will one seek for such proof. Therefore we are logically bound to accept this prediction at its face value and believe that God was speaking of the lifting of the curse when Jesus returns. This conclusion is confirmed by the fact that in the preceding verses the prophet was describing the Second Coming of our Lord and His slaying of all the wicked who will be upon the earth at that time.
Furthermore, this oracle carries the inference that those who are not wicked will be exempted from these fiery strokes of judgment. In this picture of the future destruction of all the wicked, there appears a forecast of the removal of enmity from the animal kingdom. Thus there is harmony and congruity in the picture presented by Isaiah. In view of these facts we can see that the prophet was not speaking of the conversion of men, but of the lifting of the literal curse from the animal kingdom at the Second Coming.
Other oracles by the prophets also confirm this passage. For instance, Hosea, in speaking of the time of Israel's final restoration to fellowship with God, declared that "In that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the birds of the heavens, and with the creeping things of the ground: and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the land, and will make them to lie down safely. And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in justice, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness; and thou shalt know Jehovah" (Hos. 2:18-20). Following this promise, the next paragraph speaks of the restoration of normal rain which will produce luxuriant crops.
Further confirmatory evidence of the lifting of the curse is seen in Paul's wonderful description found in Rom. 8:18-25. In this passage the apostle spoke of the curse which fell upon the earth when Adam sinned; hence "the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of Him who subjected it in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God" (vss. 20b, 21). When this passage is studied in its true context, one sees immediately that Paul was speaking of the actual, literal lifting of the curse from the earth and its restoration to pristine glory.
In Isa. 11:10 we have a little glimpse of the city of Jerusalem when our Lord will reign there in glory. For a fuller description of the Holy City as the capital of the restored creation, see Isa. 4:2-6.
No sooner will Christ take up His residence in Jerusalem than He will begin the final complete restoration of Israel, which is foretold in Isa. 11:11-16. A careful perusal of this passage shows that Isaiah, in obedience to "the Law of Recurrence," went back in his prediction prior to the coming of the Lord in glory and described Israel's restoration from the four corners of the earth.
In this passage Isaiah spoke of a second regathering. This statement implies a first. To everyone familiar with the Old Testament, the first restoration of the nation occurred when Zerubbabel led certain of the captives from Babylon to Jerusalem. The second one is to be in the end time. We have already seen the beginning of this movement, which will culminate in the complete restoration of the nation of Israel to the land and to fellowship with God. Thus the prophet Isaiah gave a very clear picture of the Millennial reign of our Lord here upon earth, which will follow His return in glory.
A careful perusal of the first twenty verses shows us that the prophet foresaw the time that is commonly designated as the day of Jehovah--the time of Jacob's trouble or the Great Tribulation. According to vs. 21, immediately following this period of judgment the evil spirits (called "the host of the high ones on high"), together with the kings of the earth are to be punished by being incarcerated as prisoners "in the pit" for many days (vs. 22). The length of their imprisonment is not designated. When they have been thus removed from activity upon the earth, the Lord Jehovah of hosts "will reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem; and before His elders shall be glory" (vs. 23).Revelation 20
From the statement that the Lord will reign in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem we are to understand that reference is being made to the city in Israel known by that name. Never are we warranted in concluding that the prophet was using this name in a figurative or a spiritual sense, unless the context in which it occurs so indicates. Therefore we are to conclude that the Lord said what He meant and meant what He said.
While the Almighty in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Hebrew Messiah, is reigning in Zion these many days, the evil spirits and kings who have been shut up in the pit will remain there. Finally, when the period known as "many days" has expired, these incarcerated, rebellious ones will be punished. This passage does not give us any further information in regard to the nature of the affliction.
The third and last passage to be studied in this connection is Rev. 20. In the nineteenth chapter we read of the second coming of our Lord when He makes His appearance upon earth attended by "the armies which are in heaven." By His mighty power He slays the forces marshaled against Jerusalem. At the conclusion of the conflict an invitation is sent out to the birds of the heavens to come and feast upon the dead bodies scattered over the ground. In the final paragraph of chapter 19, vss. 19-21, appears the prediction that the beast and false prophet are cast into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone.
The first and second paragraphs of Rev. 20 are so very important in their bearing on this subject that I quote them:
And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, the old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and cast him into the abyss, and shut it, and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years should be finished; after this he must be loosed for a little time.
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image, and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they lived, and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: over these the second death hath no power; but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-6). [Chart of The Message of Revelation]
The question arising at this point is, how are we to interpret this language? Some claim that it is not to be taken at its face value, but that it is highly figurative--a kind of spiritual allegory which portrays the ultimate victory of Christ. On the other hand, others tell us that we are to take the language at its face meaning whenever possible and to interpret all figurative expressions in the light of their usage and in accordance with the facts of the text. In view of these two positions, it behooves us to be very careful in our study of this passage.
Repeatedly I have called attention to the fact that the only way for us to understand any passage, whether it be in the Word of God or in profane literature, is to take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless there is warrant in the context to justify a figurative, metaphorical, or symbolic meaning. This rule is admitted by all logicians and rhetoricians, together with grammarians, as being the only correct criterion for the interpretation of language.
In any passage an expression which evidently, from the facts of the context, is known to be a figure of speech is thus to be interpreted. A number of figures may appear in one sentence along with a statement of the literal facts. Each phrase or clause must be weighed in the light of all the facts and properly evaluated.
All figures stand for realities. Though a passage may be "highly figurative," we may be certain of the fact that there is a stern reality that is spoken of in terms of the figurative language. In view of this fact then, we must study each figure and the entire context in order to arrive at the significance intended.
The figures of Psalm 80:8-16: Here we have the history of Israel from the deliverance out of Egypt to the overthrow of the nation. This is set forth in a passage which is highly figurative. First, Israel is represented as a vine which the Lord brought out of Egypt. Though this passage is highly figurative, we are to understand that Egypt means Egypt. The next statement says that God drove out the nations and planted the vine. The nations referred to were evidently the seven nations of Canaan whom Israel dispossessed upon her conquest of the land.
Then under the symbolism of the vine the psalmist continued his narration of Israel's rapid growth and development in the land until the walls surrounding the vineyard were broken down and the beasts of the field came and trod it down. Not for a second can one doubt the significance of this language. Neither will one say that this passage is uncomprehensible because of its being "highly figurative."
As a practical example of how we interpret language containing figures in our everyday speech, I wish to use this simple little illustration. Suppose I should state that as I was walking down the street I noticed two men standing on the corner, engaged in a heated controversy. As I drew near, I heard one yell at the other, "You're a liar!" This affront, of course, made the other man red hot. He boiled over! That statement kicked the fat in the fire--it was the last straw that broke the camel's back--he socked his accuser on the nose and knocked him down.
Would anyone have any difficulty in understanding this language? Would anyone say that this story was so highly figurative that it was uninterpretable? Never. Any sane person would understand that I was talking about a literal fact. He would understand that as I was walking down the street and approached a given corner, I saw two men conversing angrily. Furthermore, he would understand that one man called the other a liar, which so enraged him that he knocked his accuser flat on the pavement. Though I speak of the mental agitation of the irate man under various figures, anyone can understand the literal fact set forth in these figurative expressions.
If we can understand such figurative language pertaining to literal, material facts, we certainly can understand similar figures when they appear in the Scriptures. When we have properly interpreted the various figures appearing in Rev. 20:1-3 in the light of the context and the usage, we see that this language simply teaches that Satan will be incarcerated in the pit of the abyss for a thousand years, and will no longer be free to influence and work through men as he does at the present time. Being cast into this place of confinement at the beginning of the thousand years, he remains there until it is finished. At the conclusion he is loosed for a little while.
According to 20:4 John saw in vision certain ones sitting upon thrones. "And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image, and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they lived [lit. came to life], and reigned with Christ a thousand years."
Who are those referred to by the pronoun "they"? The only possible antecedent is to be found in 19:14 in the form of the phrase, "the armies which are in heaven." Those who constitute the armies of heaven and who come with the Lord Jesus when He returns to earth are the ones who sit upon thrones, reigning with Christ during the thousand-year period. Furthermore, John saw the souls of those who had been beheaded by the beast because they would not worship his image also reigning with Christ during the thousand-year period. Those who reign with the Lord in that glorious period are the ones who come up in the "first resurrection."
In 1 Thess. 4:13-17 we are told that, when our Lord descends from Heaven prior to the Tribulation, the dead in Christ are raised and the living saints are translated, and together they meet Him in the air. At the end of the Tribulation those who have fallen by persecution under the beast will likewise be raised and reign with Christ. Both of these classes of resurrected saints reign with Him during the thousand-year period and are said to be in "the first resurrection."
That the first resurrection is a literal one cannot be denied because in vs. 5 John spoke of those who had been put to death and of their being brought back to life. Death is physical; hence their coming back to life is physical. This physical resurrection occurs before the thousand years, for those who are thus raised are to reign with Christ during this period.
We are told that Christ will reign for a thousand years. What is meant by this number? Much speculation has been indulged in on this point. When we remember the fundamental rule of interpretation concerning the necessity of understanding everything literally unless there is evidence in the context pointing otherwise, we see that it simply means what it says--namely, a thousand years. If there were positive reasons in the text to indicate that the words are not to be taken literally, then I would interpret them symbolically. In view of the absence of such evidence, I take them at their literal meaning.
The Old Testament prophets foretold the time when Jehovah would come and reign in Jerusalem. They did not reveal the duration of this kingdom but described in most glowing terms the splendors of Messiah's regime. Since we know from the Scriptures that this Jehovah whose reign was promised in the Old Testament is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, we may be confident that His reign of a thousand years is to be identified as the fulfillment of those ancient predictions.
In vs. 5 we are told that "The rest of the dead lived not [came not to life] until the thousand years should be finished." What is meant by "the rest of the dead"? We have seen that before the Millennium the dead in Christ are to be raised at the Rapture of the Church. The Tribulation saints are raised at the end of that great cataclysm. Nothing is said about the resurrection of the wicked. The implication is that they remain unraised. When John tells us that the rest of the dead are raised at the end of the thousand years, we must interpret this language as indicating the resurrection of the wicked. We shall presently see in the discussion of John 5:28,29 that there are two resurrections mentioned by the Lord. Undoubtedly the "resurrection of judgment" is an allusion to the resurrection of the wicked at the conclusion of the Millennium.
If the resurrection prior to the Millennium is a literal one, and such is the unmistakable meaning, then we are to interpret the resurrection after the Millennium as a like event unless there is positive evidence pointing to a different signification for this prediction. We will examine this context in vain for such negative evidence. Therefore, we must conclude that the resurrection at the conclusion of the Millennium is that of the wicked. This resurrection is fully described in Rev. 20:11-15.
At the conclusion of the Millennial Age Satan is loosed for a little while. Immediately he stirs up the nations of the world to revolt against Christ in an attempt to throw off His sovereignty. At that time fire comes down out of Heaven and consumes this mighty host and squelches the rebellion (vss. 7-9).
Then Satan is cast into the lake of fire where are also the beast and false prophet and he with them, together with the lost who will be cast into that place at the judgment of the Great White Throne, will be punished "day and night for ever and ever" (vs. 10).
Since our Lord spoke in Matt. 25:31 of His coming and sitting upon the throne of His glory and of His being King it is evident that He was speaking of the same reign that is set forth here by John in Rev. 20--His Millennial reign.
This study has brought us to the conclusion that there is perfect harmony in the Prophetic Word. What our Lord said in closing the Olivet Discourse supplements the information which John gave in this passage.
In one final statement with reference to Rev. 20, let me say that according to vs. 11 the heaven and the earth--the Millennial heaven and earth--pass away at the time of the establishment of the Great White Throne judgment. After that great assize of the wicked God will create new heavens and a new earth and the New Jerusalem will come down out of the new heavens upon the new earth. This is the city foursquare, where the redeemed from this earth will dwell forever and ever with the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father. They will reign "into the ages of the ages" (Rev. 22:5b).