One of the major revelations concerning the second coming of Christ is the prediction of the resurrections which will take place at that time. According to Revelation 20:4-6, the event described as the “first resurrection” takes place immediately after the second coming. The Apostle John records the vision in the following words: “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” (Rev 20:4-6).
The expression “first resurrection” has constituted an exegetical problem for all interpreters. Posttribulationists cite this reference as evidence that the rapture could not occur until after the tribulation. Pretribulationists have rightly held that the first resurrection is not an event, but an order of resurrection. It is evident that our Lord rose from the dead as the first one to receive a resurrection body—others previously raised from the dead had merely been restored to their former natural bodies. His resurrection, though widely separated from resurrections which follow, is included in the first resurrection, otherwise the event described in Revelation would not be “first.” According to 1 Corinthians 15:20, Christ is “the firstfruits of them that are asleep,” i.e., the first part of the resurrection of all saints. Likewise, the evidence that the translation of the church takes place before the tribulation would point to a large segment of the righteous dead being raised before the tribulation. These also would qualify as taking part in the first resurrection.
In contrast to the first resurrection of Revelation 20 is the resurrection of the wicked dead portrayed in the latter part of the chapter . The first resurrection therefore becomes the resurrection of all the righteous in contrast to the final resurrection which is the resurrection of the wicked. The question remains, however, concerning the identity of these who take part in the first resurrection at this time.
The resurrection of the tribulation saints. According to the description given in Revelation 20:4, those who are included in the first resurrection are those who have “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.” This is a description of those who were martyred for their faith in Christ during the time of the great tribulation, as predicted in Revelation 13:7-18. In Revelation 20:4, their resurrection is described in the words “they lived.” All doubt is removed as to the meaning of the words “they lived” by their identification as those who have been partakers of the “first resurrection” (vv. 5-6 ). They are raised to reign with Christ a thousand years, or throughout the millennium, as priests of God and of Christ. Practically all conservative expositors agree that the tribulation saints are raised at this time, though some see it as the beginning phase of a general resurrection of all the righteous.
The resurrection of righteous Israel. The chief problem relative to the resurrections at the second coming of Christ among premillenarians is the question of whether righteous Israel and Old Testament saints in general are raised at this time. A popular interpretation originating in Darby and his associates is that the resurrection of Old Testament saints takes place at the same time as the rapture of the church, that is, before the tribulation. This interpretation has been followed by such worthy expositors as William Kelly, A. C. Gaebelein, C. I. Scofield, and a host of others. Support for this interpretation is provided by three general arguments: (1) Christ died for Old Testament saints as well as for the church and therefore they are entitled to resurrection at the same time as the church. (2) According to 1 Thessalonians 4:16, the voice of the archangel is heard at the time of the rapture. Inasmuch as Michael, the archangel, is the special protector of Israel, his presence at the rapture would indicate Israel’s resurrection. (3) The twenty-four elders of Revelation 4 are composed of both Old and New Testament saints and, inasmuch as these are pictured in heaven crowned and therefore rewarded in Revelation 4 before the tribulation, it would indicate that Old Testament saints as well as the church have already been raised from the dead.
Though the foregoing interpretation has had widespread recognition among premillenarians of the Brethren school of interpretation, there are good reasons for reconsideration. The reference to “the dead in Christ” (1 Thess 4:16) by no means clearly includes all saints. The expression “in Christ” is uniformly used in the New Testament, wherever it has theological meaning, as a reference to those who have been baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ, and is never used in reference to saints before the Day of Pentecost. It is significant that the word saints, a more general designation of the righteous, is not used but that a technical expression, “the dead in Christ,” is used instead. It would seem to indicate a limitation of the prediction to those who the in the present dispensation.
The second argument relative to Michael, the archangel and special protector of Israel, is not based on explicit statement of the text. It is true that Michael is the special protector of Israel, but he is also the archangel, that is, the head of all the angels. In view of the spiritual conflict which has been raging ever since sin entered the universe, the presence of Michael at so tremendous an event as the rapture can hardly be taken ipso facto as evidence that his voice is directed to Israel only. It could conceivably be a shout of triumph in view of the tremendous accomplishment and victory over Satan and death which the rapture represents.
Of the three general arguments usually offered, that based on Revelation 4 is probably the most uncertain. It is by no means clear that the four and twenty elders represent both Old and New Testament saints. Some believe that the four and twenty elders represent only the church. Others believe that they are not redeemed men at all, but holy angels. The revised text of Revelation 5:9 opens the possibility to this latter interpretation. In view of the disagreement on the identification of the twenty-four elders even among premillenarians, the argument based upon this section becomes one of dubious value. It should be evident to an impartial observer that none of the arguments are explicit, and one is left without clear revelation concerning the time of Israel’s resurrection as far as these passages are concerned.
Over against the obscurity in the New Testament, however, is the fact that the Old Testament seems to place the resurrection of Israel after the tribulation. In Daniel 12 immediately after the description of the great tribulation in the preceding chapter , a deliverance is promised Israel at the close of the tribulation in the following words: “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince who standeth for the children of thy people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:1-2).
According to Daniel, the deliverance occurs after the “time of trouble,” an obvious reference to the great tribulation, and it is predicted: “at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.” In other words, a general deliverance for the righteous among Israel is promised. In this connection, in verse 2 it is stated: “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” A problem arises within premillennial interpretation because there is brought together in one verse the resurrection of the righteous which according to premillenarians occurs before the millennium, and the resurrection of the wicked, which according to Revelation 20 occurs after the millennium. Some have tried to solve this difficulty by spiritualizing the resurrection of verse 2 . A. C. Gaebelein, for instance, writes: “The physical resurrection is not taught in the second verse of this chapter , if it were the passage would be in clash with the revelation concerning resurrection in the New Testament. There is no general resurrection…. We repeat the passage has nothing to do with physical resurrection. Physical resurrection is however used as a figure of the national revival of Israel in that day. They have been sleeping nationally in the dust of the earth, buried among the Gentiles. But at that time there will take place a national restoration, a bringing together of the house of Judah and the house of Israel” (A. C. Gaebelein, The Prophet Daniel, p. 200).
Most premillenarians would agree with the point of view that there is a future restoration of the nation Israel and that this is sometimes portrayed in terms of resurrection as, for instance, in Ezekiel 37:1-14. The only reason, however, for assigning such an interpretation to Daniel 12 is Gaebelein’s statement that to do so would “clash with the revelation concerning resurrection in the New Testament.” Such a “clash,” however, is by no means a necessary conclusion, as the distinction between resurrection before and after the millennium is not contradicted. Daniel places the resurrection of both after the tribulation. The only real contradiction is of the idea that Israel is not raised after the tribulation. Inasmuch as Revelation 20:4-6 clearly places the resurrection of tribulation saints after the tribulation there is no real problem in placing the resurrection of Old Testament saints at the same time. Spiritualizing the resurrection of Daniel 12 would leave unsolved the resurrection of tribulation saints.
Tregelles translates Daniel 12:2 as follows: “And many from among the sleepers of the dust of the earth shall awake; these shall be unto everlasting life; but those [the rest of the sleepers] shall be unto shame and everlasting contempt” (S. P. Tregelles, Remarks on the Prophetic Visions in the Book of Daniel, p. 159, words in brackets supplied by Tregelles). By this translation Tregelles solves easily and with proper reason the distinction between the resurrection of the righteous before the millennium and the resurrection of the wicked after the millennium. It also makes clear that this is a literal resurrection, not merely a restoration of the nation Israel.
Nathaniel West supplies a similar translation as follows: “The true rendering of Dan. xii.1-3 , in connection with the context, is ‘And (at that time) Many (of thy people) shall awake (or be separated) out from among the sleepers in the earth-dust. These (who awake) shall be unto life everlasting, but those (who do not awake at that time) shall be unto shame and contempt everlasting.’ So, the most renowned Hebrew Doctors render it, and the best Christian exegetes” (Nathaniel West, The Thousand Years in Both Testaments, p. 266).
As these translations bring out, there is really no justification in the text for spiritualizing the resurrection of the righteous dead in the Daniel passage. The principal reason offered by those who follow this interpretation is that this is necessary to conform to the New Testament, but the New Testament teaching does not require this interpretation.
A similar difficulty is found in another important Old Testament passage on the resurrection of Israel, namely, Isaiah 26:19 which is as follows: “Thy dead shall live; my dead bodies shall arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast forth the dead.” In this passage, as in Daniel, writers such as William Kelly insist that literal resurrection is not in view. Supposed support for this is found in the context in Isaiah 26:14 where, according to Kelly, a literal interpretation would mean that the expression, “they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise,” would teach that the unsaved are not raised at all (cf. William Kelly, Exposition of Isaiah, p. 265). This is by no means necessary, however, as the passage could be interpreted as meaning that the unsaved in view here will die and therefore not be able to rise, that is, stand up. The issue of resurrection, then, is not involved in verse 14 . By contrast, in verse 19 is a very clear reference to resurrection where the expression, “Thy dead shall live; my dead bodies shall arise,” seems to be a clear reference to resurrection. Again, one suspects that Kelly and those who follow this interpretation are being guided by their preconceived ideas that Israel must be raised at the time the church is translated.
While this point in doctrine is not one of major moment, those who insist that Israel is raised at the rapture are required thereby to spiritualize both the Daniel and Isaiah passages, which are the principal references to the resurrection of Israel in the Old Testament. In fact, it is difficult to find any passage which clearly teaches the general resurrection of righteous Israel in the Old Testament if the Daniel and Isaiah passages are disqualified from literal interpretation. It furthermore puts an unnecessary burden upon those who would follow the pretribulational view to link the resurrection of Israel with the rapture of the church, as the Daniel passage puts the resurrection of Israel after the tribulation and not before. It may be concluded, therefore, that the preferable view is that the resurrection of righteous Israel takes place when Christ comes to establish His millennial kingdom. This in no way complicates the pretribulation rapture and in fact strengthens this point of view, solving as it does many of the problems raised by posttribulationists against the idea that Israel is raised before the tribulation.
Practically all classes of conservative Bible expositors agree that there will be judgments at the time of the second coming of Christ. Postmillenarians and amillenarians usually subscribe to a general resurrection and a general judgment at this time in which all the righteous and the wicked dead are brought before the divine tribunal. Premillenarians of course postpone the judgment of the wicked dead until after the millennium, but find in the Scriptures ample evidence that the wicked living on the earth will be judged at the time of the second coming.
Five judgments are distinguished in Scripture as being related in some sense to end-time events. The first of these is the judgment of the church, the body of Christ, at the judgment seat of Christ, usually considered by pretribulationists to have taken place in heaven immediately after the rapture and prior to the return of Christ to the earth. At the second coming, after the tribulation, the judgment of the Gentiles takes place, and the righteous are separated from the wicked living on the earth at that time. A third judgment has to do with regathering Israel and takes place early in the millennial reign of Christ. Two final judgments mark the close of the millennium—the judgment of the angels, and the judgment of the wicked dead at the great white throne judgment. The time and place of these judgments, the character of the judgments, and the character of those being judged require that these judgments be distinguished. To affirm that all of these judgments take place in one great judgment, at the time of the second coming of Christ, requires extensive spiritualization of many of the details of the predictions involved and makes impossible a literal fulfillment. Without attempting a formal refutation of conflicting views, an outline of the premillennial interpretation of the judgments taking place at the beginning of the millennium can now be presented.
The judgment of the church. Many references in the New Testament present the truth that the church will be judged by Christ Himself (Rom 14:10-12; 1 Cor 3:11-16; 4:1-5 ; 9:24-27 ; 2 Cor 5:10-11; 2 Tim 4:8). Inasmuch as the translation of the church, according to the pretribulational point of view, has already separated the righteous from the unrighteous, only saved people will be involved in the judgment of Christ in connection with the church. The judgment will have as its supreme question the matter of reward. According to 1 Corinthians 3:14, that which abides the fire of judgment will constitute a basis for reward. Those, however, who do not have ground for rewards shall nevertheless be saved, as stated in 1 Corinthians 3:15. It is intimated, however, in 1 Corinthians 4:5 that “…then shall each man have his praise from God.” The reward is pictured in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 like the prize awarded a runner, and we are exhorted so to live or run the race that we may obtain the prize: “Know ye not that they that run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? Even so run; that ye may attain. And every man that striveth in the games exerciseth self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, as not uncertainly; so fight I, as not beating the air: but I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage: lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected.” The original word, adokimos, translated “rejected,” means to be disapproved, that is, disqualified for reward. It does not indicate a loss of salvation, as is made clear in 1 Corinthians 3:15. The “fear of the Lord” of which Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians 5:11 is the dread of standing before the judgment seat of Christ with a wasted life that is not due a reward. The judgment, distinguishing as it does that which is good and bad, again is primarily occupied with the question of reward, not of punishment. As Romans 8:1 makes clear: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” As creatures of grace, sins are forgiven, but rewards are distributed on the basis of effective testimony for Christ.
The judgment of the Gentiles. One of the important truths related to the second coming of Christ is that “the times of the Gentiles” ends upon Christ’s return to the earth. At that point it is fitting that a judgment of the Gentiles should take place as a preparation for the millennial kingdom. A number of important Old Testament Scriptures give the details of this judgment. Psalm 2 anticipates a judgment upon the Gentiles as a prelude to Israel’s restoration as a nation. According to Isaiah 63:1-6, the Gentiles will be put down in that day and many of them put to death. A specific reference to this future judgment is found in Joel 3:1-2, 12 as follows: “For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring back the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat; and I will execute judgment upon them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations: and they have parted my land…. Let the nations bestir themselves, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat; for there will I sit to judge all the nations round about.” Other important references are found in Zephaniah 3:8 and Zechariah 14:1-19.
The principal New Testament passage is found in Matthew 25:31-46. The context indicates that this judgment will occur immediately after the second coming of Christ as verse 31 states. Some have inferred that prior to this judgment Israel has already been regathered (cf. Matt 24:31) and judged (Matt 24:34—25:30 ). The time specified for the judgment of the Gentiles is stated simply as being “when the Son of man shall come in his glory.”
The place of the judgment is clearly in the earth, rather than heaven. The coming of the Son of Man is from heaven to the earth and those who are gathered before Him are gathered from all parts of the earth. Neither the righteous nor the unrighteous who are gathered before Him are resurrected, but they are still in their natural bodies. This judgment, therefore, must be distinguished both by place and time from the judgment of the translated church which is in heaven and the judgment of the resurrected wicked dead at the great white throne which takes place in space after the present heaven and earth have been destroyed.
A matter of major significance is the question of the subjects of this judgment in Matthew 25. This is described as being “all the nations.” The Greek word translated the nations is ta ethne. This word is used principally for races and peoples who are not Jewish with possibly the best translation being the people. It does not connote, as the English word nation does, a political entity, or a people from a specific geographic area. Because the word nation has been used, however, as an equivalent to ta ethne, some have thought that the representatives of the various nations of the world are here gathered and judged. A. C. Gaebelein teaches, for instance, that some of the nations will receive the testimony of those who preach during the tribulation time. These nations will enter into the kingdom and inherit it on their basis of the reception of the messengers (cf. A. C. Gaebelein, Gospel of Matthew, II, 247). A number of dffficulties in this point of view, however, are immediately apparent. The natural question is, Which are the nations who will welcome the gospel during the tribulation? It seems clear that practically the entire world will go into apostasy and that all nations of the world will be affiliated with the blasphemous beast of Revelation 13. Gaebelein recognizes this issue when he states: “The question may arise who these nations are, who will receive the Gospel of the Kingdom. This can hardly be answered now” (ibid., II, 248). The fact is that in no age do entire nations accept a message and thereby justify eternal salvation.
A preferable view is that the nations here mentioned are not political entities, but simply Gentiles, as the word ta ethne is commonly translated in other passages (cf. Matt 6:31-32; 12:21 ; 20:19 ; 28:19 ; Acts 11:18; 26:20 ). H. A. Ironside takes the position that the nations are individual Gentiles (H. A. Ironside, Expository Notes on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 338). William Kelly has a similar point of view when he writes: “It follows that the persons meant by ‘the sheep’ and ‘the goats’ are respectively the righteous and the ungodly among the nations then living on the earth, when our Lord comes to judge in His quality of Son of Man” (William Kelly, Lectures on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 481). The idea that the Gentiles in view here are individuals rather than national entities is made clear by reference to their works. Nations as such do not visit people in prison, nor are they as a corporate entity subject to promises of salvation or eternal judgment.
More important, however, than this distinction is the fact that the Gentiles referred to in this judgment are living on the earth at the time of Christ’s return and do not include the living Jews, the translated church, or resurrected saints in general. They are in the words of the Scripture “all the nations.” As William Kelly points out: “Those gathered before Him here are ‘all the nations’—a term never used about the dead or the risen, but only applied to men here below, and indeed applied only to the Gentiles as distinct from the Jews” (William Kelly, op. cit., p. 478).
George N. H. Peters in his Proposition 134 supports the same conclusion (George N. H. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom, II, 372-84). On the point of the meaning of “all nations,” he states the following: “The question before us is this: Does the ‘all nations’ include ‘the dead,’ or only living nations? In deciding this point we have the following: (1) Nothing is said of ‘the dead.’ To say that they are denoted is inferred from the fact that this passage is made—wrongfully—to synchronize with Rev 20:11-15. (2) The word translated ‘nations’ is never, according to the uniform testimony of critics and scholars, used to designate ‘the dead,’ unless this be a solitary exception…. (3) The word is employed to denote living, existing nations, and almost exclusively ‘Gentile’ nations. (4) The Spirit gives us abundant testimony that precisely such a gathering of nations shall take place just before the Mill. age commences, and that there shall be both an Advent and judging [Peters cites Rev 19:17-20; 16:13-16 ; Isa 66:15-21; Zeph 3:8-20; and Joel 3:9-21]” (ibid., II, 374). Peters goes on to list other arguments such as the fact that the dead are not referred to as nations and that the passage is absolutely devoid of any reference to resurrection or that any of the righteous descended from heaven to be judged (ibid., II, 374-75). It seems a natural and normal conclusion that the reference to ta ethne in this passage refers to living Gentiles who are on the earth at the time of the second coming who are judged as a preliminary to the inauguration of the whole millennial reign of Christ.
The basis of their judgment is declared in the passage to be the treatment of the “brethren.” Reference is made to the fact that the “sheep” have befriended the brethren and that the “goats” have failed to do so. The question arises as to the identity of the brethren. It would follow, however, that if the Gentiles are those who are non-Jews, those referred to as “my brethren” (Matt 25:40) would be the Jews, specifically the Jews of the tribulation time who were the objects of fearful persecution. Under such circumstances, befriending a Jew by clothing him or visiting him in prison, when according to governmental edict they were to be hounded to the death, would inevitably reveal a confidence in the Scriptures and in God. While the appeal is to the “works,” it seems clear that their works as such reveal faith in Christ and in the Word of God and are therefore the fruit or evidence of salvation. This is the basic reason why they are ushered into the millennial kingdom and called “the righteous.”
The outcome of the judgment is that the righteous or the sheep enter the millennial kingdom, but obviously they are also admitted to the eternal kingdom of God. In contrast, the goats are cast into everlasting fire because their lack of works indicates that they do not belong to the redeemed. The judgment as here described is fully in keeping with premillennial truth. Such a judgment would in fact be absolutely necessary before the righteous kingdom of Christ could be inaugurated. It had formerly been indicated in Matthew 13 in the parable of the wheat and tares as well as the parable of the good and bad fish that the end of the age would have a judgment resulting in only the saved entering the kingdom. This, then, is confirmed by the specific revelation of Matthew 25. Though the outcome of the judgment may not be in the character of an eternal one, some have considered the judgment of the wicked here a final one and making unnecessary further judgment for this group at the great white throne. No revelation is given in Scripture concerning a future judgment of those who enter the millennial kingdom as the righteous.
The judgment of Israel. The Scriptures record many tremendous judgments of Israel which have been already historically fulfilled and predict a future purging during the time of the great tribulation when only one third of the living Jews in the land will survive (Zech 13:8-9). The remnant of Israel, however, surviving the tribulation and who are on earth at the time of the return of Christ, are the specific objects of a judgment described in Ezekiel 20:33-38. This passage, given in a context of predictions of judgment upon Israel, is obviously the climactic judgment of God upon that nation. As stated by Ezekiel, the event is described as follows: “As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, surely with a mighty hand,,and with an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out, will I be king over you. And I will bring you out from the peoples, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out; and I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there will I enter into judgment with you face to face. Like as I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I enter into judgment with you, saith the Lord Jehovah. And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; and I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me; I will bring them forth out of the land where they sojourn, but they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am Jehovah.”
Like the predictions of judgment upon the Gentiles, this future event has its special characteristics which distinguish it from all past judgments upon the nation. It is described as a part of a work of God in declaring Himself to be “king over you” (v. 33 ). The judgment itself follows the final regathering of Israel predicted in verses 34-35 . The judgment will take place in the specific geographic location described as “the wilderness of the peoples” (v. 35 ). Though this is not clearly to be identified with any locality, the comparison with the dealings of God with Israel on the way from Egypt to the promised land seems to indicate that the judgment takes place just outside the area given to Israel for perpetual possession. Just as Israel because of failure at Kadesh-Barnea was condemned to wander in the wilderness until all the adults except the few faithful ones died, and only then the nation could enter the promised land, so the rebels will be purged out at that future time when the millennial kingdom is established. Only those who are not rebels, that is, those who are true believers in Christ as their Messiah and Savior, will be allowed to participate in the blessing of the millennial kingdom.
The description given does not mention any resurrection from the dead and it may be assumed in view of the fact that regathering is a prerequisite to the judgment that this applies only to the living Israelites in the world at the time of the second coming. Those who are resurrected have a different judgment entirely. Like other judgments at the second coming of Christ, the judgment of works will be prominent, but as in the case of the Gentiles it will be what the works indicate rather than their intrinsic moral character. In the prophecies of Malachi a refining of the sons of Levi is predicted at the time of His coming and their particular sins are dealt with at that judgment (cf. Mal 3:2-5). This conclusion is confirmed by the statements and parables of Matthew 24 and 25 which seem, with the exception of Matthew 25:31-46, to deal primarily with God’s judgments upon Israel. In each case, the works brought into view demonstrate whether the person is saved or not.
The result of the Ezekiel judgment is that the rebels are cut off and therefore do not enter the land. This is to be interpreted as a judgment of physical death, and they will be raised from the dead at the judgment of the great white throne after the millennium to participate in the destiny of all the wicked. Those who remain alive, however, are counted righteous and enter into the millennial blessing provided for them. In the words of Ezekiel, God says to them: “I will bring you into the bond of the covenant” (v. 37 ). The covenant herein mentioned is no doubt the same as that revealed in Jeremiah 31:31-34. The blessings of that entrance into that promised land are summarized in Jeremiah 31:10-13 as follows: “Hear the word of Jehovah, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off; and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him as a shepherd doth his flock. For Jehovah hath ransomed Jacob, and redeemed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he. And they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow unto the goodness of Jehovah, to the grain, and to the new wine, and to the oil, and to the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all. Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old together; for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.”
Taking in view all the divine judgments that pertain to this sequence of events, it may be concluded that as the millennium begins all the righteous are judged in one way or another and that the wicked are put to death and declared unworthy to enter the millennial kingdom. The church has previously been judged and rewarded in heaven. Living Gentiles and living Jews are judged in their respective judgments and those who are righteous are permitted to enter the millennial kingdom. The Old Testament saints and resurrected Israel are also raised from the dead and given their places of honor and privilege and are associated with Christ in His millennial government.
The judgment of Satan. An important judgment attending the others is the divine dealing of God with Satan as recorded in Revelation 20. The account as given in the Scriptures has been one of the major stumbling blocks to both postmillennialism and amillennialism. As stated in Scripture, the Apostle John describes his vision as follows: “And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the keys 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” (Rev 20:1-3).
Anyone who attempts an exegesis of this passage is faced with the obvious question as to whether Satan has been bound already or whether this is a future event. On this question also hangs the decision as to whether the millennium has already begun. Postmillennialists who are willing to postpone the millennium until some distant time accommodate their interpretation to this passage by stating that Satan’s binding is yet future. The amillenarian, however, who believes that the millennium has already begun either on earth or in heaven, is faced with the defense of the idea that Satan is now bound.
B. B. Warfield, whose eschatology seems to embrace some of the elements of both amillennialism and postmillennialism, attempts to support the idea that Satan is bound in respect to heaven. He writes: “The ‘binding of Satan’ is, therefore, in reality, not for a season, but with reference to a sphere; and his ‘loosing’ again is not after a period but in another sphere: it is not subsequence but exteriority that is suggested. There is, indeed, no literal ‘binding of Satan’ to be thought of at all: what happens, happens not to Satan but to the saints, and is only represented as happening to Satan for the purposes of the symbolical picture. What actually happens is that the saints described are removed from the sphere of Satan’s assaults. The saints described are free from all access of Satan—he is bound with respect to them: outside of their charmed circle his horrid work goes on. This is indicated, indeed, in the very employment of the two symbols ‘a thousand years’ and ‘a little time.’ A ‘thousand years’ is the symbol of heavenly completeness and blessedness; the ‘little time’ of earthly turmoil and evil. Those in the ‘thousand years’ are safe from Satan’s assaults: those outside the thousand years are still enduring his attacks” (B. B. Warfield, Biblical Doctrines, p. 651).
According to Warfield, therefore, there is no chronological system whatever to the twentieth chapter of Revelation . The millennium is not a millennium. The loosing of Satan is not an event. Actually Satan is not bound at all, but saints are really removed from his power by being taken to heaven. The nations mentioned in Revelation 20:3 are not nations upon earth but glorified saints in heaven. In a word, Revelation 20:1-3 is a picture of the intermediate state.
It is obvious that an interpretation such as Warfield’s involves the complete spiritualization of all essential terms in this revelation. It is true, of course, that what is here recorded in the Scripture is a vision and as such is given in symbolic terms. What is ignored by Warfield and others, however, is the distinction between what John saw and the interpretation which was revealed. John saw the angel having the key of the abyss, binding Satan and casting him into the abyss, shutting it, and sealing it over him. The interpretation is given by inspired Scripture that this binding was for a period of time—one thousand years—and that the purpose of this binding was that Satan should no longer deceive the nations. It is further revealed that after the thousand years Satan will be loosed again for a short period of time. If we were left without an explanation of the binding of Satan, it might justify some spiritualization of the terms but, inasmuch as the Scriptures explicitly tell us what the meaning is, there is no justification for denying a literal interpretation.
It should be noted also that the binding of Satan as represented in this passage is not the total of what God did. He was not only bound but cast into the abyss and shut up and sealed. Even a symbolic picture as here given would indicate total inactivity, not simply a limiting of the power of Satan. It is of course true that Satan has always been limited by the power of God as witnessed by the restraint of God in the case of Satan’s dealing with Job. It has never been true up to the present time, however, that Satan has been shut up in the abyss and not permitted to deceive the nations. The popular idea advanced by such amillenarians as William Masselink and Floyd E. Hamilton who espouse the Augustinian type of amillennialism, that Satan is partially bound in the present age, is not an adequate explanation of the text (cf. William Masselink, Why a Thousand Years? p. 202; Floyd E. Hamilton, The Basis of Millennial Faith, p. 130).
In contrast to these amillennial suggestions of a partial binding of Satan, what is the testimony of Scripture? Can Satan deceive the nations now? Is he actually bound in the abyss or is he free to deceive the nations? According to Acts 5:3, Satan is the one who filled the heart of Ananias and caused him to lie to the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 7:5 it is stated that Satan tempts believers. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 reveals that Satan blinds the minds of the unbelieving lest they believe the gospel. The statement is made in 2 Corinthians 11:14 that Satan masquerades as an angel of light. Paul bears witness in 2 Corinthians 12:7 that his thorn in the flesh was a “messenger of Satan.” Paul further declares in 1 Thessalonians 2:18 that Satan hindered him from coming back to the Thessalonian church. It is predicted in 2 Thessalonians 2:8-9 that the power of the future lawless one will be after “the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders.” Other passages such as 1 Timothy 1:20, 1 John 3:8, 10, likewise bear witness to the power of Satan. Peter exhorts us in 1 Peter 5:8: “Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” If one accepts these Scriptures testifying to the fact that Satan has power to tempt, to deceive, to blind, to buffet, to hinder, to work signs and lying wonders, and who is free like a raging lion to walk about seeking whom he may devour, how then can one hold that Satan is now bound? The only reasonable explanation of the revelation given to John is to assign this future event to the time of the second coming of Christ and the thousand years mentioned as the reign of Christ to follow His second advent. As Revelation 20 makes plain, Satan is to be loosed at the conclusion of the millennium at which time he will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone into which the beast and the false prophet had been previously cast at the beginning of the millennium (Rev 20:10).
From the fact that God deals thus in judgment with all wicked men living in the world as well as Satan, the way is open for the fulfillment of the prophecies of the millennial reign of Christ. The stage is set in this way for the extended period of righteousness and peace which shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
(Series to be continued in the January-March Number, 1958)
This article was taken from the Theological Journal Library CD and posted with permission of Galaxie Software.