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Excited Utterances: A Historical Perspective On Prophesy, Tongues and Other Manifestations of Spiritual Ecstasy

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Chapter 1:

On May 20, 1996, the Florida Baptist Convention’s state board of missions voted to “disfellowship” two churches and “further study” the beliefs of a third because the three churches taught “neo-pentecostalism.”1 (The third church subsequently resigned from the Convention.2) The pastor of the first church told Baptist Press that “the baptism of the Holy Spirit is subsequent to salvation” and that tongues and prophesy have not ceased.3 The pastor of the second similarly declared that, “in most cases,” baptism of the Holy Spirit” is something that occurs after salvation” and “tongues are a gift and it is a valid gift and it is for today.”4 A spokesman for the third church expressed similar views, declaring that “the operation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit were restored to the church” in the early 1970s, and “in the mid-1980s . . . the gifts of the prophet and the apostle in the local church was a restored truth that is being revealed.”5

The Baptist battle for the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible may be over, but the battle for the sufficiency of Scripture may have just begun. When only Pentecostals preached the continuation of the revelatory gifts,6 we Baptists perhaps could afford to ignore them because they were perceived to be out of the mainstream. When Pentecostal doctrine spread to mainline denominations, we perhaps could still close our eyes to the growing movement since the charismatic renewal largely affected liberal denominations with which we did not associate.7 But we ignore at our peril the so-called “Third Wave” of “continuation” theology, for it has infiltrated many of our evangelical pulpits and pews.8 Since the late 1970s, charismatic tendencies have infiltrated en masse the more dispensational and Reformed evangelical groups that historically rejected the prior two waves. Over twenty million people now consider themselves a part of this “Third Wave” category.9 Charismatic doctrine has come to camp in our own backyard.

The validity of the charismatic movement and its accompanying “signs and wonders” raises serious and controversial issues. These include: Did special revelation cease with the close of the canon? Are tongues for today? Do physical manifestations of ecstasy have biblical warrant? Is experience an appropriate guide to spiritual fulfillment? These issues are intertwined with an issue already familiar to Baptists -- the nature and sufficiency of Biblical authority. Charismatic Wayne Grudem is correct in observing that “this is a large and interesting area of discussion, one of immense importance in the church today.”10 Obviously, these issues must be dealt with directly. Because of their importance, they cannot be glossed over in an effort to achieve unity at the expense of doctrinal purity.

This paper examines three essentially related issues concerning charismatic theology: (1) the relationship between the revelatory gifts and the canon; (2) the place of the revelatory gifts in church history; and (3) the role of related manifestations of spiritual ecstasy (and emotional experience in general) in revival movements. I have framed each of these areas of inquiry around a specific historical context. This approach is profitable because our forefathers wrestled with the same questions we now face, and we would be most unwise to ignore their accumulated wisdom. Hopefully, by reviewing the charismatic phenomena as they were seen in history, we can gain a more rounded understanding and better evaluation of today’s charismatic movement and the theology that informs it. It is said that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. I pray that we may learn the lessons of those theological giants who came before us and on whose shoulders we stand. May God grant us the wisdom to walk with the wise!

Chapter Two:
Guarding the Treasure Entrusted to Us

Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us,
the treasure which has been entrusted to you.” 2 Tim. 1:14

Montanism -- The Fountainhead of Christian Ecstasy

The Phrygian region of Asia Minor was known in its pre-Christian days as “the home of a sensuously mystic and dreamy nature-religion.”11 Given this backdrop, it is perhaps not surprising that Montanism, Christianity’s first schismatic movement, first broke out there.

Montanism was a “prophetic movement” that began around 172 A.D.12 Its founder, Montanus, was a former “mutilated priest of Cybele.”13 Closely connected with Montanus were two “prophetesses,” Priscilla and Maximilla. The Montanists insisted upon the continuation of the gift of prophesy and the use of ecstatic utterances.14

Montanus, Priscilla and Maximilla proclaimed a “New Prophecy,” which foretold that Christ would return to Pepuza, a small village of Phrygia, upon which the new Jerusalem was to come down.15

Recognition of the Holy Spirit in the New Prophecy was the touchstone of authority for the Montanists; they claimed that the New Prophecy claimed for itself a special place in salvation history.16 The followers of Montanus believed that the Holy Spirit spoke to them in the first person through his prophetic mouthpieces.17 As Henry Chadwick described it, Montanus, together with Priscilla and Maximilla delivered utterances of the Paraclete in a state of ‘ecstasy’, i.e. not being in possession of his faculties. It was the peculiar form of these utterances to which other Christians objected: this kind of ecstatic prophecy was not, like that of the biblical prophets, delivered in the third person, but was direct speech by the Spirit himself using the prophet’s mouth as his instrument.18

Indeed, Montanus said that a person in spiritual ecstasy was like a musical instrument on which the Holy Spirit plays his melodies: “Behold, the man is as a lyre, and I sweep over him as a plectrum. The man sleeps; I wake.”19 Thus, Montanus plainly taught that the close of the biblical canon was not the end of God’s special revelation to man.

Montanus taught that the Holy Spirit spoke through him in the same way as He spoke through the writings of Scripture. In Bruner’s words, he “fell into somnambulistic ecstasies, and considered himself the inspired organ of the promised Paraclete or Advocate, the Helper and Comforter in these last times of distress.”20 Eusebius records that Montanus “was filled with spiritual excitement and suddenly fell into a kind of trance and unnatural ecstasy. He raved, and began to chatter and talk nonsense. . . . Of those who listened at that time to his sham utterances, some where annoyed, regarding him as possessed, a demoniac in the grip of a spirit of error, a disturber of the masses.”21

In connection with its holdings on continuating revelation, Montanism sought a “forced continuance” of the miraculous gifts of the apostolic age. As Chadwick noted, “The Montanists did not expect all the Lord’s people to be prophets, but rather required their fellow-Christians to ‘acknowledge’ the supernatural nature of the utterances of the Paraclete’s chosen three: to reject them was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.”22

Montanism attracted a wide following for a time -- including the first significant Latin theologian Tertullian, who became a Montanist in his last few years. As the preeminent apologist for the movement, he was careful to affirm orthodox notions of God and Christ. Nevertheless, echoing Montanus, he conceived of Christianity as organic in nature, developing in four stages of growth, each superior to the preceding stage: (1) natural religion; (2) the legal religion of the Old Testament; (3) the gospel during the earthly life of Christ; and (4) the revelation of the Paraclete; that is, the spiritual religion of the Montanists.23

In essence, the Montanists were the first charismatics. Frederick Bruner rightly called Montanism “the fountainhead of all the enthusiastic or pneumatic movements in Christian history.”24 Its basic tenets have been recycled throughout church history by ecstatic sects, including today’s charismatic movement. Bruner noted the following central characteristics of Montanism that recur in today’s charismatic movement:

    1. A fervent belief that the last period of revelation has commenced;

    2. A distinctive emphasis on the Holy Spirit;

    3. Generally orthodox tendencies apart from their doctrine of the Spirit;

    4. An ardent expectation of the impending return of Christ; and

    5. A strict morality.25

Hence, Bruner declared Montanism to be “the prototype of almost everything Pentecostalism seeks to represent.”26

Montanism eventually was condemned by synods of bishops in Asia and elsewhere.27 The church was clearly bothered by the movement’s ecstatic exercises, as demonstrated by Hippolytus’s declaration that “the supreme miracle is conversion and therefore every believer alike has the gifts of the Spirit; the supernatural is discerned in the normal ministry of word and sacrament, not in irrational ecstacies which lead to pride and censoriousness.”28

The orthodox church also declared the new prophesy “the work of demons.”29 In this respect, the repudiation of Montanism was especially significant. “It was the occasion for establishing the truth that the Scriptures were closed, that the work of the Spirit was illumination of the Scriptures rather than bestowing a new revelation apart from the Scriptures.”30 In condemning the Montanists, “the church early took its stand ‘that extraordinary gifts were never promised to the Church as a permanent inheritance.’“31 The “prophesies” of the Phrygian prophets were condemned as heretical because they were given “an importance which interfered with the sufficiency of the Scriptures.”32 Thus, Chadwick could say:

The chief effect of Montanism on the Catholic Church was greatly to enforce the conviction that revelation had come to an end with the apostolic age, and so to foster the creation of a closed Canon of the New Testament. Irenaeus is the last writer who can still think of himself as belonging to the eschatological age of miracle and revelation.33

The early church’s condemnation of Montanism heresy is under severe attack today. Pentecostals, charismatics, and adherents of the “Third Wave” all challenge the conclusion that the revelatory gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased. In addition, even non-charismatics are beginning to espouse the view that God still speaks today apart from the Bible, through dreams, visions, and the like. In essence, proponents of these views reject the historical Christian conclusion that God has chosen no longer to speak to man through direct special revelation apart from Scripture, and they thereby must reject the church’s judgment on the Montanists.

The Cessation of the Revelatory Gifts

Space does not permit a full-orbed exposition of why the revelatory gifts have ceased. Nevertheless, the following points are in order:

(1) Jesus is the cornerstone of the church and the foundation upon which the church is laid (Eph. 2:20; 1 Cor. 3:11). Jesus is also the culmination and completion of God’s revelation to man (Heb. 1:1-2).

(2) Apostles and prophets were raised up in the 1st century as New Testament witnesses to Christ, appointed by Him to bear authentic witness to his resurrection and redemption of man (Acts 1:2, 8, 21-26; 1 Cor. 9:1, 16; 15:1-4, 8-11; Gal. 1:1, 15-16). Compared to Jesus, apostles were the foundation of the church only in a secondary and inferior sense. (Eph. 2:20).

(3) Apostles were directly commissioned by Jesus for a unique missionary work (Mark 3:14-15; Acts 1:21-26; Rom. 1:1; 2 Cor. 11:5; 12:11-12; Gal. 1:1). As a unique office and gift, apostleship ended in the first century A.D. (Cf. Matt. 19:28; Acts 12:2).

(4) In the 1st century, the gift of prophecy was closely related to the gift of apostleship (2 Cor. 12:12). The purpose of prophesy in the New Testament was to edify and strengthen the early church (1 Cor. 14:3-4; 14:22).

(5) In essence, then, prophesy served the church as a specific witness to Jesus Christ at a time when it lacked the written revelation of Jesus Christ in the form of the New Testament.34 As Gaffin has stated, “With this foundational revelation completed, and so too their foundational role as witnesses, the apostles and, along with them, the prophets and other associated revelatory word gifts, pass from the life of the church.”35

(6) Several Scriptural passages make this point:

a. Jude 3 says, “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” The word “faith” refers to the body of truths taught by the apostles or the “things believed.”36 (See also Gal. 1:23; 1 Tim. 4:1). It is a reference to the propositional truth of the gospel -- a truth now found only in the written pages of Scripture. The word “entrusted” (paradidonai) is the word used for handing down authorized tradition in Israel.37 (Cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-3; 2 Thes. 3:6). Moreover, the phrase “once for all” (hapax) indicates that the faith -- the objective content of Christianity -- was entrusted to the saints one time, conclusively.38 Once this process was completed, there was no further need for additional revelation beyond the apostolic age.

b. Jesus promised his disciples that, after His departure, the Holy Spirit would give them “all truth” (Jn 14:26; 16:12-13). 2 Peter 1:21 amplifies the method by which the Holy Spirit would give the apostles truth; Scripture is the result of the Holy Spirit’s carrying the authors along as they wrote.

c. The apostle John said that anyone who adds to the words of the book of Revelation would be cursed (Rev. 22:18). While his words apply specifically to the revelation given to him as recorded in the last book of the New Testament, inferentially, they equally apply to the canon of Scripture as a whole.

In sum, because prophecy and other “revelatory” gifts have fulfilled their purpose and are no longer necessary to provide a witness to the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, they have thereby ceased to exist; it is Scripture that now takes their place as God’s special revelation regarding salvation. It is now the written Word of God that is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, in short for life, to equip man for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16). The view that God directly speaks to man today through the continuation of revelatory gifts seriously undermines this principle.

The Sufficiency of Scripture

Proponents of continuing revelation have moved beyond “tongues” and “prophecy” to say that God speaks directly to man today through dreams, visions, audible voices and other ways as well. A rapidly spreading teaching is that God speaks to his people today apart from the Bible, even though he never speaks in contradiction to it. In other words, proponents of this view assert the existence of “plus factors” -- God speaks directly to man through the Bible plus.

For example, in his book, The Word of God With Power, Jack Taylor has written that it is a mistake to believe that we have in the Bible all the revelation we will ever need.39 Although he readily acknowledges that the canon of Scripture “is complete and will never require addition,” he effectively contradicts himself (in the very same sentence) by declaring that God continues to directly speak to individuals through “impressions, messages, dreams and visions.”40 The Holy Spirit, in his view, “will use the written Scripture, but He is not bound to its pages in the issue of making His will known to us.”41

In his book, Surprised By the Power of the Spirit, Jack Deere similarly states that “God does indeed speak apart from the Bible, though never in contradiction to it.”42 Deere believes that God “speaks to all of his children” and “in amazing detail,” through audible voices, impressions, visions, dreams, and through angels.43 Deere has even gone so far as to say that “one of his [Satan’s] most successful attacks has been to develop a doctrine that teaches God no longer speaks to us except through the written word” and “this doctrine is demonic.”44

Yet the Bible tells us, in explicit language, that God, through his divine power “has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness” that we need (2 Pet. 1:3). Taylor and Deere and others like them are engaged in a frontal assault on the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. In effect, they seek to reopen the canon of Scripture by postulating a continuing form of special revelation. In order to understand the gravity of their error, we must review the concepts of revelation, inspiration, illumination and Holy Spirit guidance, for the “Bible plus” teachings inappropriate confuses these distinct works of the Holy Spirit.

The word “revelation” means an uncovering, a removal of the veil, a disclosure of what was previously unknown.45 Accordingly, in theological usage, revelation is the communication of divine truth from God to man.46 It is God’s message to man. There are two basic types of revelation. Through general revelation (creation, the universe, nature), God reveals his character generally to mankind, though not sufficiently for man to find salvation. Everyone (at least in this debate) agrees that God still speaks to all humanity through general revelation. Special revelation, in contrast, does not come to all people. In the Old Testament, God revealed himself to specific people through dreams, visions, theophanies, angels, prophets, the lot, and the Urim and Thummim.47 In the New Testament, asa noted above, the incarnation of Jesus Christ as Savior was the culmination of God’s special revelation to man. The incarnation is “[t]he pinnacle of the acts of God.”48 As the author of Hebrews wrote: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe” (Heb 1:1-2).

Inspiration is the means of God’s communication of his written revelation to man. The word “inspiration” is a translation of theopneustos, which literally means “God-breathed.”49 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is the primary witness of the Bible to its own inspiration: “All Scripture is God-breathed (i.e., inspired) and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” In other words, God “breathed-out” what the sacred writers communicated in the biblical writings.50 In this sense, inspiration was completed when the canon of Scripture was closed.

Illumination, on the other hand, is fundamentally different from both revelation and inspiration. As Charles Ryrie has cautioned: “The experience of ‘illumination’ is not be ‘direct revelation.’ The canon is closed. The Spirit illumines the meaning of that closed canon, and He does so through study and meditation.”51 Taylor, at least, fails to appreciate this important distinction.52

The Holy Spirit’s leading and conviction ministries are also fundamentally distinct from revelation and illumination. John Murray has written wisely in this regard:

We must rely upon the Holy Spirit to direct and guide us in the understanding and application of God’s will as revealed in Scripture, and we must be constantly conscious of our need of the Holy Spirit to apply the Word effectively to us in each situation. The function of the Holy Spirit in such matters is that of illumination as to what the will of the Lord is, and of imparting to us the willingness and strength to do that will. . . . as we are the subjects of this illumination and are responsive to it, and as the Holy Spirit is operative in us to the doings of God’s will, we shall have feelings, impressions, convictions, urges, inhibitions, impulses, burdens, resolutions.53

Yet Murray cautions, “The moment we desire or expect or think that a state of our consciousness is the effect of a direct intimation to us of the Holy Spirit’s will, or consists in such an intimation and is therefore in the category of special direction from him, then we have given way to the notion of special, direct, detached communication from the Holy Spirit. And this . . . belongs to the same category as belief in special revelation.”54

Hence, “though the Spirit’s illumination and guidance may sometimes focus on phenomena such as promptings or impressions, those phenomena are not specifically interpreted as involving the biblical ministry-gifts of revelation, such as prophesy and tongues or their correlates (e.g., visions, dreams, auditions).55 God has finally and completely spoken to man through Jesus Christ His Son. He has accomplished his salvific purpose. As White has stated: “With the completion of salvation in Christ comes the cessation of revelation. Consequently, the church now lives by a ‘Scripture only’ principle of authority.”56

Chapter Three:
Hear the Words of the Wise

“Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise.” Prov. 22:17

The Shakers

In an effort to show that the “signs and wonders” of the charismatic movement are not new phenomena, proponents of the movement frequently attempt to link the manifestations of today with allegedly similar manifestations in history. One group with which the Third Wave claims particularly close affinity is the Shakers. This is an interesting assertion given that the Shakers were a radical fringe sect that bore little, if any, resemblance to orthodox Christianity.

A small branch of radical English Quakers, the Shakers (also known as the “Shaking Quakers”) were founded in 1758 by a woman named Ann Lee. The sect was characterized by the practice of ecstatic utterances in worship; a belief in rabid millennialism, and a lifestyle of extreme piety.57 Interestingly, the Shakers felt a spiritual connection with the Montanists, considering them to have been the “forerunners of a new ‘dispensation.’“58

In their worship services, the Shakers did not engage in preaching, prayer or other regular form. Rather:

every one acts for himself, and almost every one different from the other: one will stand with his arms extended, acting over odd postures, which they call signs; another will be dancing, and some times hopping on one leg about the floor; another will fall to turning round, so swift, that if it be a woman, her clothes will be so filled with the wind, as though they were kept out by a hoop; another will be prostrate on the floor. . . some groaning most dismally; some trembling extremely; others acting as though all their nerves were convulsed; others swinging their arms, with all vigor, as though they were turning a wheel, etc.59

Worship services were not only characterized by singing and dancing, shaking and shouting, however. They also contained “speaking with new tongues and prophesying, with all those various gifts of the Holy Ghost known in the primitive Church.”60 As one observer wrote:

At other times some were shaking and trembling, others singing words out of the Psalms in whining, canting tomes (but not in rhyme), while others were speaking in what they called ‘the unknown tongue,’ -- to me an unintelligible jargon, mere gibberish and perfect nonsense.61

Eventually, the meetings were so intense that Lee was imprisoned for profanement of the Sabbath. While in prison, she had a series of visions in which she claimed to have conversed with Christ.62 Presumably, as a result of her “conversations” with Christ, she subsequently believed and taught that she was “the female aspect of God’s dual nature as the second incarnation of Christ.” She told her followers that “It is not I that speak, it is Christ who dwells in me.”63

Due to persecution in England, Lee and a small group of Shakers emigrated to America in 1774. They settled in isolated villages “away from the evils of the world,” and established “Millennial Laws,” which mandated an extreme separation of the sexes, even to the extent of dividing men, women and children into their own “families” and making men and women “leave through separate doors.” Property was owned communally. The distinctive craftsmanship of “Shaker furniture” is a result of the sect’s commitment to “a life of perfection.”

A “revival” in the 1780’s brought increased numbers into the Shaker community. Yet the sect reached its height of popularity during the Second Great Awakening, when there were between 18-21 Shaker villages and between 4,000 and 6,000 members. The sect eventually dwindled as a result of its celebacy beliefs; currently, only nine Shakers remain in two small towns in New England.64

The Disappearance of Spiritual Ecstasy From Orthodoxy

In Charismatic Chaos, John MacArthur observed:

[S]ince the canon of Scripture was completed, no genuine revival or orthodox movement has ever been led by people whose authority is based in any way on private revelations from God. Many groups have claimed to receive new revelation, but all of them have been fanatical, heretical, cultic, or fraudulent.65

MacArthur makes an important point. Between the demise of the Montanists in the fourth century and the American Great Awakenings in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, only a few instances of ecstatic utterances are recorded, and these were either by isolated individuals such as Quaker George Fox or among heretical sects such as the Shakers or the French Prophets.66 Andrews, who chronicled the Shakers, has noted the “little essential difference” among that group, Mormon Joseph Smith, and other sects who manifested “mystical experiences” and “physical phenomena of worship.”67

For the person who values history, this is most significant. For if the charismatic claim that its manifestations of spiritual ecstasy are from God is true, one wonders why those manifestations were limited to fringe groups and heretical sects from the close of the canon to the First Great Awakening. The usual charismatic explanation is that “[t]he Holy Spirit continued in control until the close of the first century, when He was largely rejected and His position as leader usurped by man” so that “[t]he missionary movement halted” and “[t]he dark ages ensued.”68 Indeed, one Pentecostal leader maintained that the signs and wonders of the New Testament era ceased because “the Church did not maintain its purity.”69

This is a serious charge. Unfortunately, it also is an irresponsible one. Over 60 years ago, Colgate University educator George Cutten undertook an extensive survey of whether tongues were present in the sub-apostolic age, and he concluded that “in the ancient church at least, the church of the fathers, there was not one well-attested instance of any person who exercised speaking in tongues or even pretended to exercise it.”70 In the fourth century, Chrysostom observed that tongue speaking had even ceased among fringe sects (presumably Montanists).71 Moreover, the two greatest Christian thinkers of all time (after the apostle Paul), Augustine and Martin Luther, never spoke in tongues or engaged in prophetic utterances. Nor did lesser lights such as Athanasus, Anselm, Aquinas, Melanchthon, Calvin, Beza, or Zwingli.

Even if we limit the discussion to Baptists, our own tradition is replete with godly men who rejected the notion that God’s special revelation continues apart from Scripture. Indeed, Baptists have been in the forefront of defending, not only the authority of the Bible, but also its sufficiency. This was the view of the Anabaptists, from which, to some degree, Baptists trace their roots. For example, in 1524, Balthasar Hubmaier, an early Anabaptist leader, wrote Eighteen Dissertations Concerning the Entire Christian Life and of What It Consists, in which he declared that “All teachings that are not of God are in vain and shall be rooted up. Here perish the disciples of Aristotle, as well as the Thomists, the Scotists, Bonaventure, and Occam, and all teaching that does not proceed from God’s Word.”72

This was certainly the view of the Particular Baptists (who were Calvinistic in theology). Articles seven and eight of the Baptist Confession of 1644 state:

The Rule of this Knowledge, Faith and Obedience, concerning the worship and service of God, and all other Christian duties, is not man’s inventions, opinions, devices, lawes, constitutions, or traditions unwritten whatsoever, but only the word of God contained in the Canonical Scriptures.

In this written Word God hath plainly revealed whatsoever he hath thought needful for us to know, believe, and acknowledge, touching the Nature and Office of Christ, in whom all the promises are Yea and Amen to the praise of God.73

The Second London Confession of 1689 states that “the Holy Scripture is the only sufficient . . . rule of all saving Knowledge, Faith and Obedience” and “those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people [dreams, visions, etc.] being now ceased.”74 It emphatically declares that the “whole Counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own Glory, Man’s Salvation, Faith and Life is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture; unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new Revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”75 John Gill repeated this precept in his confession which states that Scripture is “the only rule of faith and practice.”76 Scripture contains “the whole of God’s will and pleasure toward us.”77

The cessation of special revelation was even the view of the General Baptists (who were Arminian in theology). Thomas Helwys stated in Article 23 of his confession that Scripture serves “onelie” as “our direction in al [sp] things whatsoever.”78 Helwys’ successor, John Murton, similarly was of the view that Scripture is our sole authority in all matters of faith, conduct, worship, and doctrine.79

American Baptists also vigorously upheld the notion of the sufficiency of Scripture. Roger Williams said that the Bible is the “square rule” that determines “all knowledge of God and of ourselves.”80 John Broadus, a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor, wrote:

14. What authority has the Bible for us? The Bible is our only and all-sufficient rule of faith and practice. . . 81

Finally, an introductory statement to the 1925 Southern Baptist Faith and Message declared: “That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.”82

Are we to conclude that these great men of God “did not maintain [their] purity?” That they “rejected” the Holy Spirit and His position as “leader”? My answer is a resounding “no.” It seems to me that Rene Pache got it right when he said:

If ‘miraculous’ gifts (healing, miracles, prophecy, tongues) have been absent at certain times, the probable cause has lain not always in man’s unbelief, but in the will of God. If it were otherwise, why should the Spirit unceasingly give certain gifts. . . while failing to bestow others?83

In order to walk with the wise and learn from the past, the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture must be reaffirmed.

Chapter Four:
Keeping All Things in Balance

And Peter said to them, “Repent. . . Be saved from this perverse generation!” (Acts 2:38, 40)

“But you, be sober in all things” (2 Tim. 4:5)

Jonathan Edwards and The First Great Awakening

Along with the other great church luminaries mentioned in the last chapter, Jonathan Edwards also never spoke in tongues nor believed that the revelatory gifts continued past the apostolic age.84 Generally thought of as America’s preeminent theologian, this Calvinistic minister is perhaps best known for his role in sparking America’s first and greatest revival, the Great Awakening of the mid-Eighteenth Century.

In 1733 and 1734, Jonathan Edwards preached on “God Glorified in Man’s Dependence” and “Justification By Faith Alone.” As a result of these messages, in Edwards’ own words, “the Spirit of God began extraordinarily to set in and wonderfully to work amongst us,” so that souls began to flock to Christ, as the Savior in whose righteousness alone they hoped to be justified.”85 The Great Awakening had begun. Within a single year, in a town of some 200 families, about 300 souls were saved.86

The former “dullness in religion,” “night walking, and frequenting the tavern and lewd practices” were replaced by a focus on God’s redemptive work.87 The town “seemed to be full of the presence of God: it never was so full of love, nor so full of joy; and yet so full of distress, as it was then.”88 Revival rapidly spread to other New England towns and villages.

With regenerated souls came awakened emotions. At the time of conversion, the newly saved frequently manifested an extreme agony over their sinful condition. Edwards wrote that their consciences were “smitten” -- “as if their hearts were pierced through with a dart.”89 They experienced “awful apprehensions” about the depths of their corrupted souls, and a sense that God was just in condemning them. Upon conversion, there was often laughter, tears or loud weeping.90

Meanwhile, revival fires continued to burn. In 1740, George Whitefield visited Northampton and quickened the fervor. The manifestations accompanying conversion this time were “even more bizarre than the earlier ones;” parishioners “bewailed their sins aloud and groaned in fear and repentence.”91

Like Edwards, Whitefield was also a Calvinist who understood the role of emotions and experience in the Christian life. He decried the cold rationalism that infected the Anglican clergy of the day, emphasizing the centrality of the New Birth experience to salvation.92 He was himself prone to tears as he preached.93 When Whitefield preached in Northampton, the power of the Holy Spirit was present. “Few dry eyes were in the assembly.”94 Even Edwards felt “weak in body” and “wept during the whole time of exercise.”95 One account has it that “Mr. Whitefield had scarcely spoken for a minute on the same text when the whole auditorium could be seen to be deeply moved, to be in tears, and to be wringing hands, and the sighing, weeping, and shouting of the people could be heard.”96

Sometimes, however, the manifestations went beyond the emotions of repentence. Occasionally, enthusiasts heard voices and beheld visions, claiming that they had received revelations from God. Extreme manifestations of ecstasy also occurred during some of Whitefield’s sermons. As one account of Whitefield’s Scottish tour put it: “the Bodies of some of the Awakened are seized with Trembling, Fainting, Histerisms in some few Women, and with Convusive-Motions in some others.”97

Edwards strongly condemned these extreme manifestations. He discounted such “false signs” as crying aloud repeated mantras (“Hosanna, Hosanna”), bodily behavior, self-induced affections, and “all other signs testifying not to the faith of children of light but to ‘the presumption of the children of darkness.’“98 He denounced persons who believed that fainting, bodily tremors and “all manner of natural passion” were positive elements of revival.99 These signs were negative, in Edwards’s eyes, because they were unrelated to the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit. and evinced no integration with the redirected heart.100

Yet despite Edwards’ strong condemnations of false affections, he did not fall to the other extreme of rejecting religious experience altogether. To the contrary, Edwards’ life-long theme was that true religion “is a matter of true affections that incline the heart away from self-love and towards God.”101 As Harold Simonson has stated:

It was not Edwards’ intrepid defense of Calvinism per se that made his leadership during the Awakening most notable; it was rather his profound conviction that Calvinist theology was experientially true. He was convinced that human experience corroborates Calvin’s insights. Edwards insisted that unless theology was rooted in experience, it could not be anything more than intellectual speculation.102

Put another way, Edwards was a Calvinist with a heart. He struck a careful balance between validating the very real emotions that accompany repentance and revival and false affections that distract from and do harm to God’s true work.

The Second Great Awakening

Unfortunately, the careful balance struck by Edwards was sometimes lost during the Second Great Awakening. The story of the Second Great Awakening must begin with James McGready, a Presbyterian evangelical Calvinist.103 It was McGready’s sermons contrasting the glowing beauties of heaven with the fires and miseries of hell that spread revival across north-central North Carolina beginning in 1791.104 When McGready and several of his converts moved to Kentucky in 1798, revival followed. As John Boles records it:

Under the ministrations of McGready and one of his North Carolina converts, the Reverend John Rankin, such a revival developed at a Gasper River sacramental service that many were quite overcome with emotion and fell to the floor, so deeply were they struck with “heart-piercing conviction.” The uninhibited physical responses to penetrating preaching and beliefs that were soon to characterize the Kentucky phase of the Great Revival here made their first appearance. The revival now gained momentum.105

At first, the emotions accompanying revival were closely tied to repentance. As McGready observed: “instantly the divine flame spread through the whole multitude. Presently you might have seen sinners lying powerless in every part of the house, praying and crying for mercy.”106 Yet, when the revival came to Cane Ridge in August, 1801, it was accompanied by more strange “exercises.” As Boles put it:

Many participants, in the midst of the totality of revival phenomena, seemed to have lost control of their emotions. Considering themselves in the very presence of God, many felt so remorseful for their sins (the horrors of which were usually intensified by the ministers) that they fell apparently senseless to the ground. Others who, perhaps seeking a sense of assurance that they were being saved, unconsciously generated a series of physical “exercises” as evidence of their conviction and justification.107

Camp meeting evangelist Barton Stone categorized these “exercises” into several groupings, among which were:

Falling: The subject would “generally, with a piercing scream, fall like a log on the floor, earth, or mud, and appear as dead.”

The Jerks: When the head alone was affected, “it would be jerked backward and forward, or from side to side, so quickly that the features of the face could not be distinguished.” When the whole body was affected, the person would stand in one place and “jerk backward and forward in quick succession, [his] head nearly touching the floor behind and before.”

Dancing: Dancing would often follow the jerks.

Barking: “A person affected with the jerks would often make a grunt, or bark, if you please from the suddenness of the jerk.”

Laughing: The subject would let out “a loud, hearty laughter, but one that excited laughter in none else.”108

Boles has noted that these “grossly exaggerated revival exercises” were “probably restricted to a comparative few” and that “except at the very start, they were never a significant factor in the camp meetings.”109 Professor Bernard Weisberger agrees: “Many stories of unusual transports of holy joy and anguish were undoubtedly stretched. Some came from supporters . . . Others were planted by opponents, who were trying to underscore the element of caricature in the meetings.”110 Thus, for most people, shouting, crying, and falling down were the only physical responses to passionate preaching.111 As Boles put it, “So desperate were many to secure their salvation that they called out in agony, ‘What shall we do to be saved.’“112

Behind the emotional outpouring, especially at the beginning of the Second Great Awakening, there was “a pervasive, strongly believed system of ideas about God and his dealings with men.”113 Early on, Calvinistic Baptist pastor Richard Furman said about the Awakening that it was “a blessed Visitation from on high.”114 Yet, as the camp meetings became more popular and the “convulsions grew more extreme,” opposition from orthodox Baptists and Presbyterians mounted.115

And as the more conservative churches abandoned the movement, its link to theological orthodoxy became more tenuous. The focus became Arminian, rather than Calvinistic.116 Many camp meeting leaders lapsed into heresy. Barton Stone, for example, eventually denied the substitutionary atonement, the Trinity, and the divinity of Christ.117 In addition, some participants began to believe that the jerks, and the other “spasms” were “new revelations of the Spirit.”118 Not surprisingly, the most extreme participants were drawn into the Shaker camp.119

The revival movement declined rapidly after 1805. Indeed, by 1804, the camp meeting had become almost exclusively a Methodist phenomenon, and in their hands, it became less a mysterious work of the Holy Spirit and more “a revival technique.”120 Baptist Edmund Botsworth disapprovingly wrote to Furman in 1803 that many fell “some say, on purpose.”121 By 1835, Charles Finney could say with relative impunity, “A revival is not a miracle, nor dependent on a miracle, in any sense” but that “it is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means.”122

The Place for Experience in the Christian Life

As Jonathan Edwards discovered during the First Great Awakening, the Christian life is like walking a tightrope: If we take one step to the left into undue emotionalism or one step to the right into sterile rationalism, we fall. We Baptists have a saying, that Christianity involves a relationship, not a religion. By that, we mean that we do not hold to the staid formalism or empty rituals that typify much of religious expression in our day. After all, even orthodox belief, devoid of a personal relationship with the risen Savior, is dead faith. On the other hand, revivalism is equally invalid. Spiritual ecstasy and mysticism may be exciting and psychologically fulfilling, but they are spiritual poison when devoid of Biblical content and truth. Accordingly, Edwards had it right when he insisted that true religious emotion must inexorably be linked to a sense of fear and trembling before a just and holy God and a fervent desire to repent of sins.

In other words, true religious affections derive from a mature love, an agape relationship, or at least, the friendship and devotion of phileo (cf. Jn. 21:15-17). They will derive from a heart of repentance, crying out to God, “Oh, wretched man that I am.” The spiritual ecstacies and excesses of the charismatic movement have a different type of “love,” a selfish storge, as their focus. Their principal concern is not a mutual bond of relationship with Jesus Christ, after repentance of sin, but a mindset of: “How will the Spirit bless me today?”

This distinction readily can be seen by contrasting the awakening experiences of Jonathan Edwards’ parishioners with the circus atmosphere of a modern charismatic rally. Edwards movingly wrote of the conversion of a young girl, Phebe Bartlet, in A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God, describing her pre-salvation state in terms of “continued crying” and “anguish of spirit.” Contrast this to the state of Richard Roberts’ nine year old daughter at a Rodney Howard-Browne meeting. According to her father, after Howard-Browne laid hands on her, she fell to the ground and laughed for an hour and 45 minutes, and when her parents tried to put her to bed that night, she fell out laughing so hard that they finally had to put her in the bathtub to calm her down.123

Another contrast can be made. Although excesses certainly occurred during the Great Awakenings, revival came as a result of a steady diet of Calvinistic preaching by Edwards, Whitefield, McGready and others. It was the words that mattered, the words of the minister faithfully imparting the Word of God. Yet, in an interview with Christian Research Journal, Rodney Howard-Browne admitted that the message he is preaching is essentially irrelevant to whether people fall out in ecstatic manifestations.124 Thus, despite Third Wave claims to be the spiritual heirs of Jonathan Edwards, there legitimately can be no comparison between Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and the vain repetition of the words to a song led by Howard-Browne: “I am drunk. I am drunk. Every day of my life I am drunk. I’ve been drinking down at Joel’s place every night and every day. I am drunk on new wine.”125

What, then, are we to make of the prophecies, tongues and other ecstatic utterances of the charismatic movement? Certainly, we can assume that at least some of the more bizarre manifestations of ecstasy are Satanic in origin. However, we cannot ascribe all of the emotionalism to the devil. Much of it lies in us. For example, Theodore Barber has suggested that there is little difference between hypnotism and the “high level of suggestability” activated by strong motivational instruction (such as that orchestrated at a typical Toronto Blessing or Rodney Howard-Browne meeting).126 Vern Poythress has noted that free vocalization (speaking in tongues) can be learned and, in fact, “is easier than learning how to ride a bicycle.”127

We have no need, however, to characterize those things that we believe lacks biblical warrant. Rather, we have need of true and genuine revival of the type found in the Great Awakenings. Emotion is an important part of our spiritual life, but a genuine, authentic relationship with Jesus Christ is paramount. In fact, it must be paramount above either excessive emotionalism or sterile rationality.

This can be seen by another contrast, this one between two Dallas Theological Seminary teachers. Former Dallas Seminary professor Jack Deere described his life before he became a charismatic in his book, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit as follows:

I knew where I was going. My life was both comfortable and secure. I was in control and liked it that way. Most of the time I felt I knew what God was doing.


Over the years, [my wife] had watched my passion for God slowly drying up like the reservoirs in Southern California during a draught. I wasn’t conscious of losing any passion for God. I thought I had just grown up. But she was concerned that I had become complacent and self-satisfied. And she saw my attitudes as an enemy of God’s calling on our lives.128

Unfortunately, Deere’s solution to his spiritual “draught” was to gravitate to the Vineyard movement and fall into excessive emotionalism.

Current Dallas Seminary professor Daniel Wallace’s Christianity was challenged when his 8-year-old son was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma. In a speech before a regional group of the Evangelical Theological Society, Wallace recalled:

Through this experience, I found that the Bible was not adequate. I needed God in a personal way -- not as an object of my study, but as friend, guide, comforter. I needed an existential experience of the Holy One. Quite frankly, I found that the Bible was not the answer. I found the scriptures to be helpful -- even authoritatively helpful -- as a guide. But without feeling God, the Bible gave little solace. In the midst of this “summer from hell,” I began to examine what had become of my faith.129

Out of this personal crisis, Wallace formulated eleven theses or challenges addressed to cesessionists that echo the themes of Jonathan Edwards:

1. Although the sign gifts died in the first century, the Holy Spirit did not.

2. Although charismatics have given a higher priority to experience than to relationship, rationalistic evangelicals have given a higher priority to knowledge than to relationship.

3. This emphasis on knowledge over relationship has produced in us a bibliolatry.

4. The net effect of such bibliolatry is a depersonalization of God.

5. Part of the motivation for this depersonalization of God is our increasing craving for control.

6. God is still a God of healing and miracles.

7. Evangelical rationalism can lead to spiritual defection.

8. The power brokers of rational evangelicalism, since the turn of the century, have been white, obsessive-compulsive males.

9. The Holy Spirit’s guidance is still needed in discerning the will of God.

10. In the midst of seeking out the power of the Spirit, we must not avoid the sufferings of Christ.

11. To what does the Spirit bear witness?130

As cessationists, we would do well to grapple with these issues.

Questions to Charismatics

At the same time, however, charismatics would do well to grapple with the following questions:

Issue 1: Is the canon of Scripture closed or open? This is the article on which the charismatic movement must stand or fall. It will not do to say that the canon is closed, but that God still speaks to man directly today through the same means and in the same way as He spoke, through special revelation, before the close of the canon. It also will not do to assert that God speaks today through “fallible” revelation (as opposed to the infallible revelation of Scripture). Either God’s revelation is capable of error or it is not.

Issue 2: Is primacy to be found in biblical authority or experience? This point is closely related to, but distinct from, the first. Put another way, is truth objective and propositional, or subjective and personal? Historical Christianity has always held to the belief that truth is objective and propositional, as found in the Word of God. However, the modern charismatic movement has drifted from that firm anchor, in teaching that truth can take the form of personal revelation. The resemblence to neo-orthodoxy is striking. Jack Taylor has written that “The Bible is the Word of God. . . only when the Holy Spirit who inspires it enlivens it. Only then does it have life and power. Until then it is document; document is letter, and letter kills.”131 Do charismatics agree with Taylor?

Issue 3: Is Scripture sufficient for faith and practice and, equally importantly, for life? 2 Peter 1:3 affirms that it is. Yet Jack Taylor has written that the traditional Baptist (really Petrine) doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is “the dung of meaningless tradition and unbiblical ideas.”132 Do charismatics agree? If they do affirm the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture, what need is there for personal revelation to supplement what is all-sufficient?

Issue 4: Will our central focus be on the Savior or the Spirit? One of the cardinal Reformation principles was that of solo Christo. Should we keep that tenet, or change the focus to the Holy Spirit? Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would point to the Son. Can we do otherwise? If not, where is the condemnation of Rodney Howard-Browne?

(sola Christo)

Issue 5: Should we expect more to the Christian life? The charismatic movement (particularly, its Vineyard element) has attracted many Calvinists and professional theologians.133 Many of these individuals had previously embraced Christianity only “from the neck up.”134 Many of them have longed for something more than “cognitive Christianity.” This need for “something more” has always been there. It drove the Montanist movement in the early years of the church. As Griffith Thomas has noted, from a psychological standpoint, Montanism had its origin in “the recognition of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in a Church that was already tending to become too rigid in its intellectual conceptions and ecclesiastical organisation.”135 Its adherents wanted to experience “something more.”

We are responsible to offer “something more” than either sterile rationalism or destructive emotionalism. We must offer a personal, real relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship involves all the normal emotions involved in a love relationship (love, joy, peace). As Edwards said in A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections:

There is no true religion where there is no religious affection. As on the one hand, there must be light in the understanding, as well as an affected fervent heart; where there is heat without light, there can be nothing divine or heavenly in that heart; so on the other hand, where there is a kind of light without heat, a head stored with notions and speculations, with a cold and unaffected heart, there can be nothing divine in that light, that knowledge is no true spiritual knowledge of divine things.136

Edwards got the balance right. Following in his footsteps is our challenge.

1 Keith Hinson, “Florida Board Disfellowships 2 Charismatic Churches,” Baptist Press, May 20, 1996.

2 Michael Chute, “Inverness church ‘resigns’ from convention,” Florida Baptist Witness, 19 Sept. 1996, 5.

3 Keith Hinson, “Theology Key Concern in Florida Controversy,” Baptist Press, May 8, 1996.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 I adopt Richard Gaffin’s use of this term to describe prophesy and its assessment, tongues and their interpretation, the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge. See Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., “A Cessationist View,” in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views ed. Wayne A. Grudem (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 42.

7 Since 1960, the charismatic movement has exploded beyond Pentecostal denominational barriers. It has infiltrated virtually every mainline denomination -- at first, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Presbyterian, later, Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox. See Walter Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books 1984), 205.

8 Indeed, key charismatic theologian Wayne Grudem apparently now attends a Southern Baptist church. See Wayne A. Grudem, preface to Are Miraculous Gifts for Today, 15.

9 John H. Armstrong, “In Search of Spiritual Power” in Power Religion, ed. Michael Horton (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 62.

10 Grudem, preface to Are Miraculous Gifts for Today, 10.

11 Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 2 (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910; reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 417.

12 This date derives from Eusebius. Modern scholars believe this date to be too late, variously contending that Montanism originated between 126 and 180 A.D. See Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 418 n.1.

13 Ibid, 418.

14 Ibid, 423.

15 Ibid.

16 Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 733.

17 Ibid.

18 Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (London: Pelican Books, 1967; Penguin Books, 1990), 52.

19 Ibid.

20 Frederick Dale Bruner, A Theology of the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 36.

21 Eusebius, The History of the Church, Translated, G.A. Williamson, revised and edited, Andrew Louth (London: Penguin Books, 1989), 161.

22 Chadwick, The Early Church, 52.

23 Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 422.

24 Bruner, A Theology of the Holy Spirit, 36.

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid, 37.

27 Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 732.

28 Chadwick, The Early Church, 53.

29 Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 419.

30 John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), 239.

31 George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1889), quoted in Walvoord, The Holy Spirit, 239.

32 Ibid.

33 Chadwick, The Early Church, 53.

34 Parenthetically, the purpose of tongues was related, but somewhat different. Tongues were for unbelievers, specifically, as a sign to unbelieving Jews (1 Cor. 14:22; cf. Isa. 28:11-12). Their purpose was to assist in discerning whether the apostles’ message was from God or not, since the people did not have the written New Testament to demonstrate the validity of the message. See generally William G. Bellshaw, “The Confusion of Tongues,” Biblia Sacra 120, no. 478 (1963): 145, 148-150.

35 Gaffin, “A Cessationist View,” 44.

36 Walvoord, John F. and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, Ill.: Scripture Press Publications, Inc., 1983, 1985, Logos Bible Software edition); Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: IVP/Eerdmans, 1987), 171.

37 Green, 2 Peter and Jude, 171.

38 Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc. 1995).

39 Jack R. Taylor, The Word of God With Power (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1993), 18.

40 Ibid, 20.

41 Ibid, 23.

42 Jack Deere, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993), 214.

43 Ibid, 213-214.

44 Jack Deere, Vineyard Position Paper # 2: The Vineyard’s Response to The Briefing (Anaheim, Calif.: Association of Vineyard Churches, 1992, 22-23, quoted in R. Fowler White, “Does God Speak Today Apart From the Bible?,” in The Coming Evangelical Crisis, ed., John H. Armstrong (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996), 78.

45 David S. Dockery, Christian Scripture (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 16.

46 Erickson, Christian Theology, p. 200.

47 Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1986), 63-64.

48 Erickson, 190.

49 Dockery, Christian Scripture, 41.

50 Ibid.

51 Ryrie, Basic Theology, 116.

52 For example, he quotes approvingly from Watchman Nee, who wrote that “revelation (what I have previously referred to as illumination) means that God again breathes on His Word when I read Romans two thousand years later. . . . Inspiration is given only once; revelation is given repeatedly. By revelation we mean that today God again breathes on His Word, the Holy Spirit imparts light to me. . . . What again is revelation? Revelation occurs when God reactivates His Word by His Spirit that it may be living and full of life as at the time when it was first written.” Taylor, The Word of God With Power, 49-50.

53 John Murray, “The Guidance of the Holy Spirit” in Collected Writings of John Murray, Volume 1: The Claims of Truth (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976), 188-189, quoted in “R. Fowler White, “Does God Speak Today Apart From the Bible” in The Coming Evangelical Crisis, ed. John H. Armstrong (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996), 87-88 (n.6).

54 Ibid.

55 White, “Does God Speak Today Apart From the Bible?”, 79.

56 Ibid, 86.

57 Lee apparently joined the Shakers after the death of all four of her children, and as a result of this experience, she advocated a lifetime of celibacy among its adherents.

58 Edward Deming Andrews, The People Called Shakers (Oxford University Press, 1953; New York: Dover Publications, 1963), xi.

59 Ibid, 28

60 Ibid, 12.

61 Ibid, 29.

62 Ibid, 11-12.

63 Ibid, 11.

64 Additional information about the Shakers may be found at the following Internet sites: (a) Steve Lim, “Shakers: History of the Group,””; (b) “Shakers and Shakerism,” “ http://www.” and (c) Karl Mang, “The Shakers - Another America,” “”

65 John F. MacArthur, Charismatic Chaos (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 73.

66 It is recorded of the early Quakers that, as they sange and danced, “the Devil roared in these deceived souls in a most strange and dreadful Manner, some howling, some shrieking, yelling, roaring, and some had a strange confused kind of humming, singing Noise. . . about the one Half of these miserable Creatures were terribly shaken with violent Motions.” Andrews, The People Called Shakers, 137.

67 Andrews, The People Called Shakers, 136.

68 David duPlessis, “Golden Jubilees,” IRM, 47 (April 1958), 193-94, as quoted in Bruner, A Theology of the Holy Spirit, 27.

69 J.A. Synan, “The Purpose of God in the Pentacostal Movement for This Hour,” Pentecostal World Conference Messages 1958, quoted in Bruner, 27-28.

70 See George W. Dollar, “A Symposium on the Tongues Movement Part II: Church History and the Tongues Movement,” Biblia Sacra 120, no. 480 (1963): 316, 317; “Cleon L. Rogers, Jr., “The Gift of Tongues in the Post Apostolic Church (a.d. 100-400), Biblia Sacra 122, no. 486 (1965): 134, 135-143.

71 Ibid.

72 L. Russ Bush and Tom J. Nettles, Baptists and the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 14.

73 Ibid, 51. Bush and Nettles note that the phrase “contained in the Canonicall Scriptures” does not refer to a belief that God’s words are intermixed with other words, but could as well be stated “limited to the Canonicall Scriptures.” Ibid, 53. Indeed, when the confession was republished in 1651, it was accompanied by an essay against Quakers which declared that the Bible contains “the whole Minde, will, and Law of God, for us and all Saints to believe and practise throughout all ages.” Ibid, 56.

74 Ibid, 62-63. Significantly, the expression that the Bible is “the only sufficient” rule of knowledge, faith and obedience is an addition from the Westminster Confession of Faith, from which the Second London Confession is modeled. Ibid., 65.

75 Ibid, 64.

76 Ibid, 105.

77 Ibid, 107.

78 Ibid, 31.

79 Ibid, 34.

80 Ibid, 78.

81 Ibid, 225.

82 Ibid, 387.

83 Rene Pache, The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit (Chicago: Moody Press, 1954), 184.

84 E.g., Jonathan Edwards, “Charity More Excelleant Than the Extraordinary Gifts of the Spirit” available on the Internet at”

85 Jonathan Edwards, “A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards vol. 1 (Worcester, 1834, reprinted, Edinburgh, Banner of Truth Trust, 1995), 348.

86 Ibid, 350.

87 Edwards, “A Faithful Narrative” in vol. 1, Works, 347.

88 Ibid, 348.

89 Ibid, 350.

90 Ibid, 351-52.

91 Harold Simonson, Jonathan Edwards: Theologian of the Heart (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 49.

92 Ibid, 97,

93 Harry S. Stout, The Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 41-42.

94 Ibid, 126.

95 Ibid.

96 Ibid, 251.

97 Ibid, 150, quoting James Robe, Faithful Narrative of the Extraordinary Work of the Spirit of God at Kilsyth.

98 Ibid, 58.

99 Ibid, 50.

100 Ibid.

101 Ibid, 13.

102 Ibid, 12-13.

103 John Boles records that McGready was “more interested in the salvation of his listeners than in constructing a formal creed” but that his sermons did “reflect the theological subtleties of evangelical Calvinism.” John B. Boles, The Great Revival, 1787-1805: The Origins of the Southern Evangelical Mind (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1972), 40.

104 Ibid, 40-41. As one observer described McGready’s sermons: “Father McGready would so describe Heaven, that you would almost see its glories. . . and he would so array hell and its horrors before the wicked, that they would tremble and quake, imagining a lake of fire and brimstone yawning to overwhelm them.” See Timothy K. Beougher, “Did You Know? Little Known and Remarkable Facts About Camp Meetings and Circuit Riders,” Christian History 14, no. 45 (1995): 2.

105 Boles, The Great Revival, 49.

106 McGready, Narrative of the Commencement of the Revival, xiii, quoted in Boles, The Great Revival, 56.

107 Ibid, 67.

108 “Piercing Screams and Heavenly Smiles” Christian History 14, no. 45 (1995): 15.

109 Boles, The Great Revival, 68.

110 Bernard A. Weisberger, They Gathered at the River (Boston: Little, Brown, 1958), 35, quoted in Keith J. Hardman, Charles Grandison Finney 1792-1875: Revivalist and Reformer (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1987), 58.

111 Boles, The Great Revival, 68.

112 Ibid, 76.

113 Ibid, 70.

114 Ibid, 80.

115 Ibid, 89.

116 For example, the views of revivalist Richard McNemar were considered, after examination, to have been “essentially different from Calvinism” but “clothed in such expressions and handed out in such a manner, as to keep the body of the people in the dark, and lead them insensibly into Arminian principles; which are dangerous to the souls of men, and hostile to the interests of all true religion.” Barton W. Stone, History of the Christian Church in the West (Lexington, KY: 1956), 4, quoted in Boles, The Great Revival, 150-151.

117 Ibid, 153; David L. Goetz, “Trendsetters in the Religious Wilderness,” Christian History 14, no. 45 (1995); 26, 27.

118 Ibid, 92.

119 Ibid, 100. Upon reflection, Barton Stone ruefully acknowledged that circumstances were right for Shakers to gain converts: “Some of us were verging on fanaticism; some were so disgusted at the spirit of opposition against us, and the evils of division, that they were almost led to doubt the truth of religion in toto; and some were earnestly breathing after perfection in holiness.” Stone, Autobiography, 184, quoted in Boles, The Great Revival, 157.

120 Ibid, 89-90.

121 Ibid, 95.

122 Keith J. Hardman, Charles Grandison Finney 1792-1875: Revivalist and Reformer (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1987), 21.

123 Julia Duin, “An Evening With Rodney Howard-Browne,” Christian Research Journal (Winter, 1995), 43.

124 Ibid.

125 Ibid.

126 See Theodore X. Barber, “Who Believes in Hypnosis?” Psychology Today 4 (July 1970): 20-27, 84, cited in Boles, The Great Revival, 67.

127 Vern S. Poythress, “Linguistic and Sociological Analyses of Modern Tongues-Speaking: Their Contributions and Limitations,” Westminster Theological Journal 42, no. 2 (1980): 367, 369.

128 Jack Deere, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), 13, 15-16.

129 Daniel B. Wallace, “The Uneasy Conscience of a Non-Charismatic Evangelical,” Speech before the Evangelical Theological Society, Southwest Regional Meeting, 4 March 1994, available on the internet: /docs/soapbox/estsw.htm>.

130 Ibid.

131 Taylor, The Word of God With Power, 29.

132 Ibid, 178.

133 See, e.g., Daniel B. Wallace, “Charismata and the Authority of Personal Experience,” available on the Internet: /docs/soapbox/personal.htm.

134 This phrase belongs to Dr. Wallace. Ibid.

135 W.H. Griffith Thomas, The Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1986), p. 80.

136 Jonathan Edwards, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections in The Works of Jonathan Edwards vol. 1 (Worcester, 1834, reprinted, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1995), 243.

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church), Tongues

What the Bible Says About Hell

Related Media

Key Facts About Eternity

(1) Everyone will exist eternally either in heaven or hell (Daniel 12:2,3; Matthew 25:46; John 5:28; Revelation 20:14,15).

(2) Everyone has only one life in which to determine their destiny (Hebrews 9:27).

(3) Heaven or hell is determined by whether a person believes (puts their trust) in Christ alone to save them (John 3:16, 36, etc.).

Key Passages About Hell

(1) Hell was designed originally for Satan and his demons (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10).

(2) Hell will also punish the sin of those who reject Christ (Matthew 13:41,50; Revelation 20:11-15; 21:8).

(3) Hell is conscious torment.

  • Matthew 13:50 “furnace of fire…weeping and gnashing of teeth”
  • Mark 9:48 “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched”
  • Revelation 14:10 “he will be tormented with fire and brimstone”

(4) Hell is eternal and irreversible.

  • Revelation 14:11 “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever and they have no rest day and night”
  • Revelation 20:14 “This is the second death, the lake of fire”
  • Revelation 20:15 “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire”

Erroneous Views of Hell

(1) The second chance view – After death there is still a way to escape hell.

Answer: “It is appointed unto men once to die and after that the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

(2) Universalism – All are eternally saved.

Answer: It denies the truth of salvation through Christ which means that a person decides to either trust in Christ or else he/she rejects Christ and goes to hell (John 3:16;3:36).

(3) Annihilationism – Hell means a person dies like an animal – ceases to exist.

Answer: It denies the resurrection of the unsaved (John 5:28, etc. – see above). It denies conscious torment (see above).

Objections to the Biblical View of Hell

(1) A loving God would not send people to a horrible hell.

Response: God is just (Romans 2:11).

  • God has provided the way of salvation to all (John 3:16,17; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; 1 Timothy 2:6; 4:10; Titus 2:11; 2 Peter 3:9).
  • Even those who haven’t heard of Christ are accountable for God’s revelation in nature (Romans 1:20). God will seek those who seek Him (Matthew 7:7; Luke 19:10).
  • Therefore God doesn’t send people to hell, they choose it (Romans 1:18,21,25).

(2) Hell is too severe a punishment for man’s sin.

Response: God is holy-perfect (1 Peter 1:14,15).

  • Sin is willful opposition to God our creator (Romans 1:18-32).
  • Our sin does merit hell (Romans 1:32; 2:2,5,6).
  • What is unfair and amazing is that Christ died for our sin and freely offers salvation to all (Romans 2:4; 3:22-24; 4:7,8; 5:8,9).

Biblical Terms Describing Where the Dead Are

  • Sheol - a Hebrew term simply describing “the grave” or “death” – Does not refer to “hell” specifically
  • Hades - A Greek term that usually refers to hell – a place of torment (Luke 10:15; 16:23, etc.)
  • Gehenna - A Greek term (borrowed from a literal burning dump near Jerusalem) that always refers to hell – a place of torment (Matthew 5:30; 23:33)
  • “Lake of fire”- the final abode of unbelievers after they are resurrected (Revelation 20:14,15)
  • “Abraham’s bosom” - (Luke 16:22) a place of eternal comfort
  • “Paradise” - (Luke 23:43) a place of eternal comfort
  • “With the Lord” - a key phrase describes where church age believers are after death (Philippians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; 2 Corinthians 5:8)
  • “New heavens and earth” – where believers will be after they are resurrected (Revelation 20:4-6; 21:1-4)


Our curiosity about the abode of the dead is not completely satisfied by biblical terms or verses. What we do know is that either eternal torment in hell or eternal joy in heaven awaits all people after death, based on whether they trust in Christ’s payment for sin or reject Christ.

Related Topics: Hell

What About Those Who Have Never Heard?

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What the Bible says about eternal life and judgment.

    1. All people are sinners (Romans 3:23).

    2. The penalty of sin is death – eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23).

    3. Christ died to pay the penalty for the sin of the whole world (John 4:42; 1 John 2:2; etc.).

    4. People are saved from eternal judgment when they put their trust (“believe”) in Christ’s death on the cross for their sin (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47; Acts 16:30,31; Ephesians 7:8,9; etc.).

    5. Not all are saved; those who reject Christ’s payment for sin will eternally endure God’s wrath on sin in hell (John 3:18,36; Revelation 20:15).

Can a person have his sins forgiven and have eternal life apart from knowledge of Christ?

    1. No, a person must hear the gospel of Christ and place his or her faith in Christ (Romans 10:13,14)

    2. “Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).

    3. “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

    4. “There is salvation in no one else…no other name under heaven…by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Is God fair if He sends people to hell who have never heard about Christ?

    1. God is just (Genesis 18:25; Romans 2:11).

    2. Since all are sinners, God would have been just to send all people to hell. He was gracious to provide salvation through Christ (Ephesians 2:1-9).

    3. God has put within people a basic awareness of Himself and of the requirement to do right (Romans 1:19,32; 2:15).

    4. God has revealed Himself (as eternal, as all-powerful, as good, etc.) to all by means of the created world (Romans 1:20).

    5. Man willfully can ignore that revelation.

      a. They “suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18).

      b. They refuse to “honor God” (Romans 1:21).

      c. They choose to worship idols of men or beasts instead (Romans 1:23).

      d. They choose to ignore God’s standard of righteousness (Romans 1:24-32).

    6. So when God has revealed himself and some have willfully rejected Him, He is fair to judge them.

If an isolated person responded to God’s revelation in his heart and in nature, how would he ever hear about Christ?

    1. God desires that all men be saved (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).

    2. God seeks for those who acknowledge their spiritual need and seek Him (Ezekiel 34:11; Luke 19:10).

    3. When people are seeking the true God two things happen:

      a. God brings the message to them by prompting a Christian to go to them (Acts 16:6-10).

      b. The person hearing the message will respond in faith (Acts 16:13,14).

      An illustration: Suppose a person was lost underground in a dark cave and suddenly found a little lighted arrow pointed a certain direction. Whose fault would it be if he failed to follow it? Obviously his own. God’s “little arrows” are His revelation in man’s heart and nature. We can trust the good and loving Savior to bring the message of salvation to the one who seeks Him.

A final evidence.

If the yet unreached people of the world are not lost, why did Jesus tell His disciples to “proclaim His name to all the nations (Luke 24:47), “to Go, and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19), and to be witnesses “even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8)? Why did He tell them to tell others if that knowledge would only condemn most of them? Then it would actually be best if they didn’t hear. Did Christ mislead His disciples? Was Paul misguided to go throughout Asia Minor and Europe? No, the reason Christ sent them, the reason they went and the reason why many should go today is because Christ is the only way to be saved.

Related Topics: Eschatology (Things to Come), Soteriology (Salvation), Evangelism

Theology Adrift: The Early Church Fathers and Their Views of Eschatology

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Chapter One:

In 1962, philosopher-scientist Thomas Kuhn coined the term "paradigm shift" to signal a massive change in the way a community thinks about a particular topic.1 Examples of paradigm shifts include Copernicus's discovery that the earth revolves around the sun, Einstein's theory of relativity, and Darwin's theory of evolution. Each changed the world of thought (some for better, some for worse) in a fundamental way.

From a political perspective, Constantine's Edict of Milan, issued in AD 313, constituted the formal beginning of a major paradigm shift that signaled the end of the ancient world and the beginning of the medieval period. That edict legitimated Christianity and impressed upon it the Empire's stamp of approval. It provided in pertinent part:

We grant both to Christians and to all men freedom to follow whatever religion each one wishes, in order that whatever divinity there is in the seat of heaven may be appeased and made propitious towards us and towards all who have been set under our power. . . . And since these same Christians are known to have possessed not only the places in which they had the habit of assembling but other property too which belongs by right to their body. . . you will order all this property. . . to be given back without any equivocation or dispute to all those same Christians.2

While the edict was couched in terms of tolerance to all forms of religion, its significance and historical impact lies in the fact that its author, Constantine, was the first Roman emperor openly sympathetic to Christianity.3

From a theological perspective -- specifically an eschatological one -- the Edict of Milan also signaled a monumental paradigm shift -- from the well-grounded premillennialism of the ancient church fathers to the amillennialism or postmillennialism that would dominate eschatological thinking from the fourth century AD to at least the middle part of the nineteenth century.4 Yet, as explored below, the groundwork for this shift was laid long before Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in AD 313. In the two centuries that led up to the edict, two crucial interpretive errors found their way into the church that made conditions ripe for the paradigm shift incident to the Edict of Milan. The second century fathers failed to keep clear the biblical distinction between Israel and the church. Then, the third century fathers abandoned a more-or-less literal method of interpreting the Bible in favor of Origen's allegorical-spiritualized hermeneutic. Once the distinction between Israel and the church became blurred, once a literal hermeneutic was lost, with these foundations removed, the societal changes occasioned by the Edict of Milan caused fourth century fathers to reject premillennialism in favor of Augustinian amillennialism.

This paper explores these two interpretive errors on the part of the post-apostolic fathers that set the doctrine of eschatology adrift from its secure biblical moorings and resulted in an acute paradigm shift from premillennialism to amillennialism. But first we must address a foundational question: Why do we care? Why does it matter what the early church father believed about eschatology anyway? Don't we as conservative Protestants embrace sola Scriptura? Isn't that enough? The answer to these questions is discussed in Chapter Two.

Chapter Two:
Why Study the Eschatological
Views of the Early Church Fathers

It is a fair question to ask: "Why do we care about the eschatological views of the early church fathers?" We as evangelicals emphatically agree with Hodge that "the true method of theology. . . assumes that the Bible contains all the facts or truths which form the contents of theology."5 As Ryrie cogently put it:

The fact that something was taught in the first century does not make it right (unless taught in the canonical Scriptures), and the fact that something was not taught until the nineteenth century does not make it wrong unless, of course, it is unscriptural.6

In the words of our Baptist forefathers: "The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience" and "the whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: Unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men."7 Therefore, since everything we need for an adequate understanding of doctrine is to be found in the Bible, are the doctrinal positions of our predecessors irrelevant to our understanding of theology?

Not at all. There is, in fact, much value in studying historical theology.8 The value is interpretive. As stated by Erickson, historical theology "makes us more self-conscious and self-critical, more aware of our own presuppositions."9 It assists us in learning to "do theology" by showing us "how others have done it before us."10 Finally, it "may provide a means of evaluating a particular idea."11 It shows us how a particular doctrine began, evolved and, importantly for purposes of this paper, "sometimes deviated from biblical truth." In sum, "historical theology attempts to understand the formation of doctrines, their development and change -- for better or worse."12

Not surprisingly, the period of the early church fathers is considered the most important in historical theology.13 This is true for two reasons: First, the early church fathers were "close to the events of the life of Christ and the apostolic era." Moreover, the second century apologists took the lead in defending Christianity against its first barrage of intellectual criticism.14

Thus, it behooves us to understand the eschatological views of the early church fathers. This is especially so since one charge frequently laid against dispensational premillennialists is that our system cannot pass the test of historical theology. Dispensationalism cannot be true, so the assertion goes, because it is recent in origin.15 Charles Ryrie calls this the "historical attack."16

Of course, the historical attack on dispensational premillennialism ignores the overwhelming evidence that the church fathers of the first three centuries AD were uniformly premillennial, not amillennial or postmillennial. It also fails to recognize that a change in church dogma does not necessarily indicate a change for the better. Indeed, one can profitably learn as much from the mistakes of those who come before us as from their triumphs. Unfortunately, at least in the area of eschatology, the progression of doctrinal understanding leading up to the paradigm shift occasioned by the Edict of Milan was not for the better. It involved two basic interpretive errors that remain with us today. The first critical error of the second century fathers -- the failure to keep distinct the nation of Israel and the church -- is discussed in Chapter Three.

Chapter Three:
The First Error: Blurring the
Distinction Between Israel and the Church


A fundamental tenet of dispensationalism is the belief that Israel and the church are distinct peoples of God.17 Indeed, a simple concordance search of the word "Israel" in the New Testament will lead to the conclusion that the New Testament writers never equated the church with the nation of Israel.18

However, what the New Testament writers did not do, the post-apostolic fathers quickly did. For example, around the turn of the first century AD, Clement appears to have ascribed to the church the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant in his Epistle to the Corinthians:

Let us then draw near to Him with holiness of spirit, lifting up pure and undefiled hands unto Him, loving our gracious and merciful Father, who has made us partakers in the blessings of His elect. For thus it is written, When the Most High divided the nations, when He scattered the sons of Adam, He fixed the bounds of the nations according to the number of the angels of God. His people Jacob became the portion of the Lord, and Israel the lot of His inheritance. And in another place [the Scripture] saith, Behold, the Lord taketh unto Himself a nation out of the midst of the nations, as a man takes the first-fruits of his threshing-floor; and from that nation shall come forth the Most Holy. Seeing, therefore, that we are the portion of the Holy One, let us do all those things which pertain to holiness,. . . .19

While Clement's statement could perhaps be seen as ambiguous, the following assertions of Justin Martyr in Dialogue with Trypho (around AD 160) cannot:

[1] And Trypho remarked, What is this you say? that none of us shall inherit anything on the holy mountain of God? And I replied, I do not say so; but those who have persecuted and do persecute Christ, if they do not repent, shall not inherit anything on the holy mountain. But the Gentiles, who have believed on Him, and have repented of the sins which they have committed, they shall receive the inheritance along with the patriarchs and the prophets, and the just men who are descended from Jacob, even although they neither keep the Sabbath, nor are circumcised, nor observe the feasts. Assuredly they shall receive the holy inheritance of God.20

[2] What larger measure of grace, then, did Christ bestow on Abraham? This, namely, that He called him with His voice by the like calling, telling him to quit the land wherein he dwelt. And He has called all of us by that voice, and we have left already the way of living in which we used to spend our days, passing our time in evil after the fashions of the other inhabitants of the earth; and along with Abraham we shall inherit the holy land, when we shall receive the inheritance for an endless eternity, being children of Abraham through the like faith. For as he believed the voice of God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness, in like manner we having believed God’s voice spoken by the apostles of Christ, and promulgated to us by the prophets, have renounced even to death all the things of the world. Accordingly, He promises to him a nation of similar faith, God-fearing, righteous, and delighting the Father; but it is not you, ‘in whom is no faith.’21

[3] What, then? says Trypho; are you Israel? and speaks He such things of you? . . . . "As therefore from the one man Jacob, who was surnamed Israel, all your nation has been called Jacob and Israel; so we from Christ, who begat us unto God, like Jacob, and Israel, and Judah, and Joseph, and David, are called and are the true sons of God, and keep the commandments of Christ. 22

According to Saucy, Justin Martyr's statements were "the capstone of a developing tendency in the church to appropriate to itself the attributes and prerogatives that formerly belonged to historical Israel."23 Saucy states:

With Justin's statement, the developing theology of replacement was complete. There was no longer any place for historical Israel in salvation history. The prophecies addressed to this people henceforth belonged to the church.24

Why did the early church fathers so quickly abandon the biblical distinction between Israel and the church? Saucy notes four factors. First was the developing antagonism between Judaism and early Christianity.25 The early strife revealed in the apostolic period (Acts 4:1ff; 5:17ff; 6:12ff; 9:1; 1 Thes. 2:14-16; Rev. 2:9) was "acerbated by the failure of Christians to support the Jewish revolt against the Roman authorities in AD 66-70, the Christians choosing instead to flee Jerusalem for the safety of Pella, across the Jordan in Decapolis." The schism was again deepened by the Jewish proclamation at the Council of Jamnia (AD 90) that all who departed from the standard Jewish faith were cursed.26

The second factor influencing the thinking of early believers in terms of how they viewed Israel was the two-fold destruction of Jerusalem.27 With the first destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the expulsion of Jews from Jerusalem as a result of the second Jewish revolt in AD 132-135, the early Christians began to see these defeats as evidence of not only God's displeasure on Judaism, but also God's vindication of Christianity. The early Christians thus abandoned any hope for the restoration of the nation of Israel.28

The third rationale was the refusal of Jews to accept Christ.29 As time passed, the church began to realize that the Jewish establishment was not going to change its mind about Jesus Christ. Hence, early Christian leaders began to see Jews less as converts to the gospel and more as enemies of the gospel.

The fourth rationale involved the increasingly Gentile composition of the church.30 As the church began to be dominated by people without Jewish roots, the hardening of the Jews' hearts and the waning hope for Israel's conversion made it easier for the increasingly Gentile church to polemicize against Judaism and to seek a replacement theology.31

In sum, the basic premise of the early fathers was that God had permanently cut the nation of Israel off as his people as a result of her disobedience and idolatry in the Old Testament and her rejection and crucifixion of Jesus in the New. The faithful of the church age became the "new Israel" of God. They, along with the patriarchs and saints of previous ages, would inherit the promises given to national Israel, and these promises would be fulfilled in the millennial kingdom.32

Although Saucy calls the reasoning of these post-apostolic fathers "surely understandable,"33 it was equally certain error. As a result, the dispensationalism of the biblical writers was lost, even though the early fathers continued to hold to a literal millennial kingdom for the church and the Old Testament saints to enter. Moreover, this initial error led to a far more serious problem. The early fathers' willingness to abandon the literal meaning of the biblical text -- in this instance in terms of the meaning of Israel and the church -- was merely a portense of things to come with regard to the second major error -- the systematic allegorizing and spiritualizing of Scripture. This is discussed in Chapter Four.

Chapter Four:
The Second Error:
Allegorizing the Text of Scripture

The early apostolic fathers interpreted Scripture according to a "functional hermeneutic," meaning that they applied the text to their own situation, often without regard for its original context.34 For example, Clement included 166 quotations or allusions to the Old Testament in his Epistle to the Corinthians, seeking not so much to discover the Old Testament's message on its own or even with regard to the work of Christ, but more so to offer types and other pictures of Christ as a basis for moral obedience.35 In the seven letters of Ignatius that are believed to be genuine, the Antioch bishop used almost fifty references to 1 Corinthians. In doing so, he characteristically took Pauline expressions from their contexts and used them in his own situations.36

In the latter part of the second century, the church was beset by Gnostic critics who challenged the continuity between the Old and New Testaments. For example, the heretic Marcion rejected the Old Testament in toto. In response, Justin Martyr expanded the "functional hermeneutic" of the early fathers to include a "typological hermeneutic."37 He linked the Old Testament and the New by adopting the view that the Old Testament in its entirety pointed to Jesus. Almost any person or event in the Old Testament profitably could be used to foreshadow the life or work of Christ.38 In fact, Justin saw the Old Testament as being "a specifically Christian book, belonging to the church even more than to the synagogue."39 This approach paved the way for the allegorical interpretive method suggested by Clement of Alexandria and perfected by his successor, Origen.

Clement became the leader of the Alexandrian school in AD 190. He saw the literal meaning of Scripture as being a "starting point" for interpretation. Although it was "suitable for the mass of Christians," God revealed himself to the spiritually advanced through the "deeper meaning" of Scripture. In every passage, a deeper or additional meaning existed beyond the primary or immediate sense.40 "The literal sense indicated what was said or done, while the allegorical showed what should be believed."41

Origen, Clement's successor, took his approach to new levels. Origen (along with Augustine) has been considered the most nimble, creative mind of the early church.42 Schaff called him "the greatest scholar of his age, and the most gifted, most industrious, and most cultivated of all the ante-Nicene fathers."43 Origen was a pious man. He "rarely ate flesh, never drank wine; devoted the greater part of the night to prayer and study, and slept on the bare floor."44 He was tortured and condemned to the stake in the Decian persecution, and was saved from martyrdom only upon the death of the emperor.45 For his faith, then, Origen is to be commended. For his theology, however, he is to be severely castigated.

Schaff's delicate suggestion that Origen's "great defect" was the "neglect of the grammatical and historical sense and his constant desire to find a hidden mystic meaning" in the text of the Bible is sheer understatement.46 While Origen did not deny the literal meaning of the text, that most certainly was not his emphasis. Rather, he taught that Scripture has three different, yet complementary meanings: (1) a literal or physical sense, (2) a moral or psychical sense, and (3) an allegorical or intellectual sense.47

To Origen, much of the Bible, if read literally, was intellectually incredible or morally objectionable. An allegorizing interpretation was used to make objectionable passages palatable.48 However, as Bruce has observed: "this approach was largely arbitrary, because the approved interpretation depended so largely on the interpreter's personal preference, and in practice it violated the original intention of the Scriptures and almost obliterated the historical relatedness of the revelation they recorded."49 Farrar similarly declared:

When once the principle of allegory is admitted, when once we start with the rule that whole passages and books of Scripture say one thing when they mean another, the reader is delivered bound hand and foot to the caprice of the interpreter. . . .

Unhappily for the Church, unhappily for any real apprehension of Scripture, the allegorists, in spite of protest, were completely victorious.50

The dangers of an allegorical approach to interpreting Scripture are nowhere more evident than with regard to Origen himself. Origen taught the pre-existence of souls, universal salvation and a limited hell, doctrines for which he was posthumously condemned as a heretic.51 Despite his late condemnation, the damage had long been done. Through Augustine, Origen's allegorical hermeneutic became the backbone of medieval interpretation of the Bible.

Augustine (AD 354-430), perhaps Christendom's most preeminent theologian apart from the apostle Paul, was drawn to the Alexandrian approach to interpreting Scripture by Ambrose, his spiritual mentor. Building on Origen's interpretive system, Augustine suggested a four-fold sense which would later be adopted by medieval theologians: (1) literal; (2) allegorical; (3) tropological or moral; and (4) analogical.52 However, later in life, he began to emphasize more strongly the literal and historical sense of Scripture.53 Stanton has even suggested that Augustine came to the view that the historical and doctrinal sections of Scripture should be interpreted by normal literal methods, while prophecy should be interpreted spiritually.54

In apparently backtracking from Origen's purely allegorical method of interpretation, Augustine may have been influenced to some degree by the Antioch school of biblical interpretation, which arose in opposition to the Alexandrian school. The Antioch's school’s two greatest exegetes, Theodore of Mopsuestia (AD 350-428) and John Chrysostom (AD 354-407), were "anti-allegorical," meaning they rejected interpretations that effectively denied the historical reality of what the scriptural text affirmed.55 Chrysostom, in particular, avoided treating Old Testament passages as allegories of Christ and the church and instead sought typological meanings when the text allowed for it.56

Chrysostom and the Antiochene school distinguished allegorical interpretation from typological in two primary ways. Typological interpretation attempted to seek out patterns in the Old Testament to which Christ corresponded, while allegorical exegesis depended on accidental similarity of language between two passages. Second, typological interpretation depended on a historical interpretation of the text. The passage, according to the Antiochenes, had only one meaning, the literal, and not two as suggested by the allegorists.57

The Antioch school, however, was an aberration. It could not halt the torrent of allegorism spawned by Origen and matured by Augustine.

Whether Augustine personally abandoned Origen's allegorical hermeneutic later in life is open to debate. His legacy, however, at least through the medieval period, was the perpetuation of Origen's allegorical interpretive method. Indeed, with Origen's allegorical hermeneutic firmly in place, it became an easy jump to amillennialism.

Chapter Five:
The Paradigm Shift:
From Premillennialism to Amillennialism

Philip Schaff, no dispensational premillennialist, observed that "the most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age is the prominent chiliasm, or millennarianism, that is the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and judgment."58 Schaff noted that the hope of Christ's imminent return "through the whole age of persecution, was a copious fountain of encouragement and comfort under the pains of that martyrdom which sowed in blood the seed of a bountiful harvest for the church."59 Even church fathers who committed other errors discussed above, such as Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, remained committed premillennialists. For example, Clement of Rome conspicuously combined premillennialism with a clear belief in the imminency of Christ's return. He wrote:

Of a truth, soon and suddenly shall His will be accomplished, as the Scripture also bears witness, saying, Speedily will He come, and will not tarry; and, The Lord shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Holy One, for whom ye look.60

Barnabas, an early member of the Alexandrian school who otherwise spiritualized the Old Testament, expressly taught a millennial reign of Christ on the earth:

The Sabbath is mentioned at the beginning of the creation [thus]: And God made in six days the works of His hands, and made an end on the seventh day, and rested on it, and sanctified it. Attend, my children, to the meaning of this expression, He finished in six days. This implieth that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a thousand years. And He Himself testifieth, saying, Behold, to-day will be as a thousand years. Therefore, my children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, all things will be finished. And He rested on the seventh day. This meaneth: when His Son, coming [again], shall destroy the time of the wicked man, and judge the ungodly, and change the-sun, and the moon, and the stars, then shall He truly rest on the seventh day.61

In Against Heresies, Irenaeus extolled the virtues of the millennium in terms reminiscent of the Old Testament prophets. He also marshalled statements from Papias in support of his literal millennial views:

The predicted blessing, therefore, belongs unquestionably to the times of the kingdom, when the righteous shall bear rule upon their rising from the dead; when also the creation, having been renovated and set free, shall fructify with an abundance of all kinds of food, from the dew of heaven, and from the fertility of the earth: as the elders who saw John, the disciple of the Lord, related that they had heard from him how the Lord used to teach in regard to these times, and say: The days will come, in which vines shall grow, each having ten thousand branches, and in each branch ten thousand twigs, and in each true twig ten thousand shoots, and in each one of the shoots ten thousand dusters, and on every one of the clusters ten thousand grapes, and every grape when pressed will give five and twenty metretes of wine. And when any one of the saints shall lay hold of a cluster, another shall cry out, I am a better cluster, take me; bless the Lord through me. In like manner [the Lord declared] that . . . all animals feeding [only] on the productions of the earth, should [in those days] become peaceful and harmonious among each other, and be in perfect subjection to man.

And these things are bone witness to in writing by Papias, the hearer of John, and a companion of Polycarp, in his fourth book; for there were five books compiled . . . by him. And he says in addition, Now these things are credible to believers. 62

Polycarp asked two questions which reflected a belief in a literal, earthly reign of Christ and his saints:

But who of us are ignorant of the judgment of the Lord? Do we not know that the saints shall judge the world? as Paul teaches.63

Justin Martyr was an enthusiastic premillennialist, although by his day, premillennialism had at least some opponents:

And Trypho to this replied, I remarked to you sir, that you are very anxious to be safe in all respects, since you cling to the Scriptures. But tell me, do you really admit that this place, Jerusalem, shall be rebuilt; and do you expect your people to be gathered together, and made joyful with Christ and the patriarchs, and the prophets, both the men of our nation, and other proselytes who joined them before your Christ came? or have you given way, and admitted this in order to have the appearance of worsting us in the controversies?

Then I answered, I am not so miserable a fellow, Trypho, as to say one thing and think another. I admitted to you formerly, that I and many others are of this opinion, and [believe] that such will take place, as you assuredly are aware; but, on the other hand, I signified to you that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise. . . . But I and others, who are fight-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, [as] the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare.64

Tertullian was also a premillennialist, but he unfortunately based his eschatology on the predictions of Montanist prophets as well as on Scripture.65 Indeed, the Montanists' fanatical excesses worked to discredit premillennialism among early church leaders, and opposition to premillennialism began in earnest as a result of the Montanist movement. Caius of Rome attacked millennialism specifically because it was linked to Montanism, and he attempted to trace the belief in a literal millennium to the heretic Cerinthus.66

In Alexandria, Origen spiritualized the eschatological prophecies of Scripture, in keeping with his general allegorical hermeneutic.67 His student, Dionysius the Great, went so far as to even deny that the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation. Instead, he attributed the Apocalypse to a heretofore unknown elder of the same name.68

However, these were mere harbingers of things to come. The crushing blow for premillennialism came with the Edict of Milan in AD 313, by which Constantine reversed the Roman Empire's policy of hostility toward Christianity and accorded it full legal recognition and even favor. Historian Paul Johnson calls the issuance of this edict "one of the decisive events in world history.69 With it, no longer was the blood of the martyrs the seed of the church. Rather, Christianity would be, in many ways, a mirror-image of the empire itself. "It was catholic, universal, ecumenical, orderly, international, multi-racial and increasingly legalistic."70 It was a huge force for stability.71 Hence, Christianity after 313 would become worldly, rather than other-worldly.

The church's new-found favor from Rome caused dramatic upheavals. Jerome complained that "one who was yesterday a catechumen is today a bishop; another moves overnight from the ampitheatre to the church; a man who spent the evening in the circus stands next morning at the altar, and another who was recently a patron of the stage is now the dedicator of virgins."72 He wrote that "our walls glitter with gold, and gold gleams upon our ceilings and the capitals of our pillars; yet Christ is dying at our doors in the person of his poor, naked and hungry."73

Thus, the focus of the church changed from looking for ultimate comfort in the world beyond the grave to seeking comfort in this world, in the here and now. Christianity was viewed as "a religion with a glorious past as well as an unlimited future.74 As a result, it suffered what Johnson called "a receding, indeed, disappearing, eschatology."75 He stated:

After Christianity, contrary to all expectation, triumphed in the Roman empire, and was embraced by the Caesars themselves, the millennial reign, instead of being anxiously waited and prayed for, began to be dated either from the first appearance of Christ, or from the conversion of Constantine and the downfall of paganism, and to be regarded as realized in the glory of the dominant imperial state-church.76

Instead of being aliens and strangers in this world, Christians found themselves utterly at ease in the city of man as well as the city of God. Indeed, Augustine's City of God was the first comprehensive theology to result from this standpoint.77 Augustine believed that history runs on two parallel tracks: the City of God (God's people) and the City of Man (human endeavor as typified by human government). He taught that the people of the City of God must support and uphold the ordered peace of human government, the City of Man. He believed that the two cities have a common task: to secure "those lesser goods" without which human existence would become impossible."78

Augustine's amillennialism is an outworking of this general theme. He reinterpreted the millennium to refer to the church and equated the thousand year reign of Christ and his saints with the "whole duration of this world." Thus, Revelation 20 is to be interpreted as follows:

  • Jesus bound Satan and restrained him from seducing the nations at Calvary.
  • The saints currently reign with Christ in the millennial kingdom of God, which presently exists.
  • Satan will be loosed for a three and a half year period of time, during which the church will be severely persecuted.
  • After this, Christ will return.79

Interestingly, Augustine stated that the literal view of the scope of the millennium (one-thousand year reign) "would not be objectionable" if the nature of the millennial kingdom was a "spiritual one" rather than a physical one. However, he strongly objected to the view that "those who then rise again shall enjoy the leisure of immoderate carnal banquets, furnished with an amount of meat and drink such as not only to shock the feeling of the temperate, but even to surpass the measure of credulity itself. Such a view was to "be believed only by the carnal."80

Augustinian amillennialism was the dominant eschatology for centuries. Premillennialism, with few exceptions, soon became the view only of outcasts and heretics.81 The paradigm shift was complete. The marginalization of the premillennialism of the Bible and the early church fathers was so successful that even the reformers dismissed it as a "fable of Jewish dotage."82 And it was not until the mid-nineteenth century that premillennialism was rediscovered as the true, biblical view.

Chapter Six:

The early church fathers deserve great admiration for their courage to stand boldly for Christ, even at the cost of their lives. They shame us in our worldliness. The writings of the early church fathers also deserve serious study. These men lived in the shadow of the apostolic age. Some of them personally walked and talked with the apostles. Yet while the early fathers are to be seriously studied and respected, they are not to be venerated. As we have seen, like us, they too were fallible, capable of error.

As I hope this paper has made clear, the interpretive errors of the early church fathers were occasioned by the circumstances in which these men of God found themselves. In an era in which Jews and Christians were engaged in overt hostility over which religion would emerge supreme and victorious, it was easy for church leaders to adopt a theology that the church replaced Israel. It was also easy for Justin Martyr to spiritualize the Old Testament in order to see more of New Testament Christianity in it, and thereby refute the Gnostics who denied the Old Testament's place in God's revelation to man. The lesson for us is that we must continually guard against interpreting the Bible according to current events -- a point often lost on some of dispensational millennialism's more popular proponents.83

The bottom line, of course, is that we must continually go back to the Scriptures as our only source for "doing theology." As much as we may respect and admire the early church fathers, or, for that matter, the reformers, the puritans, or a particular modern spiritual leader, we must always remember to be Bereans, checking their conclusions and reasoning against the plumb line of God's Word. No one could put it more clearly or forcefully than Martin Luther as he boldly and defiantly proclaimed before the Diet of Worms: "Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason -- I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other -- my conscience is captive to the Word of God. . . . Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise."84

Works Cited

Augustine. The City of God. Great Books of the Western World ed. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica 1952.

Bainton, Roland H. Here I Stand. Nashville: Abington Press, 1950.

Barnabas. "Epistle of Barnabas." In The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Ed. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson. [CD-ROM] (Albany, OR: Sage Software, 1996).

Baptist Confession of 1689, art. I.

Bruce, F.F. "Interpretation of the Bible." In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology ed. Walter Elwell. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1984.

Campbell, Donald K. "Galatians." In The Bible Knowledge Commentary [CD-ROM] Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1997.

Chadwich, Henry. The Early Church. Pelican Books, 1967, reprinted Penguin Books, 1990.

Clement. "Epistle to the Corinthians." In The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Ed. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson. [CD-ROM] (Albany, OR: Sage Software, 1996).

Clouse, Robert G. "Introduction." In The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views. Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977.

Crutchfield, Larry V. "Ages and Dispensations in the Ante-Nicene Fathers." In Bibliotheca Sacra (October-December 1987).

__________. Israel and the Church in the Ante-Nicene Fathers." Bibliotheca Sacra (July-September 1987).

Dockery, David S. Christian Scripture. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995.

Enns, Paul. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Chicago, Moody Press, 1989.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1983-1985.

Gibbons, Edward. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Great Books of the Western World ed. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.1952.

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, reprinted 1995.

Irenaeus. "Against Heresies." In The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Ed. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson. [CD-ROM] (Albany, OR: Sage Software, 1996).

Johnson, Paul. A History of Christianity. New York: Athenium, 1976.

Justin Martyr. "Dialogue with Trypho." In The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Ed. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson. [CD-ROM] (Albany, OR: Sage Software, 1996).

Kroeger, C.C. "Origen." In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Ed. Walter Elwell. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1984.

Kuhn, Thomas, S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 2d enlarged ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.

MacMullen, Ramsay. Constantine. New York: Dial Press, 1969.

Norris, Frederick W. "Universal Salvation in Origen and Maximus." In Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell. Ed. Nigel M. de S. Cameron. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992.

O'Meara, John, ed. An Augustinian Reader. New York: Image Books, 1973.

Osborne, Grant. The Hermeneutical Circle. Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991.

Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things to Come. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958.

Polycarp. "Epistle to the Philippians." In The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Ed. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson. [CD-ROM] (Albany, OR: Sage Software, 1996).

Preus, Robert D. "The View of the Bible Held By the Church: The Early Church Fathers Through Luther." In Inerrancy. Ed. Norman L. Geisler. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980.

Ryrie, Charles C. Dispensationalism. Chicago: Moody Press, 1995.

__________. Basic Theology. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1986.

Saucy, Robert L. The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993.

Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church. Vol. II. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1910, reprinted 1995.

___________. The Creeds of Christendom. Harper and Row, 1931, reprinted, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996.

Stanton, Gerald. Kept From the Hour. Miami Springs, FL: Schoettle Publishing, 4th ed. 1991.

Strothmann, F.W., ed. On the Two Cities: Selections from The City of God. New York, Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1957.

Walsh, Michael. The Triumph of the Meek: Why Early Christianity Succeeded. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986.

1 Thomas, S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2d enlarged ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970).

2 Quoted in Michael Walsh, The Triumph of the Meek: Why Early Christianity Succeeded (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986), 248.

3 Historians dispute whether Constantine's conversion to Christianity was genuine E.g., Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (Pelican Books, 1967, reprinted Penguin Books, 1990), 125-127; Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Great Books of the Western World ed. (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.1952), 290. Although Eusebius recounts that in AD 312, Constantine saw a "vision" in which the sign of the cross was emblazoned across the sky surrounded by the words "In this, conquer," this "vision" was almost certainly apocryphal. See Ramsay MacMullen, Constantine (New York: Dial Press, 1969), 73.

4 I recognize that the use of paradigm theory in theology is fraught with risk. Theology is concerned with ultimate truth, both in God and as revealed by God. By contrast, paradigm theory, at least at its scientific core, is pessimistic about truth-seeking. See Grant Osborne, The Hermeneutical Circle (Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 403-404. Nevertheless, it seems to me that one can still view paradigm theory as a useful way of looking at how man conceives of ultimate truth at a specific point in time in the history of dogma without compromising the fact that ultimate truth (a) exists and (b) is found in Christ Jesus and in his written Word.

5 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, reprinted 1995), 17.

6 Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 15-16.

7 Baptist Confession of 1689, art. I.

8 Historical theology is the "unfolding of Christian theology throughout the centuries." Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, Moody Press, 1989), 403.

9 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1983-1985), 26.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid, 26-27.

12 Enns, Moody Handbook, 403.

13 Church history is commonly divided into four major periods: (1) the ancient church (through AD 590), (2) the medieval church (AD 590 to 1517), (3) the reformation era (1517-1750), and (4) the modern era (1750-present). Ibid, 403-406.

14 Ibid, 404.

15 For example, Dale Moody has written, "Dispensationalism with the modern form of seven dispensations, eight covenants, and a Pretribulation Rapture is a deviation that has not been traced beyond 1830." Dale Moody, The Word of Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 555, quoted in Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 14-15. Daniel Fuller has similarly written: "Ignorance is bliss, and it may well be that this popularity [of dispensationalism] would not be so great if the adherents of this system knew the historical background of what they teach. Few indeed realize that the teaching of Chafer came from Scofield, who in turn got it through the writings of Darby and the Plymouth Brethren." Daniel P. Fuller, "The Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism" (TH.D. dis., Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Chicago, 1975), 136, quoted in Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 61. To these critics, never mind that there is ample evidence of dispensational-type thinking in the writings of the early fathers. See generally Larry V. Crutchfield, "Ages and Dispensations in the Ante-Nicene Fathers" Bibliotheca Sacra (October-December 1987).

16 Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 14.

17 E.g., Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1986), 451; Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 39-40. Progressive dispensationalists, rightly, in my view, consider both Israel and the church as ultimately belonging to one people of God and serving one historical purpose, but within that broad framework, they retain the traditional dispensational distinction between Israel and the church. See Robert L. Saucy, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), 187-218.

18 The only arguable passage is Gal. 6:16. Even there, however, the evidence does not support the conclusion that the phrase Israel of God refers to the church. First, the repetition of the preposition (“upon” or “to” ) indicates that two groups are in view. Second, all the sixty five other occurrences of the term Israel in the New Testament refer to Jews. It would thus be strange for Paul to use Israel here to mean Gentile Christians. Third, Paul elsewhere distinguishes between two kinds of Israelites--believing Jews and unbelieving Jews (cf. Rom. 9:6). He does the same here, referring to true Israel, that is, Jews who come to Christ. See Donald K. Campbell, "Galatians" in The Bible Knowledge Commentary [CD-ROM] (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1997). See also Saucy, Progressive Dispensationalism, 198-202; Enns, Moody Handbook, 526 n.12.

19 Clement, "Epistle to the Corinthians" in A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers [CD-ROM] (Albany, OR: Sage Software, 1996), 34.

20 Justin Martyr, "Dialogue with Trypho" in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 406.

21 Ibid, 527.

22 Ibid, 532-33.

23 Saucy, Progressive Dispensationalism, 212.

24 Ibid.

25 Saucy, Progressive Dispensationalism, 213.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid, 215.

28 Ibid, 215.

29 Ibid, 216.

30 Ibid, 217.

31 Ibid.

32 Larry V. Crutchfield, "Israel and the Church in the Ante-Nicene Fathers" Bibliotheca Sacra (July-September 1987), 256.

33 Saucy, Progressive Dispensationalism, 216.

34 David S. Dockery, Christian Scripture (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 101.

35 Ibid, 102.

36 Ibid.

37 Ibid, 103.

38 Ibid, 103-104.

39 Robert D. Preus, "The View of the Bible Held By the Church: The Early Church Fathers Through Luther," Inerrancy, Norman L. Geisler, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980), 359.

40 Dockery, Christian Scripture, 108.

41 Ibid.

42 Frederick W. Norris, "Universal Salvation in Origen and Maximus" in Nigel M. de S. Cameron, ed., Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), 35.

43 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. II (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1910, reprinted 1995), 790.

44 Ibid, 788. Origen's zeal for piety went to an unfortunate extreme. As a youth, he emasculated himself to guard against sexual temptation. Ibid.

45 Ibid, 790.

46 Ibid, 792.

47 Dockery, Christian Scripture, 110.

48 F.F. Bruce, "Interpretation of the Bible" Evangelical Dictionary of Theology Walter Elwell, ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1984), 566.

49 Ibid.

50 F.W. Farrar, History of Interpretation, 238 (cited in J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958), 23.

51 See C.C. Kroeger, "Origen" in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 803; Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 1015.

52 Dockery, Christian Scripture, 122.

53 Ibid.

54 Gerald Stanton, Kept From the Hour (Miami Springs, FL: Schoettle Publishing, 4th ed. 1991), 148. Certainly, this was the view of the Reformers.

55 Dockery, Christian Scripture, 112-114.

56 Ibid, 115.

57 Ibid.

58 Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 614.

59 Ibid, 615.

60 Clement, "Epistle to the Corinthians" in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 31.

61 Barnabas, "Epistle of Barnabas" in A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers [CD-ROM] (Albany, OR: Sage Software, 1996), 279.

62 Irenaeus, "Against Heresies" in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1165.

63 Polycarp, "Epistle to the Philippians" in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1996), 79.

64 Justin Martyr, "Dialogue with Trypho" in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 479-480.

65 Schaff, 618.

66 Ibid.

67 Ibid, 618-19.

68 Ibid, 619.

69 Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity (New York: Athenium, 1976), 67.

70 Ibid, 76.

71 Ibid.

72 Quoted Ibid, 78.

73 Quoted Ibid, 79.

74 Ibid, 99.

75 Ibid, 80.

76 Ibid.

77 The City of God was written as a result of a state crisis -- the ransacking of Rome by Alaric in AD 410. John J. O'Meara, "Introduction" in An Augustinian Reader (New York: Image Books, 1973), 18.

78 F.W. Strothmann, "Introduction" to Augustine, On the Two Cities: Selections from The City of God (New York, Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1957), vi-vii.

79 Augustine, City of God, Great Books of the Western World ed. (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952), 535-543.

80 Augustine, City of God, 535.

81 At the council of Ephesus in 431, belief in the millennium was condemned as superstitious. See Robert G. Clouse, "Introduction" in The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, Robert Clouse, ed. (Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977), 9.

82 The Forty-First of the Anglical Articles drawn up by Cramner described the millennium in this fashion. See Schaff, 619, n.4. Similarly, the Augsburg Confession, Art. XVII., condemned those "who now scatter Jewish opinions that, before the resurrection of the dead, the godly shall occupy the kingdom of the world, the wicked being everywhere suppressed." See Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (Harper and Row, 1931, reprinted, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), III: 18.

83 See especially, Hal Lindsey, The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon (New York: Bantam, 1980).

84 Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand (Nashville: Abington Press, 1950), 144.

Related Topics: History

Two Terrible Trials

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“Trials and Tribulations” is not what this paper is about. It is about the other kind of trial, the courtroom kind. Through the courtesy of television practically every person is familiar with this kind of trial. From the History Channel’s re-runs of the Nuremberg war crimes trials to CNN’s coverage of the current United States President’s legal woes, such legal events are depicted. Even the fictional programs, such as Law and Order, give us an appreciation of the courtroom scene. It is apparent in all of these examples that the prime focus during the trial is fairness. The prosecuting attorney must make a compelling case against the accused without overstepping the legal requirements for evidence. Likewise the defense attorney (or advocate) must make every effort to use the benefits given under the law for the client. When these efforts are compromised or misused, we usually scream “unfair, unfair” and rightly so. Who would want to be the defendant if the legal system did not “work” for us? This, we presume, is why there is a judge, or referee, present during the trials. The judge has the responsibility to insure the “fairness” of the trial on behalf of both the State and the defendant. They, too, come under our scrutiny, and we also judge the judges on their performance and accurate interpretation of the law. The media comments on Judge Ito’s handling of the O.J. Simpson trial are testimony to that premise.

But, what would you think if the trial were totally one-sided? By one-sided I mean that the Judge and one of the opposing parties were in total agreement about all aspects of the trial! “Unfair, unfair” would be the cry. Would this charge always be justified? Let me give you two examples of such trials, and you decide if they are unfair or not.

The first is described in the book of Zechariah chapter three. In the first verse the courtroom scene is described. The defendant is Joshua (the high priest, not the early leader of Israel), the prosecutor is Satan, the defense attorney is the angel of the LORD (the preincarnate Christ), the judge is the LORD. Seem a little unusual perhaps? How could one fairly prosecute a defender if the defense attorney and the judge were the same person? The reality of the situation is, however, that the defendant has already been declared not guilty! Since you cannot be tried twice for the same crime, it is the prosecutor who is acting improperly, and how else could he act, since he is the father of all lies (John 8:44). This seemingly unfair, terrible trial will have justice as its outcome. It is interesting to note that Joshua does not utter a word in his own defense. Defendants are not required to take the stand in their own defense, but many do so for the sake of swaying the judge and jury in their behalf. Joshua’s personal defense is quite inadequate. He stands there in putrid rags, a symbol that he has no righteous works to offer in his own behalf. Remember, this is the high priest of Israel. His temple duties are those prescribed by the LORD, and yet all that he has done does not put him in good standing with the judge, the LORD. Joshua’s defense attorney (advocate) is, however, sufficient for the task. His defense is that Joshua is a chosen one, a brand plucked from the fire. How could the prosecutor possibly present a case against the choice of the Judge and the defense advocate? From the human point of view the deck is stacked in favor of Joshua; he cannot lose. Satan will never successfully accuse those who put their trust in the LORD. This should boost believers’ confidence that they can never be separated from the One Who chose them (Rom. 8:38,39).

The second trial is described in Revelation chapter twenty. While all the typical trial personnel are not described, the event is termed a judgement, and evidence is presented. That is what a trial is all about. This trial is the opposite of the one described in Zechariah. In this trial the prosecution team consists of the prosecuting attorney and the judge, and the defendants are representing themselves. Could these defendants even hope to win? Is the trial unfair? Is it stacked against them? Again the situation is one in which the guilt or innocence of the defendant has been predetermined. The evidence is the complete record of the lifetime works of the accused. As in Joshua’s case, the works he did were not sufficient to exonerate him, and the works of the defendants in this case have the same efficacy. It is apparent that, in the eyes of the LORD, works have no merit. They cannot reconcile you, nor can they keep you from condemnation. The accused have nothing to say in their behalf, and the one who tempted them to do the evil works does not even show up on their behalf. Of course if your defense attorney is locked away with a forever sentence (Rev. 20:10), there is little hope that he will be there when you need him most.

It would seem from the above terrible trials that the only logical thing to do is to get on the good side of the judge! This judge will not make any mistakes, nor will any bias or contrary opinion persuade him. He is the Judge of all the earth, and “shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). How does one get on the “right side” of this Judge? Well, this is a rather unusual Judge. We have noticed this since He is also the prosecuting attorney in the Revelation case. But even more unusual is the fact that He realizes that true justice declares you and me to be guilty! To top that, He not only finds us guilty of crimes against His moral absolutes; He steps down from the bench and willingly accepts the penalty due us for our crime, the death penalty! At this point one should be speechless and have nothing to say in one’s defense. The Judge only asks, “Do you accept what I have done for you?” I cannot speak for you, but I would jump at the chance! How illogical to be found guilty of offending God, knowing that there is no defense, that the penalty is death, and not accepting the offer of God! The payment, made by God at the cross of Jesus Christ, was a penalty that could not be born by any of us. He carried it. Accepting the historical fact that the death of Christ was the payment for all penalties due me for actions that displeased God is the only way to get a fair trial. The sentence is everlasting so your decision on the correct attorney (advocate) is crucial. Don’t be the defendant in a trial that you cannot win.

Related Topics: Prophecy/Revelation

Death and Afterward

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“And as it is appointed unto men once to die,
but after this the judgment.”
(Hebrews 9:27)


“In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). “There shall be no more death” (Revelation 21:4). Between these two statements in the Scripture lie all the efforts of science to increase the life span, the consummation of civilization, the endeavors to build a better world, and all the joys and sorrows of billions of individuals that eternity alone has the record of. Hidden between the covers of this record book is the story of the whole human race cursed by the fall of the first parent Adam. The surging, aimless mass of lost humanity has been impelled by fear--fear of the dark, fear of disease, fear of the supernatural, fear of the unknown, fear of death. The fear of death is but the apogee of all fears. Men avoid it, hate it, fight against it. The undertaker uses every artificial means at his disposal to cover the fact of it. Yet the fact of death remains and will remain until that day when, through the glorious power of Christ who was triumphant over death, the scroll of heaven will be rolled back, the saints of God shall enjoy the blissful ages of eternity, and “there shall be no more death.”

The Certainty of Death

The valley of the shadow of death is the longest valley in the world. It began with Adam and has continued through six thousand years of human history. Men like to postpone that dreadful moment when they must pass through the dark valley, but death underscores each life and refuses to accept the person of any man. Death does not take into account whether we have been profitable or detrimental to society. Every step that we take brings us nearer to the grave, and it is but a matter of time until we must bid farewell to every earthly tie. With all of the wisdom of the medical profession and the use of scientific discoveries, we must agree with the wise preacher of old who said; “For the living know that they shall die” (Ecclesiastes 9:5).

The Bible contains much warning about death, speaking as frequently on this subject as it does about any other. In the garden of Eden where death had never entered, Adam and Eve were instructed by God to refrain from the forbidden fruit with the accompanying warning:

In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Genesis 2:17).

We know that they did eat; and at the very moment the judgment of God passed upon them, their bodies commenced the process of death and decay. “And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died” (Genesis 5:5).

On one page of our Bible we have the genealogy from Adam to Noah and with only one exception, Enoch, the man who walked with God and was translated, the refrain is repeated-- “and he died.”

And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years: and he died (Genesis 5:8).

And all the days of Enos were nine hundred and five years: and he died (Genesis 5:11).

And all the days of Cainan were nine hundred and ten years and he died (Genesis 5:14).

And all the days of Mahalaleel were eight hundred ninety and five years: and he died (Genesis 5:17).

And all the days of Jared were nine hundred sixty and two years: and he died (Genesis 5:20).

And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years: and he died (Genesis 5:27).

And all the days of Lamech were seven hundred seventy and seven years: and he died (Genesis 5:31).

The Patriarchs, Prophets, and Apostles did not hesitate to declare that death is certain. Noah preached righteousness and the judgment of God. He warned men that if they would not repent, the Lord would destroy them from the face of the earth (Genesis 6:7). Men only mocked at the old preacher’s sermon, and then God struck the whole earth with death and destruction. The divine record has it that the waters prevailed for forty days on the earth until every hill was covered. And then we read:

And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man (Genesis 7:21).

Abraham faced the grim reality of death when he offered Isaac as a sacrifice to the Lord. Though Isaac was spared, a ram died in his stead. Then we read: “And Sarah died” (Genesis 23:2). “And the Lord said unto Moses, Behold, thy days approach that thou must die” (Deuteronomy 31:14).

Isaiah said to Hezekiah: “Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live” (2 Kings 20:1).

Jeremiah warned Hananiah: “This year thou shalt die” (Jeremiah 28:16).

Ezekiel preached the Word of the Lord: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). “That wicked man shall die in his iniquity” (Ezekiel 33:8).

When Jesus told the story of the rich man and Lazarus, He said: “The beggar died . . . The rich man also died” (Luke 16:22).

When Christ was brought before the multitude, the Jews said: “We have a law, and by our law He ought to die” (John 19:7).

Of Dorcas, Luke writes: “She was sick, and died” (Acts 9:37).

How full the Bible is of the subject of death! We cannot study the life of any Bible character, save Enoch and Elijah, without being reminded that they all died. Life insurance companies become rich simply by pointing out that all men must die, and the agents have little difficulty in selling a policy by merely saying that death may come suddenly and unexpectedly. Any undertaker who conducts a respectable business is assured of a comfortable living with those values that money can buy. Even architects and builders take death into account when they plan a structure. Dr. John Rice tells that when his congregation in Dallas was preparing plans for a new church building the architect insisted on discussing the stairways, for, said he: “One rule we architects try to remember is that every stairway and every bedroom door must be large enough to admit a coffin!”

It was said of seventy-five-year-old billionaire, William Randolph Hearst, that people were forbidden to mention death in his presence. We admit that death is an unpleasant subject. Yet no man can rule it out of his future. Refusing to talk or to think about death does not alter the fact of death. We call our cemeteries “memorial parks.” Still they are the abode of the dead.

The Bible speaks of: “The law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).

The Apostle Paul says: “We had the sentence of death in ourselves” (2 Corinthians 1:9). “So then death worketh in us” (2 Corinthians 4:12).

The Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of men “Who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:15).

There is no escaping death. Try as hard as we can, the rider on the pale horse will pay his visit to each of us. He is blind to all tears and deaf to all prayers and pleadings. He must come to us, for he is sent by appointment. “It is appointed unto men once to die.” It is the judgment of the Almighty, it is by divine appointment. The death-bed, the crepe, the funeral, the grave, and the broken-hearted sighs and tears of the bereaved all tell us that “man dieth.”

The Cause of Death

Where did death originate? We acknowledge the sovereignty of God, but must we accept the theory that every event of man’s life, including the manner and time of his death were minutely fixed by God before creation? We answer that we can find no sound basis for such a dogmatic view. (God is sovereign to be certain, but He created man a free agent with the will to decide for himself. In his primitive state in the Garden of Eden, man had never seen anyone die. He never looked on while another gasped for breath and failed to find it.)

The first time that the subject of death is mentioned in the Bible is given as a warning to our first parents. There man in his primitive state was enjoying blissful communion with God:

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Genesis 2:16-17).

Adam knew that he was alive, but he was a stranger to the subject of death until he heard this word from the Lord. Now he is on his own. He has a knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. He knows that to obey God will mean continuous and unending life and to disobey will bring the sentence of death. The power of choice and the right to decide is now left with man. However, Satan would not allow the situation to go unchallenged. Though he taunted and tempted Eve he could not force her to eat the fruit. Both she and her husband partook of it by their own choice, and in so doing they incurred the displeasure of the Lord. The warning He gave was plain: “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Being holy and righteous in all of His judgments, God could do nothing other than pass the sentence of death. Hence Adam listened to what the consequences of his own wrong-doing had brought upon himself:

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return (Genesis 3:19).

God never acts in judgment nor does He allow anything to come to pass unless there is a just cause. So when He pronounced death upon the human race it was because Adam and Eve had disobeyed God and turned from the truth. Though the warning of the Lord had come in soundness and simplicity man chose to sin, knowing all the while that it meant death. Man cannot plead innocency on the ground of the sovereignty of God. He is appointed to die because he has transgressed the Law of God, and the Lord’s justice in the sentence of death is so undeniable that every mouth is stopped and all the world is guilty before Him. Man can offer no legitimate reason why the death sentence should not have been passed, for:

The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

The soul that sinneth, it shall die (Ezekiel 18:4).

Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death (James 1:15).

By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin (Romans 5:12).

So then death worketh in us (2 Corinthians 4:12).

For all have sinned (Romans 3:23).

Every time that death strikes and a loved one is suddenly taken away, it is as if we hear the cachinnation of sin and Satan. Sin plays with man for a time just as a cat plays with a mouse. Sin will allow us to run here and there, to pursue happiness, worldly pleasure and power; but the game of life is brief. In the end sin has tracked down each of us, and each pays with his life. Inasmuch as “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23), we search in vain in our efforts to discover the secret of victory over death, for “What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death?” (Psalm 89:48).

Death is still in our midst holding the whole world in fear and subjection. The reason men shrink from it is because “the sting of death is sin” (1 Corinthians 15:56). Because our nature is sinful and our hearts wicked, death continues to prick us and drive us toward the grave as the goad drives an ox to slaughter. Jesus said that ours is a wicked and an adulterous age. Until Christ comes back with His Church to rule the earth, “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). Even to the end of the millennium death will hold within its grasp all the wicked dead. Until Satan and all unbelievers are cast into the lake of fire, death will have a vise-like grip upon sinners. But how comforting and consoling for the Christian when he looks for Him, even our blessed Lord Jesus who, when He comes the second time with His own, will subdue all things, even the power of death!

The Course of Death

Death does not affect all men in the same way simply because it does not lead all men in the same direction. We realize that here we are assuming that death is not the consummation of all existence. Furthermore we are aware of the fact that there are a great many people in the world today who do not believe in an existing consciousness after death. Only recently I talked with a gentleman who believes that death is the cessation of man’s existence. He compared the death of a man to a leaf falling from a tree in October. Disregarding the positive proof of immortality, we will content ourselves with a brief consideration of one of two courses that death must take.

In one hospital ward two patients may die at exactly the same moment. While the root cause of these deaths may be the same in each case, the dying of one can be something altogether different from the dying of the other. We have seen how that death was the only real satisfaction for sin. It was the only punishment for sin that could satisfy the righteous demands of God. Since all men, who were at one time in the loins of Adam, possess Adam’s fallen nature, it stands that all must die the physical death of the body. However as Abraham Kuyper has said: “In the valley of the shadow of death, the great highway on which people walk divides itself, and continues on one side upward unto eternal life, and on the other with a declining path downward into eternal death.”

We can understand this only as we know something of the true purpose of the death of Jesus Christ. Since sin must be punished by death, Jesus went to the cross and died as the punishment for sin and thus at the same time offered Himself as the satisfaction for sin. Peter declares that “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh” (1 Peter 3:18). Here we are told that Christ was put to death for sins “that He might bring us to God.” Those who fall asleep in the Lord take the upward course to Heaven and to God. Having accepted Jesus Christ as their Sin-Bearer and Saviour from sin they are brought to God by virtue of His sacrificial and vicarious death. Believers are able to say: “The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). As Jesus hung dying upon the Cross, He was the true sin-offering for His people. We were, by nature, on the downward course, doomed to be separated from God; but Jesus, by virtue of His death, provided a new destiny. Dr. Harry Rimmer has said, “When Jesus died to change the trend of human thought, He also died to change the road of human history. Through a false philosophy, mankind was pursuing a fatal destiny. The impact of the cross bent human history out of the course in which it was flowing, and directed mankind toward God.” Whenever a true believer dies he is said to have fallen “asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:13, 15; 1 Corinthians 15:6), and immediately his soul takes the upward course to be with the Lord.

But what course does death pursue in the case of an unbeliever? We have already stated that the only other course remaining is the declining path into eternal death. Once again we must make an assumption, that of belief in a literal place of endless torment for all who reject the atoning work of Christ when He died on Calvary’s Cross.

Since the death of Christ paid for the believer the punishment of sin, and death to him is a pleasant ascension into the Father’s presence, it follows that the death of the unbeliever is an unpleasant descent away from the presence of God. When the unbeliever gives up the ghost, breathing his last breath, he passes from this world into a spiritual and eternal death and Hell. Both are conscious, but death was forced to pursue a different course for each. Both the rich man and Lazarus died in the story told by our Lord. Lazarus was carried into Abraham’s bosom while the rich man was sent to Hell (Luke 16:19-24).

Dear Reader, where are you? Yes, you are still alive in this world; but remember, death is slowly but surely overtaking you. Soon you must say farewell to every earthly tie and enter into an endless eternity. Since Christ died to bring you to God, it is self-evident that you are far from God, and unprepared and unfit for Heaven. Will you trust the Saviour now? “He that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16).

Man A Trinity
(Spirit, Soul, Body)

The Christian doctrine of immortality cannot be understood apart from the right conception of the tripartite nature of men. Many think that man is a physical being only. There is a great danger of any man thinking thus of himself. In his desire to satisfy the needs of the body there is the tendency on man’s part to lose sight of the fact that he is immortal. There have been persons who have lived all of their lives either in ignorance or willful neglect of a life after death, but upon their death-bed they suddenly realized that they were more than physical beings.

There is an idea also that prevails largely today that man consists of only two component parts: namely, body and spirit. In the thinking of the writer this view appears to be one that might create confusion in the minds of any Christians. While soul and spirit are so closely related that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish accurately between them, there seems to be only one logical conclusion: namely, that “soul” and “spirit” are not the same. The Bible does make a distinction.

Man is a triune being because he is created in the image of God. “God said, Let us make man in Our image” (Genesis 1:26). We know that God is a Trinity. The Holy Trinity is clearly set forth in the Apostle Paul’s benediction that closed his Second Corinthian Epistle: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen” (2 Corinthians 13:14). Our Lord Himself said, in what we call “The Great Commission”: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19). Created in the image of God, man is likewise a trinity. He has a spiritual nature that is separate and distinct from the body in which it dwells.

The two following passages from the Bible clearly establish the fact that man is a triune being composed of spirit, soul, and body:

I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow (body), and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

In spite of the erroneous teaching of “Jehovah’s Witnesses” and of other false sects that “no man has a soul,” the Bible states emphatically that man was created a trinity of spirit, soul, and body even as the eternal God is Himself a trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The trinity of man is an essential part of the image relationship between him and God. Life is not ultimately physical and the body is not the whole man. And we might add that neither the body in itself, nor the soul in itself, nor the spirit in itself makes up the whole man, but he is “spirit and soul and body.” This must be seriously considered and definitely agreed to before we can comprehend with any accuracy the subject of life after death. In this opening chapter we shall confine our material to the spirit and the soul inasmuch as the body will be considered in succeeding chapters on the resurrection.

The Spirit

The word “spirit” when used in the Scriptures has several meanings. Whenever the word “Spirit” appears used with a capital letter, it has but one meaning. It is the name of the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit of God. The word “spirit” spelled with a small letter may have one of several different meanings. It can have direct reference to the spirit of man which is as much a part of the tripartite nature of man as the Spirit of the living God is a Person of the Holy Trinity. Or it can indicate an evil spirit such as any agent of the Devil. We will confine ourselves here to the Biblical usage of the word only as it relates to the spirit of man, one of the three constituent parts of his being.

The threefold nature of man might be illustrated in several ways. Dr. Clarence Larkin uses three circles (Rightly Dividing The Word, page 86). The outer circle stands for the body of man, the middle circle for the soul, and the inner for the spirit. At this point it will be well to quote a portion from Dr. Larkin’s book:

In the outer circle the ‘Body’ is shown as touching the Material world through the five senses of ‘Sight,’ ‘Smell,’ ‘Hearing,’ ‘Taste’ and ‘Touch.’

The Gates to the ‘Soul’ are ‘Imagination,’ ‘Conscience,’ ‘Memory,’ ‘Reason’ and the ‘Affections.’

The “Spirit” receives impressions of outward and material things through the soul. The spiritual faculties of the ‘Spirit’ are ‘Faith,’ ‘Hope,’ ‘Reverence,’ ‘Prayer’ and ‘Worship.’

In his unfallen state the ‘Spirit’ of man was illuminated from Heaven, but when the human race fell in Adam, sin closed the window of the Spirit, pulled down the curtain, and the chamber of the spirit became a death chamber and remains so in every unregenerate heart, until the Life and Light giving power of the Holy Spirit floods that chamber with the Life and Light giving power of the new life in Christ Jesus.

It develops then that the spirit of man, being the sphere of God-consciousness, is the inner or private office of man where the work of regeneration takes place. Dr. James R. Graham says that the main theatre of the Holy Spirit’s activity in man, and the part of man’s nature with which He has peculiar affinity, is the spirit of man. The Apostle Paul gives us the Word of God on this, a passage that is sadly neglected. Quoting from the sixty-fourth chapter of the book of the Prophet Isaiah, Paul wrote:

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.

A great many people stop here, content to remain in ignorance. However, Paul continues:

But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.

For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:9-11).

Man in his unregenerate state comes to know the things of man by the operator of “the spirit of man” which is in him. If I have a will to know certain scientific facts, by my human spirit I am enabled to investigate, think, and weigh evidence. If I set myself to the task, I may become a scientist of world-renown and of great accomplishments. However, my human spirit is “limited to the things of man.” If I want to know about the things of God, my dead and dormant spirit is not able to know them.

The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).

The human spirit requires “the spark of regeneration” before there is an understanding of the things of God. Man’s spiritual nature must be renewed before there is a true conception of Godliness. Only one thing stands as a guard at the door of man’s spirit, and that is his own will. When the will is surrendered, the Holy Spirit takes up His abode in the spirit of man. And when that transaction takes place we will know it, for, says Paul:

The Spirit Himself (meaning the Holy Spirit) beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God (Romans 8:16 R.V.).

Many people confess that they get nothing out of the Bible even though they attend church and read their Bibles regularly. Perhaps they do not know that they are not regenerated and that they need to yield their will to the Spirit of God so that He can renew their human spirits. The deep things of God never will be understood by the world outside of Jesus Christ. Our Lord warned His disciples,

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6).

The spirit of the unregenerate man has no more capacity to appreciate the things of God than a dog has to appreciate holy things, or a hog a genuine pearl necklace. We read that “The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:22). This they did because the dog was a dog and the sow was a sow. No amount of religion or church activity can change the spirit of the unregenerate man. “Remember,” says Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, “if out of false charity or pity you allow men of material ideals and worldly wisdom to touch holy things, to handle the pearls of the Kingdom, presently they will turn and rend you. This is the whole history of Christendom’s ruin, in the measure in which Christendom is ruined. We gave holy things to dogs. We cast the pearls of the Kingdom before swine.” The ministry of Christ’s Church dare not be entrusted to any man who has not been born again, for “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).

The Bible says; “There is a spirit in man; and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding” (Job 32:8). Here we are told that it is the spirit of man that is given understanding. The materialist tells us that the spirit of man is the air that he breathes, and that man’s body is all there is to his personality. Such is not the case. The spirit of man is his personality and it is that which differentiates him from the lower animal creation. If “spirit” meant merely “breath,” God certainly would not deal with it as a personality. He is called “The God of the spirits of all flesh” (Numbers 16:22), and “the Father of spirits” (Hebrews 12:9). It is by his spirit that the Christian both serves and worships God. Paul testified: “For God is my witness, Whom I serve with my spirit in the Gospel” (Romans 1:9). Jesus said: “God is a spirit; and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

The Soul

Man not only has a living soul but he is a living soul. The Bible says: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). We must be careful not to confound that which is truly spiritual and that which is merely soulish or psychical. We have seen that the spirit of man is the sphere of activity where the Holy Spirit operates in regeneration. Just so is the soul the sphere of activity where Satan operates making his appeal to the affections and emotions of man.

Satan knows full well that he dominates the psychical or the soulish man. Therefore he does not care if a man goes to a church where the Spirit of God is not in evidence. He knows that his victim is a creature of emotions, and it matters not if the emotions are stirred to sentimentalism or even to tears, just so long as man’s spirit does not come in contact with God’s Holy Spirit. Personally, I believe that Satan would rather have man go to a modernistic church where there is false worship than he would have him go to a house of prostitution. The soul is the seat of the passions, the feelings, and the desires of man; and Satan is satisfied if he can master these. F. W. Grant has said that the soul is the seat of the affections, right or wrong, of love, hate, lusts, and even the appetites of the body.

Hamor said to Jacob, “The soul of my son Shechem longeth for your daughter” (Genesis 34:8). Of David and Jonathan it is written: “The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:1). These passages show the soul to be the seat of the affections. But as the soul loves, so it also hates. We read of those “that are hated of David’s soul” (2 Samuel 5:8).

It is in the soul where fleshly lusts, desires, and appetites arise:

Abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul (Peter 2:11).

As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country (Proverbs 25:25).

It shall be even as when a hungry man dreameth, and behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty; or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite (Isaiah 29:8).

The soul of man, that is, his affections and desires, are never directed Godward until after the spirit has become regenerated. Man can never love God nor the things of God until he is born from above. He may have a troubled conscience or be so stirred emotionally that he may weep bitterly, and still remain dead in trespasses and in sins. We do not feel that we are guilty of judging men when we state that some who have answered an altar call and shed tears never were born again. Man’s desires and affections are turned toward God when he realizes his sinful condition and God’s grace in salvation. When the Spirit of God illuminates the spirit of a man with divine light and life, that man begins to yield his affections and faculties to God.

The Virgin Mary said; “My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:46, 47). She could not extol the Lord in her soul until she had recognized God in her spirit as her Saviour. The initial triumph is in the spirit when Jesus Christ is acknowledged as personal Saviour.

In that immortal classic of the Psalms, David says: “He restoreth my soul” (Psalm 23:3). The Hebrew word translated “restoreth” is said to mean quite literally “turneth back.” At no time had David lost his salvation, but there were times when his affections and desires were turned from the Lord, as in the case of his sin with Bathsheba. Having become one of the Divine Shepherd’s flock, he testified: “The Lord turneth back my soul.” The Christian who is enjoying unbroken communion with his Lord will then be able to say, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name” (Psalm 103:1).

Can We Believe in Immortality?

The word immortal means exemption from liability to death. That which is immortal is not liable to death. History shows that wherever man has appeared there has been the idea of a longer span of life than that between the cradle and the grave. Only a few have dared to believe that death ends all and that with the death of the body there is the death of the spirit and soul of man. But God have mercy on us if the grave marks our end! “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). And certainly there is naught but misery and despair in the words of the agnostic who said:

There is one steady star; and dim from afar,
Comes the solace that dies in its gleam;
There’s the coffin nail’s rust; the brain in white dust;
And the sleeping that knows no dream.

This song of unbelief says there is a “sleeping that knows no dream.” Contrariwise, the Apostle Paul by the Holy Spirit says: “We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).

The Witness of the Ancients

Wherever death has come it seems to have brought with it a conscious assurance of immortality. The immortal soul of saint and savage alike has voiced a hope in life beyond the grave. The idea of the permanency of death seldom was entertained in the mind of man.

Egypt, the classroom of the world’s finest arts and sciences, had a strong faith and a feeling of certainty in immortality. Professor Salmond in his “Doctrine of Immortality” says that the Egyptians had the reputation of being the first people who taught the doctrine of immortality. Very often the coffin was referred to as “the chest of the living.” The Egyptian art of embalming grew out of their belief in immortality. Their conception of a future life originated the idea and construction of the pyramids, one of the wonders of the world. These huge monuments were erected because it was believed that the soul returned to the body and required an eternal abode. So the mighty pyramids and Egyptian mummies tell us of the ancient belief in a deathless soul.

The heathen of Africa believe in life after death. We are told that the wives of the deceased take up their residence near the tomb so that they can remain the rest of their earthly lives “to watch the departed spirit.” Madison C. Peters quotes David Livingstone’s story of his travels in which Livingstone tells of the belief of the old Chinsunse: “We live only a few days here, but we live again after death; we do not know where, or in what condition, or with what companions, for the dead never return to tell us. Sometimes the dead do come back and appear to us in our dreams; but they never speak, nor tell us where they have gone, nor how they fare.” Only recently we listened to testimonies of returned missionaries, relating the belief of the African in life after death.

Steeped in savagery, the Indian of other lands as well as those in North America, had some idea of a future life. In some ancient Asiatic tribes the belief was held that the next world could be reached by the cremation of the body, the fire god taking the deceased to the gods of the other world. Sometimes animals were sacrificed in the fire to precede the corps to the land beyond. Some North American Indians, believing that they were providing their departed tribesman with the necessary equipment for the land where the Great Spirit lives, buried their dead with bow and arrow and canoe. The Indians had many and various customs of expressing their belief in a life beyond the grave. When a Seneca Indian maiden died a young bird was imprisoned until it first learned how to sing. It was then given messages of affection and loosed over the grave of the maiden in the belief that it would neither close its eyes nor fold its wings until it had flown to the spirit-world and delivered the message of love to her who had died.

Through six millenniums of human history man has looked upon immortality as a reality. Universally believed, it is the most indestructible of all instincts and the most penetrating of all intuitions. We agree with Dr. Lockyer when he said: “Without hesitation, affirm that the belief in a future state was derived from a revelation made to our first parents by their Creator, and that it traveled down the ages. The Hope of Immortality, resident within the breast of both savages and saints, was planted there by Him who has no beginning or end.”

The Witness of the Bible

When we approach the Bible on the subject of immortality, it is well to have in mind a few important facts that are basic and necessary to a proper understanding of the subject. Nowhere in the Bible is the expression to be found, “the immortality of the soul.” Nor is there written anything about “the immortal soul.” We are not suggesting for a moment that Scripture teaches anything about the sleep or annihilation of the soul at death. The thought of the soul’s endless being is true enough, but it is not Scriptural language to refer to “the immortality of the soul.” The Word of God assumes the eternal existence of every soul regardless of its destiny. Every man’s soul is immortal and can never be annihilated. Jesus said: “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell” (Matthew 10:28). Now those who teach “soul-sleep” would have us believe that their doctrine is Biblical, when actually they have falsified the facts by their misinterpretation of Scripture. Man can kill the body, but that is the worst he can do. God alone can take hold of both body and soul and condemn them.

Three Kinds of Death

It is true we read: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4), but neither here nor elsewhere in Scripture does a reference to the soul dying mean a state of non-existence, or even one of unconsciousness. The Bible teaches that there are three kinds of death and it distinguishes clearly between each. First, there is physical death, or the separation of the soul from the body. This is the death of the body to which reference was made in Hebrews 9:27, “It is appointed unto men once to die.” Second, the Bible teaches that there is a spiritual death. This is the separator of the soul from God, the condition of all unbelievers of whom Paul says they are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), and “alienated from the life of God” (Ephesians 4:18). Third, there is eternal death or banishment from God. All who suffer eternal death are conscious, but “shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:9), these “have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

The Immortal Becomes a Mortal

The words “immortal” and “immortality” when used in Scripture in reference to man find their application to the body. The body of our first parent, as God created him, was an immortal body created to endless existence. God had warned Adam and Eve against eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, saying: “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). In spite of the Lord’s warning, they disobeyed, and immediately death began its work in the body. The immortal had put on mortality. Paul says: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world and death by sin” (Romans 5:12). So then, says the writer to the Hebrews, “It is appointed unto men once to die” (Hebrews 9:27). And again we read in First Corinthians, “In Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Over all of the human race, having received its natural life from Adam, hangs the sentence of death. Mortality is the curse upon our race as the result of sin and is the saddest fact in world history. The body of man does not possess immortality by nature, but he is a mortal being--subject to death.

Deliverance from Mortality

The purpose of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ was to offer redemption to the fallen race. No mortal could have done this. The dead cannot impart life. The only way that man could escape the sentence of death was by “the appearing of our Lord Jesus . . . Who only hath immortality” (1 Timothy 6:14, 16). The soul of man, though retaining endless existence, became morally degenerate. After the fall, his body became corruptible, and his spirit lost all relationship with God. But a glorious truth is given us by the Apostle Paul. He says: “The appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). O wondrous thought! The Immortal One became mortal, “obedient unto death” (Philippians 2:8), that He might redeem man’s soul, restore his spirit to right relation with God and make his body heir to incorruptibility. This is the triumph of the cross of Christ. By His death and resurrection from the grave our Lord “abolished death.” He was willing to be clothed with mortality “that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Eternal Life and Immortality

It seems to the writer that the subject under consideration is made clearer as we see a difference between eternal life and immortality. The terms are not synonymous. The moment one trusts Jesus Christ for salvation he receives everlasting life. This is God’s gift bestowed to the sinner upon his acceptance of Jesus Christ as his own personal Saviour from sin. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life” (John 3:36). “He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life” (John 6:47). “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His Name” (John 20:31). The glorious work of redemption for sinners is effective in any individual just as soon as he is born again, but it cannot be correctly stated that at that moment the soul became immortal. As a matter of fact the soul never lost its immortality. Regeneration by the Holy Spirit is but the beginning of the redemptive process. Immediately upon the Holy Spirit’s taking residence in man’s spirit, the soul receives eternal life. But the body, even though it has become heir to immortality and incorruptibility, must die. The only possibility the Christian has of his body escaping death and the grave is the return of Christ to rapture all believers to Himself. It follows then that one can possess and enjoy eternal life while death and the grave stare them in the face.

But is this the best that God can offer man? Must our bodies suffer disease, pain, and disability to be put into the ground and to disappear forever? This is where God effects the consummation of the redemptive process. The Apostle Paul says: “We ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23). But is there any guarantee that this corruptible body will put on incorruption? Can we be certain that the mortal will one day be clothed with immortality? We only say that in order to fulfill the redemption covenant and promise, Jesus Christ is under oath and obligation to raise the bodies of all the dead who died trusting in Him. There is bright hope and full assurance in the words of our Lord: “I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). Our Lord’s own testimony assures us of the deliverance from death and decay to life and immortality.

The redemption of the soul is past, but the redemption of the body is still future. Since man is a trinity, and all three component parts of him must be united, it can only be possible as man is restored once again to the image and likeness of God. This is exactly what takes place at the resurrection “when man--the unit--with his tripartite nature is reconstructed into an immortal.” The Gospel did not have its consummation with the death of Christ. Paul said: “I declare unto you the Gospel . . . how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Jesus Christ the Immortal One, became mortal by His death. But it was only temporary mortality. By His resurrection from death and the grave to immortality, the Son of God guarantees the same for all that are His. By the first Adam came mortality and death, and by the Last Adam came life and immortality. “Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept . . . But every man in his own order; Christ the firstfruits, afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23). As every child of Adam dies, so will every child of God be raised never to die again.

“They that are Christ’s” tells us who shall become immortal. “At His coming!” This tells us when we shall become immortal. Immortality is the final step of redemption when our Lord comes again. It is for the redeemed only, for even as “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption” (1 Corinthians 15:5).

“The dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Though the body of the believer has decayed in the ground, his spirit is still alive and is the pledge of resurrection life. We read: “But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Romans 8:11). If the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of Life, is dwelling in you, by that same Spirit will our mortal bodies be quickened into newness of life. This is the victory that Christ wrought for us by His Death and Resurrection. He took hold of death and, grappling with it, compelled it to let go while He ascended triumphantly to glory. And now, unhindered by death, all who are His are permitted to follow after Him into glory also. Abraham Kuyper has said that the redeemed of the Lord truly die, but without ever for one moment coming under the power of death. Giving up the ghost, breathing out the last breath, is for them nothing but passing through the gate, which from this world leads to the world which is with God; and thus for him who dies in Jesus, it is nothing but a passage into eternal life.

One day the Apostle Paul uttered a self-despairing cry, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” The body, yet unredeemed and under the law of sin and death, is a “body of death.” But Paul continues: “I thank God (there is deliverance) through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24-25). Death may seem to triumph for a season as it enters into our homes, and one by one, takes those nearest and dearest to us. But death cannot be triumphant over the believer in Christ, “for this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:53, 54). The child of God has lost all fear of death, and he can look into a grave unafraid. One day I stood by the grave of my godly grandmother and lifted my heart in praise and gratitude to God that death and the grave were conquered by the risen Saviour. I am looking for the return of Christ and that glad day when the graves shall be opened and the dead in Christ shall rise first, and together we shall sing: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? . . . Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55, 57).

New Bodies for Old

A well-known magazine published an article entitled, New Bodies for Old. The purpose of the article was to show the progress that science had made toward giving new arms and legs for lost ones and eyes that can see to men who were blind. Finally, it predicted that an entirely new body may some day be exchanged for an old one, “retaining the developed brain.” It concluded by saying, “How many thousands of years in the future all this may be is uncertain.” How foolish of the scientific mind to think that it is possible to produce earthly immortality, letting God out of the picture!

The subject of immortality is not of human origin. The Biblical conception of immortality commences with man being in right relation to God, and such relationship he cannot attain by human effort. Man must acknowledge the immortal Christ as his only hope for life after death. Without the Cross of Christ there could have been no redemption for the fallen race, and without that redemption there can be no hope for the life that is immortal. The Christian possesses a living hope that finds its root in the Person and Work of the now living Christ. The Apostle Peter affirms: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively (or a living) hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Though eternal life and immortality are not synonymous terms, still there can be no immortality of the body where the spirit of man has not received eternal life through personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord could say to His disciples: “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19). The resurrection of believers is guaranteed by Christ’s own resurrection.

Edward Rees has said that it is the preaching of immortality which keeps alive the flame of devotion upon the altars of the hearts of men. The Apostle Paul, who apart from our Lord, was doubtless the greatest preacher of all time, repeatedly held before Christians this glorious truth. His messages were all Christocentric and they directed his hearers heavenward “from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself” (Philippians 3:20, 21). This all-glorious fact is the conquering hope of the Church. William Jennings Bryan has given us a beautiful paragraph on the subject.

If the Father deigns to touch with divine power the cold and pulseless heart of the buried acorn, and make it burst forth from its prison walls, will He leave neglected in the earth the man, who was made in the image of his Creator? If He stoops to give to the rosebush, whose leaves and withered blossoms float upon the breeze, the sweet assurance of another springtime, will He withhold the words of hope from the souls of men when the frosts of death’s winter come? If matter, mute and inanimate, though changed by the forces of nature into a multitude of forms, can never die, will the imperial spirit of man suffer annihilation after it has paid a brief visit, like a royal guest to this tenement of clay? Rather let us believe that He who in His apparent prodigality wastes not the raindrop, the blade of grass or the evening’s zephyr, but makes them all carry out His eternal plans, has given immortality to the mortal, and gathered to Himself the generous spirit of our friends.

In the hour of death and separation from our loved ones we have this comforting belief that the grave is but the gateway to glory. May God grant that you, dear reader, shall receive eternal life and a victorious faith in a life after death.

The Two Resurrections

The resurrection of the human body from the grave is clearly taught in God’s Word. Job, the oldest of the patriarchs, said: “For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:25-26). It is evident that Job was firm in his belief in the resurrection of his body and a future life beyond the grave.

Abraham, the founder and father of his race, lived to be one hundred seventy-five years old, and “died in a good old age” (Genesis 25:7-8), but “he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). He never saw that city in his earthly pilgrimage, for earth to him was a “strange country.” The godly old patriarch shared with others who “desire a better country, that is, an heavenly; wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He hath prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:16). But Abraham believed that the heavenly city would be inhabited by a fleshly body, “accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead . . .” (Hebrews 11:19).

David was confident of a future life. He said: “My flesh also shall rest in hope” (Psalm 16:9), and “I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness” (Psalm 17:15). These words of the man of God refute the erroneous teaching that the resurrection refers to the spirit of man, and not to his body. Neither the soul nor the spirit of man dies, but it is his body which dies and is buried. Therefore it must be the body that is raised from the dead, and not the soul or spirit.

When our Lord Jesus was here upon earth, He taught that all men who die will be raised again at some future date. “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, And shall come forth . . .” (John 5:28, 29). We affirm and avow our belief in the resurrection of the human body from death and the grave. Without this hope our Christian faith is vain, our brightest hopes are merely bursting bubbles, the Bible is not a true and reliable record, the men who wrote it were poor deluded victims of falsehood, and Jesus Christ is the world’s biggest impostor. But so clear is the Bible on the subject of the resurrection that we admit no confusion or doubt.

A Wrong Conception

Many people, among them some Christians, have been taught to believe that there is only one “general” resurrection of all the dead at the end of the world. This is a serious error which has robbed many believers of joy and victory in this life. Nowhere in the Scriptures are we taught that the bodies of all men will be raised at the same time. It is true that all the dead will be raised and brought into judgment, but neither the time, the place, nor the judgments are the same. The Bible clearly distinguishes between a first and a second resurrection.

. . . All that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth: they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation (John 5:28-29).

When men are raised, not all will be raised at the same time nor in the same condition. There will be two resurrections for two classes of men. One will be raised to eternal life and immortality, while the other will be raised to condemnation and banishment from the presence of the Lord. There is a “resurrection of life” and a “resurrection of damnation.”

And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee; for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just (Luke 14:14).

There is, then, a “resurrection of the just,” and since “all shall come forth,” there must of necessity be a resurrection of the unjust. Since the dead in Christ shall rise first, the implication is that the dead out of Christ (or without Christ) will be raised afterwards. Luke makes no mention in the above passage about a resurrection of the unsaved. Indeed the unsaved shall be raised, but not for a considerable length of time after the saved have been raised. When Paul testified before Felix, he said, “that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust” (Acts 24:15). The Apostle John makes a clear distinction between the two. He speaks of the redeemed who “lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:4-5).

Every believer has passed out of death into life (John 5:24). His life “is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3), and the exceeding greatness of God’s power in resurrection toward us who believe is the same “mighty power which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:19-20). And by that same power will all the unbelieving dead be brought out of their graves to stand before the judgment of the Great White Throne.

The First Resurrection

“For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, and the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

Surely language could be no clearer than this--“The dead in Christ shall rise first.” We see first that the time of the First Resurrection is the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ in the clouds of Heaven to rapture all of the saints to Himself. Here we must distinguish between Christ’s coming for His own before the millennium and His coming again to raise the rest of the dead (unbelievers) who remained in their graves during the thousand years. Let there be no misunderstanding that it is a settled fact that there is at least a one thousand year interval between the First and the Second Resurrection. The Apostle John, by Divine inspiration, confirms this,

And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them; and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. (Revelation 20:4-5).

At the consummation of the First Resurrection there are three companies of believers who will have been raised at different times. Let us say, for clarity, there are three stages of the resurrection of believers:

(1) When our Lord was crucified on the Cross, we read: “And, behold the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose” (Matthew 27:51-52).

(2) There is the second stage of the First Resurrection to which we already have made mention (1 Thessalonians 4:16), when all true believers are raised at the first appearance of Christ. To this we add the Apostle Paul’s word in First Corinthians: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52).

(3) The third and final stage of the First Resurrection occurs about seven years after the resurrection of saints at Christ’s coming at the rapture. “Those resurrected near the close of the seven years’ period of the tribulation are the multitude of believers who were led to the truth through the witness of the 144,000.” Because they would not receive the mark of the beast in their hands and foreheads, they were martyred. These are brought forth from the dead at the end of the Tribulation just before Christ comes to earth to reign for one thousand years.

Christ the Firstfruits

But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).

The word “Firstfruits” is a significant one. In the ceremony of the Israelites there were certain national feasts kept annually. The third order of these was the Feast of Firstfruits, an annual occasion of consecration that was solemnized at the beginning of harvest time.

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest. (Leviticus 23:9-10).

Dr. Martin DeHaun points out that the harvest was divided into three parts. It was one harvest, the fruit of one season, presented on three different occasions. First, there was the sheaf of firstfruits, the earnest or pledge of the greater harvest that would follow. This beautifully typifies the Resurrection of Christ who, by coming forth from the tomb, accomplished the work of the redemption and guaranteed for all who believe in Him a greater resurrection when He returns. “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept”(1Corinthians15:20). Just as the firstfruits were a pledge of the coming harvest that would be presented to Jehovah, so our Lord’s Resurrection is a promise that all who are in their graves who have died trusting Him will be raised and brought into the presence of the Father. Speaking to believers, the Apostle Paul, by the Holy Spirit says: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

After the firstfruits followed the harvesting of the larger part of the crops. We read: “Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:23). Our risen Lord is now in Heaven. Even so “Our conversation is in Heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself” (Philippians 3:20, 21). Our physical bodies have in them sickness, weakness and death, but our all-powerful, all-victorious Saviour has said: “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Revelation 1:18). He will come again even as He said. Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming.

But the harvest is not ended as yet. It is not completed until the gleanings are added. Always there are loose ears that fall by the way, and these must be gathered up. This is called the gleaning. We recall how Ruth “came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers” (Ruth 2:3). The gleanings are those tribulation saints who had not heard and believed the Gospel before the rapture of the Church. So we have Christ the firstfruits, then we have the harvest or the resurrection of the saved at the rapture, and finally the gleanings or the saved of the seven years’ tribulation period. Then follows the millennial age during which all the saints of every age will reign with Christ a thousand years. What bright prospect for those who put their trust in the Son of God! But tell me, are you prepared for the coming of the Lord and the first Resurrection?

The Second Resurrection

When the thousand years are expired, Satan will be loosed for a season and will carry on his rebellion where he left off before the millennium when he was cast into the bottomless pit. Then God will have done with Satan forever, for “the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). We shudder at this unceasing torment without intermission, this never-ending existence in painful agony.

But the devil’s doom is not the blackest page in the Biblical records of God’s dealings. There is yet an account to be settled with all those who died in rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ. A Great White Throne has been erected. We are about to view the greatest assize ever conducted. The Judge is our Lord Jesus Himself, for “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22). Here the hated and despised Nazarene will sit in righteous judgment of all who refused to acknowledge His Messiahship and Saviourhood. It is the gloomiest hour for that part of the human race that spurned the love of God and denied His only begotten Son. This is the resurrection of the unbelieving dead. There are those who remained “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Though they are spiritually dead having not eternal life, they are standing before God physically alive in their resurrection bodies. From every part of the earth the bodies of the wicked dead are raised to receive the final sentence, banishment from the presence of God and eternal punishment in the lake of fire.

The final resurrection occurs, John says: “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; . . . The sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works” (Revelation 20:12, 14). Who will be judged here? The answer is that there will not be one single believer in Christ that will appear before the judgment of the Great White Throne. Only the unsaved will be there, appearing in a physical body to be condemned to Hell. All will be there by their own personal choice. “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11). “The Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). You had your opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as personal Saviour, but you turned from Him, and by so doing you have chosen eternal torment in the lake of fire. “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved. He that believeth on Him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:17-18).

Many unbelievers seek to stifle their conscience by uttering their unbelief in a physical resurrection. They count it a thing incredible that God could raise a physical body that had been trampled under the dust for more than one thousand years. Certainly God knows where the dust is, and since He fashioned the body of Adam out of particles of dust, it is only reasonable to believe that He can fashion it again. The world is His, and the fullness thereof. He fixed the stars in their courses and named them all; the wind and waves obey His will; the innumerable grains of sand by the seashores are under His divine control; He numbers every hair on our heads. The logical reasoning of any thinking mind and the inner convictions of the honest man tell us plainly how foolish one is to deny the existence of life after death.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the confirmation of the resurrection of the human body and future judgment. When the mighty Apostle Paul preached his sermon to the Athenians on Mars’ hill, he said that God commands all men everywhere to repent, “because He hath appointed a day, in which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). It is true that man died here, but since both his Judge and his day of judgment already have been appointed, he must be raised after death if the purposes of God are to be fulfilled. Certainly they are not dead men whom God will arraign before his solemn tribunal. They will be alive and conscious of that great hour. So in order that man might be assured of a future judgment, Christ arose as the criterion of the law of resurrection. The living Christ is a positive attestation of the fact that there is a day of judgment. We are not intimating nor are we presuming a day of judgment, but we are merely standing with the Apostle Paul in affirming a positive assurance God gave to the world when He raised Jesus Christ from the dead. We read in “The Apostles’ Creed” how Christ “. . . was crucified, dead and buried; the third day He arose again from the dead, He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead . . .”

The last judgment in the Bible will be that of the unsaved dead who will stand before the Great White Throne in living, resurrected bodies to receive their final sentence of doom and be cast into the lake of fire. This will not be a judgment to see if sinners are lost, for they are lost already because “he that believeth not is condemned already” (John 3:18). Christians will be present, but only as witnesses. The judged will be those of the Second Resurrection whose bodies have been brought out of the grave and whose spirits brought back from Hell.

All of the unsaved, “small and great, stand before God” (Revelation 20:12). In our human courts of law it is often the case that the defendant does not appear. Sometimes a witness, a juror, or a judge can be bribed, and the guilty one escapes trial and the passing of sentence. Sometimes false witnesses can turn court’s evidence and the guilty one goes free. But in that day, the books are opened, including the Book of Life, “and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books according to their works” (Revelation 20:12). While it is true that millions have lived and died of whom the world knows nothing, their thoughts and deeds are divinely written where the memory of them can never perish. An accurately guided hand has recorded the biography of all, and all evil will be accounted for in that dreadfully solemn hour. If you have despised Jesus here, it will mean judgment there. If you have belittled the invitation to Heaven while here, you will be cast into Hell then.

A Literal, Physical Body

God has said by the prophet Isaiah: “Unto Me every knee shall bow every tongue shall swear” (Isaiah 45:23). The Apostle Paul quoting Isaiah, said: “For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, ever knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God” (Romans 14:11). Then the Apostle adds: “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him (Jesus), and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). Only a part of the human race has agreed with the testimony of God the Father which He has given concerning His Son. But at the final judgment, every unbeliever of every age will bow the knee that once he refused to bend, and confess with the tongue that once he refused to confess Christ with. Yes, literal knees and tongues of every Christ-rejecting sinner will bow and confess in utter humility the Christ they spurned and scoffed at here on earth.

Again we repeat that God finds no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He would rather save than have them die in unbelief, but whosoever is not found written in the Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire. They shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone. This is the second death (Revelation 20:15; 21:8). If you die in your sins, the judgment is sure and certain. You will not escape! No, you cannot escape. If, while you read this message, you realize your need of Christ as your personal Saviour from sin, confess that you are a sinner and trust Christ to save you. “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:6).

The Resurrection Body

With what body do they come? (1 Corinthians 15:35)

Death--The Sleep of the Body

No Biblical description of death is so comforting and consoling to the believer as that which is revealed in the familiar word sleep. It is a word that applies to the body only and never to the soul. Our Lord said to His disciples: “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said His disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death” (John 11:11-13). Of the martyrdom and death of Stephen, we read: “He fell asleep” (Acts 7:60). When the Apostle Paul was yet alive, he said that of the five hundred brethren who had seen Christ alive after His Resurrection, “some are fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:6). His comforting message to the believers at Thessalonica was, “I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). The Apostle Peter, speaking of Old Testament saints, said: “The fathers fell asleep” (2 Peter 3:4).

The Old Testament saints were comforted by this same truth. More than forty times in the Old Testament it is said of a man who died that he “slept with his fathers.” “And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers” (Deuteronomy 31:16; 2 Samuel 7:12). Job said: “Now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be” (Job 7:21). In these verses we have a transcendently sublime description of death which assures the believer that it is but “the transient slumber of the body, to be followed by the glorious awakening at the sound of the last trumpet.”1

Death--Temporary Separation
of the Spiritual from the Physical

This temporary suspension of the activities of the body does not mean that the spirit of man is asleep. The body is but the tabernacle or dwelling place of the spirit part of man. Upon the death of the body, the spirit of a believer takes departure, closing the senses of the body until the day of its resurrection. Immediately upon the death of our bodies, we leave the flesh, “to depart, and to be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23), “waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23).

Here is a simple illustration. Recently I noticed that a butcher shop in our town was no longer open for business. One day while driving past the building I saw a sign in the window which read: “Closed For Alterations.” The owner had suspended his business relations with the public long enough to renovate the store. After about two months the store was reopened with many changes. This is a picture of the death of the believer. He moves out of the body until it has been repaired and renovated, when, at the resurrection, the inward man shall move into his renewed body.2

Raised to be Like Jesus

Death is not to be feared by the Christian. We shall live in a literal body just as real as the one we have now, for, says Paul: “We look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body . . .” (Philippians 3:20, 21). The coming of our Lord in the air to take us to Heaven will necessitate a change in this purchased body of corruption. The body is as much the Lord’s purchased possession as is the soul. It is dear to Him. “The body is . . . for the Lord; and the Lord for the body” (1 Corinthians 6:13). The goal of the Gospel is to bring eternal life and immortality to all who will believe. Since the body of the saints will be “fashioned like unto His glorious body,” we may well wonder what our bodies will be like at the resurrection. John says: “We know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). When our Lord ascended into Heaven, He was thirty-three years of age, a young man in the strength and glory of His youth. Senility had not overtaken our Lord when He died upon the Cross for our sins. In David’s Psalm of the exalted Christ in the glory, we read: “Thou hast the dew of Thy youth” (Psalm 110:3). O wondrous thought! We shall be clothed upon with perennial youth. We shall be like Him, fashioned like unto His glorious body.

Christ shall “change our vile body” (Philippians 3:21) we read. The word “change” means to transfigure. It has been suggested that we have here the thought of metamorphosis which is a remarkable change in the form and structure of a living body. When our Lord took Peter, James, and John up into the Holy Mountain, we read that “He was transfigured before them” (Matthew 17:2). Christ appeared during that brief period of time in His glorified body. He was transfigured (or metamorphosed) before them. It was a body like His post-resurrection body when He appeared to His disciples behind shut doors (John 20:19). The change of the believer at the resurrection has to do with his body, wherein resides the sin principle, for even the Christian must admit, “I know that in me (that is in my flesh) there dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). The word “change” could not refer to the spiritual part of man, for, as Kenneth Wuest says: “The word ‘change’ is the translation of a Greek word which speaks of an expression which is assumed from the outside, which act brings about a change of outward expression.”3

Biologically speaking, the change of a caterpillar into a butterfly is spoken of as a “metamorphosis.” The ugly, repulsive caterpillar is confined to a tomb which it spins for itself. While in the cocoon there is an apparently dead and formless substance. But after the warm sun of spring has beaten its golden rays upon that cocoon, there comes forth a beautiful butterfly. Though the butterfly is different in appearance from the caterpillar, we recognize the beautiful winged insect as being the same as the caterpillar. It is the same living creature, yet different. So also is the resurrection of the body. Now we have a vile body (or a body of humiliation). The Apostle James calls it a “low” body, “because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away” (James 1:10). The body of Adam, in its original state, was provided with a covering of glory, but when sin entered the covering of glory was replaced with a covering of humiliation. In our present bodies of humiliation we are unfit for the glories of Heaven and God’s presence, but hopefully we look for our Lord’s return when He shall fashion our bodies of humiliation like unto His own body of glory. It will be the same body in that it will be recognizable, but wonderfully changed.

Answering the Skeptic

Some unbelieving skeptics have proposed the argument that it will be impossible for the same body to be raised since the bodies of those who have been dead for hundreds of years have become decomposed into integrant parts; that is, reduced to powder. They add that those elements which composed one body may have become a part of other bodies. For example, a dead body deteriorates. Over the grave of that body a tree may grow, having fed its roots on the elements of the dead body. If the fruit of that tree is eaten by other men, the elements of the decomposed and deteriorated body in the grave become a part of other men’s bodies. They conclude that it is an impossibility to raise the same body atom for atom.

God anticipated this problem. We read: “But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?” (1 Corinthians 15:35) To answer this, the Apostle, by the Holy Spirit, uses the illustration of a farmer sowing grain. When a farmer drops a kernel of grain into the ground, he knows that when the seed dies or seemingly rots away, that does not mean the end of his efforts. He knows that one seed will come forth into a fuller life, producing a stalk with several ears bearing many hundreds of kernels like the one he planted. The actual seed that was planted he does not see. Yet there is absolute identity. It is the same with the resurrection of our bodies. “That which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die; And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain. But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body” (1 Corinthians 15:36-38).

It will not be necessary for God to use every part of this body when he raises it from the grave. Such a thought is not taught in Scripture. In fact, it is scientifically true that the component parts of our bodies undergo periodical changes. We are told that through the change of elements, we receive new bodies every seven years. We may not be conscious of the change. Nevertheless we have not the same body today that we had seven years ago. There is an identity that we maintain all our lifetime, and yet there is not one cell in our bodies that was there seven years ago. In the resurrection the bodies of the saints will bear their individual identities. Dr. Wilbur M. Smith has said: “The fact that after death our physical substance disintegrates and scatters, creates no difficulties for God, so that He could not bring those bodies back gloriously transformed.” By the new birth we are born again into the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom that can never break down or disintegrate. Because sin can never enter, there is no danger of corruptibility. The resurrection will be the occasion when our bodies become incorruptible and will inherit the Kingdom of God.4

From Corruption to Incorruption--
From Mortality to Immortality

It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption (1 Corinthians 15:42).

For this corruptible must put on incorruption (1 Corinthians 15:53).

Death is written on the face of all that is alive. The moment we begin to live we commence to die. The report of the birth of a new baby guarantees the digging of a new grave. The preacher of wisdom wrote: “The strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened . . . man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets . . . Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:3, 5, 7). This is a picture of the body of corruption. Its destiny is death, decay, and dissolution. But if we are to have bodies in Heaven, we must have bodies that are free from corruption. This is exactly the kind of body that Christ will give us when He comes. It was buried in corruption, but it will be raised in incorruption. We have some idea of an incorruptible body in the scene on the Mount of Transfiguration. Moses and Elijah both appeared with Christ. Moses had died fifteen hundred years before. Yet he was there recognizable in a glorious body. Elijah had been caught up to Heaven without dying about nine hundred years before, and he too was there in a glorified body. Our resurrection will clothe us with bodies where disease and sickness will never enter. No pain, no weakness, no fever will touch our resurrection bodies. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

From Dishonour to Glory

It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory (1 Corinthians 15:43).

The body that is put in the grave is sown in dishonour. The average Christian sadly neglects his body, failing to realize that it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Proper care of the body is far more the exception than it is the rule. The bodies of some Christians have been broken and diseased by sin before the persons ever came to a knowledge of truth. The drinking of intoxicating liquors, the use of tobacco, and other sins of the body have brought to the body dishonour. Some do not get enough rest, while others injure the body through laziness and inactivity. Some persons overeat regularly while others mistreat the body by not eating the right kind of food. It is the opinion of the writer that the majority of people are guilty of not giving the body its required care. It is sown in dishonour. But our resurrection bodies will be raised in glory. We shall be like Jesus, in the brightness of His glory. O glorious hope!

From Weakness to Power

It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power (1 Corinthians 15:43).

It is believed that the Apostle Paul was frail in body, afflicted with “a thorn in the flesh.” Weak bodies have their limitations, and many of us can testify as to how the work of the Lord often is hampered by bodily limitations. The tasks we seek to perform become wearisome by reason of the infirmities of the flesh. But in Heaven we shall know nothing of physical weakness. The limitations of earth are not known in Heaven. What a glorious change that will be! Raised in power! Here on earth we find that the spirit sometimes is willing, but the flesh is weak. Some of God’s choice saints cannot as much as attend a church service because of bodily affliction, but in Heaven all will have strong bodies. The new body will be a habitation from God, incorruptible, immortal, and powerful.

From the Natural to the Spiritual

It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44).

It must be clearly understood that the phrase “a spiritual body” does not so much as infer that the resurrection body will be a body without substance. The word “natural” is from a word used by the Greeks when they spoke of the soul of man. We pointed out earlier in this volume how that man was made of three component parts: body, soul, and spirit. In the physical he possesses world-consciousness through his five senses. With his soul, which is the seat of his emotions, he possesses self-consciousness, thereby having knowledge that he is a personality. By his spirit, he is enabled to know God and to worship and serve Him after his human spirit has been quickened by the Holy Spirit. Our bodies while on earth are natural or soulish bodies and are engaged chiefly with the activities and the environment of earth. By nature it becomes easily adjusted to work and play. The spiritual life is not absent altogether from man, but it occupies a small part of his time and energy as compared with his soul life.

When the resurrection body is called “a spiritual body,” it is not meant that it will be composed of intangible substance. Robert S. Candlish has said: “The words natural and spiritual, as applied to the body, have respect not so much to the nature of the substance of which the body is composed, as to the uses or purposes which it is intended to serve.” On earth we are occupied to a greater degree with the natural body, while in Heaven in our resurrection bodies we will be occupied with all that pertains to God and godliness. The spiritual life of man will prevail.

We might say that the body has two masters, a natural and a spiritual. Paul said: “When I would do good, evil is present with me” (Romans 7:21). The Apostle was truly God’s child by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, but the natural man was still very much alive and warring against the spiritual. And each of us knows too well what a barrier the natural man is! We are hindered by the attitude of the natural toward the spiritual. But in Heaven we shall be clothed with a resurrection body where the higher principles in man will predominate and the full tide of spiritual life will be in control.

In Heaven all will be incorrupt, immortal, glorious, powerful, and spiritual. Before the throne of God we will serve Him eternally in His temple. O glorious hope! O resurrection day!

The Future Judgment of the Believer

The coming of Christ will be an occasion of jubilation for all saints. When the graves are opened and the dead in Christ shall rise first and the living saints shall be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air, it will be a time such as attends the meeting of a bride with her bridegroom.

Believers never need fear a condemnatory judgment for sin. For every Christian this judgment is already past. When Jesus comes again He will have in His body the marks of crucifixion, and this will prove that the penalty for sin has been paid in full. Our Lord reassures us by His own word: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). To this the Apostle Paul adds: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Our souls rest forever upon these eternal words of our God.

All Men and Fallen Angels are to be Judged

Yet the Bible teaches clearly that all men, both living and dead, saved and unsaved, must give an account to Christ. The Apostle Peter, in his great sermon in the house of Cornelius, said “that it is He which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead” (Acts 10:42). Later, in his First Epistle, Peter wrote that the saints “shall give account to Him that is ready to judge the quick (the living) and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5). Those who were dead, those who have died since or will have died, and the living must give account to Jesus Christ who is ready to judge all men.

The Five Separate Future Judgments

Not all men will be judged at the same time and place. There are five future judgments.

1. The Judgment Seat of Christ. The first of these will be the judgment of the believer’s works, called “The Judgment Seat of Christ.” It is this judgment to which we shall give consideration in this chapter. But first, we shall outline the four future judgments that will follow the judgment of the believer’s works.

2. The Judgment of Regathered Israel. In Daniel 12:1 this judgment is called “The Time of Jacob’s Trouble.” It will be the punishment of the Jews for their disobedience to God and their rejection of Jesus Christ. During the Tribulation Period and after the close of the present Age of Grace, Israel will pay for her sins, being afflicted with unprecedented misery and woe.

3. The Judgment of the Living Nations. At the end of the Tribulation Period, after Israel has been judged, the nations of earth will be judged by Christ and His Church. This judgment will not be against individuals but against nations for their treatment of the Jewish people. “For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land” (Joel 3:1-2).

4. The Judgment of Fallen Angels. This is the final judgment against Satan and other fallen angels who will be judged with him. Immediately after the one thousand years of the Kingdom Age, Satan and his hosts will meet their doom. “And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, He hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6). At that time we shall see the final fulfillment of that great prophecy in Genesis 3:15.

5. The Judgment of the Unbelieving Dead. This is called the Great White Throne Judgment. After the casting of Satan into Hell, the wicked dead will be raised to receive the final sentence of condemnation (Revelation 20:12-15). No believer will be judged at that day as the final judgment is reserved for all who rejected the Lord Jesus Christ on earth.

The Judgment Seat of Christ

The first future judgment derives its name from two passages where the term “Judgment Seat of Christ” appears:

For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:10).

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10).

This judgment cannot be confused with either of the other judgments because the Holy Spirit used a Greek word to describe the Judgment Seat of Christ that is peculiar and different from the Greek words used in connection with other judgments. Here the word used is bema. It appears in classical Greek to identify the judge’s seat in the arena of the Olympic games. The bema was the seat whereon the judge sat, not to punish contestants, but to present awards to the victors. When Christians stand before the bema of Christ, it will be for the express purpose of being rewarded according to their works. There is no idea of inflicting punishment.

The Judge. Our Lord Himself said: “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22). The Apostle Paul said to the Athenians that “God hath appointed a day, in which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man Whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). In this sense every judgment throne can be considered as the judgment seat of Christ, for, as the resurrected Son of God, He has been appointed by the Father to be the Judge of all. However, there is only one bema, a throne erected for Christ for the purpose of awarding the prizes or crowns to the victorious saints.

Since Christ is the Judge, and a time and place have been set for the judgment of believers, we are warned against any attempt at judging each other in this life. “Why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10). We are not judges. Therefore we have no right to judge or to despise our brother. It is not possible for any of us to judge righteously and justly because we do not know the hearts of each other. Jesus warned His disciples: “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). We must exercise a careful discrimination in all matters, but our attitude is to be without censoriousness. We are expected to use our reason and the powers of discernment, but never to avenge, condemn, nor damn another. Abraham Kuyper has said: “All human judgment remains imperfect. It can never fully satisfy our thirst after justice.” A human tribunal cannot bring a just retribution upon those who have committed crimes in secret. Too frequently the guilty are set free and the innocent condemned. “Forget not your martyrs.” Because of our limitations we come to wrong conclusions. Therefore we are to leave all judgment with the omniscient Judge who will judge righteously and accurately, but never falsely. When Jesus comes, every Christian dead or alive, will be included in the great throng that will stand before the bema of Christ. We will be there, not merely as spectators or witnesses. The Holy Judge will not need anyone to witness. In that day His word shall stand. “He knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for He knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25).

The Judged. Only believers will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ. In both verses where this judgment is mentioned (Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10), the words are addressed to Christians only. All the wicked dead (unbelievers) will be judged at the Great White Throne after the one thousand year reign of Christ on earth. But the subjects to whom the Apostle Paul addressed his messages when he said, “We must all appear,” were exclusively the saints of whom Paul considered himself one. Someone will question the possibility of standing room for the countless millions of saints, or another may question the time element of such “an endlessly drawn out pronouncement of judgment upon so large a host of individuals.” The Bible is silent on details as to the exact location of the place of judgment. Whether in Heaven or in the air we cannot tell. However, one thing is certain, as Henry W. Frost has said: “A divine judgment need not take long.” It is absurd even to conceive of a problem of space when we think of the vast expanse in the heavens. “It is possible that this judgment of the saints will be instantaneous, and that each Christian will rise into the air to enter at once into his proper place and appointed rewarding.” If there are problems regarding the exact location and the manner of this judgment, there are none regarding its certainty, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.”

The Christian’s Works Will be Tested

Let us pause to read carefully the Holy Spirit’s message concerning Christian work and its rewards:

For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire (1 Corinthians 3:9-15).

The great Apostle refers to himself and all of his fellow-workers as “labourers together with God.” This is a wonderful truth when we realize that God does not actually need any one of us to do His work. It is not necessary that He should consider us at all to carry His Gospel, for He can carry out the whole plan of salvation without us. He could send His holy angels to spread redemption’s message, or He could flash it across the skies to the visibility of every person in the universe, but He has chosen the believer to tell the story of His sovereign grace and matchless love.

The foundation for this work is already laid, “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (verse 11). Now we are to build upon this foundation, and the work in which we engage ourselves must stand the test of the judgment seat of Christ if we are to receive a reward. “Every man’s work shall be made manifest . . . and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” Many Christians who have labored humbly and prayerfully in the Spirit will be rewarded, but that which was done in the energy of the flesh and which is merely called “Christian work” will be consumed by the fire of purging. “If a man’s work abide, he shall receive a reward. If a man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss.” “We shall be judged” according to the secret motives and the character of our work. If you cannot do all that you would like to do, be sure that whatever you do is of the right “sort.” This means that if our work is of the right kind or character, we will receive a reward. Contrariwise, if what a believer does is not of the right character, “he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15).

In an interesting and instructive parable of our Lord recorded by Luke (Luke 18:11-27), we have a picture of this present age and the Christian’s responsibility. “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, ‘Occupy till I come.’” The ten pounds were divided equally among the ten servants, thus showing that each servant had an equal opportunity during the Lord’s absence. To each of us has been committed the witness of Jesus Christ. We are to share in the opportunities and responsibilities of making Him known. Not one single Christian can say that he is not responsible for the spreading of the truth of the Gospel. During our Lord’s absence we are to occupy till He comes, for He is coming again, as He said, to render to every man according to his deeds.

“When he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.” Here our Lord describes what will happen when He returns. All of us who are His shall be called unto Him to give an account of ourselves as to how we discharged our responsibilities during His absence. This is the Judgment Seat of Christ, and it will determines our position and service in the Millennial Kingdom. Recently in Philadelphia two men took the same examination with the understanding that the one receiving the highest grade would be appointed to the office of Chief of the Fire Bureau. It is by the same method of competitive examination in faithfulness that the saints will be appointed to rule with Christ. In the parable the servant who gained ten pounds was called “faithful,” and was given authority over ten cities. Likewise the servant which gained five pounds was given authority over five cities. But the servant who resumed his one pound, having done nothing with it, was sternly rebuked. The Lord said: “Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds.”

When Jesus comes each believer will receive his or her just reward for service according to the measure and motive of our works. No rewards will be given by political preferment, but only in exact proportion to the genuine effort put forth. Other parables of our Lord which should be studied in connection with Christian service are the Unprofitable Servant (Luke 17:7-10), The Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 10:1-16), and The Talents (Matthew 25:14-30).

Saints Will Differ in Heaven

The Apostle Paul says: “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:41-42). Every Christian will be given a celestial body in the Resurrection, but these bodies will differ in the glory that each shall possess and enjoy in Heaven. Paul asks us to notice how the stars differ in glory, some shining with a greater brilliance than others. Then he concludes: “So also is the resurrection of the dead.” All believers will have glorified bodies, but there will be difference in glory according to the measure of our diligence and devotedness to Christ and His work. I hold in my hand three coins. One is gold, one is silver and the third is copper. All three bear the same inscription of the United States of America. However, the glory of the gold is one glory, the glory of the silver is a lesser glory, and the glory of the copper is yet a lesser glory than either the gold or the silver. So also is the resurrection of the dead. Each of the bodies of the saved will bear the glorified and heavenly mark of distinction, but the glory of some will differ from the glory of others. Our capacity to serve in Heaven we will take to Heaven with us when Jesus comes.

The Crowns or Rewards

Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown (Revelation 3:11).

And, behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be (Revelation 22:12).

The Judgment Seat of Christ will be a crowning day for those Christians who will receive rewards for their works. The New Testament teaches that these are called “crowns.” There are five such “crowns” to be given.

1. The Incorruptible Crown. “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible” (1 Corinthians 9:25). Here Paul has in mind the athlete in the Roman arena. Before the contest each participant practiced self-discipline, being temperate in all things. There were doubtless many pleasures and pastimes that the athletes might have entered into and enjoyed, but they denied themselves these things in order to do their best. A crown awaited the victor. The incorruptible crown for the Christian is the victor’s crown for those who keep under the body and bring it into subjection. There are certain pleasures, worldly amusements, manners of dress, and uses of cosmetics that interfere with one’s progress in spreading the Gospel and winning the lost to Christ. If I live victoriously over all things, “making no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof,” I shall gain the reward for a victorious life which is the Incorruptible Crown. If an athlete must subject himself to many months of rigid discipline and training to obtain a corruptible crown, how much more should we bring our bodies into subjection for a crown that is incorruptible!

2. The Crown of Rejoicing. “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For ye are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19, 20). This is the soul-winner’s crown. The first thing that a Christian should pray for and seek to cultivate is the desire, ability, and wisdom to win lost souls to Jesus Christ. Paul was confident that when he would stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ the Thessalonian converts would guarantee a crown for all those who shared in bringing them to Christ. Every time an individual is converted, there is joy in Heaven; but at the day of the giving of rewards the soul-winner will be exceeding joyful when those are presented to God whom he had won to Christ. What is our hope of reward as Christ’s witnesses? The answer is in those who will be in Heaven because of our prayers, gifts, preaching, and personal work.

3. The Crown of Righteousness. “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto them also that love His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). Here the character of the reward corresponds to the character of the Giver. Both are said to be righteous. The doctrine of our Lord’s return is regarded very highly by God. In spite of the fact that Jesus said He would come again, there are many people who scoff at the thought of Christ’s appearing. This and kindred truths have brought suffering and hardship, and in some cases death, to those who insisted on preaching and teaching them. But how wonderful to know that God has prepared a special reward for all who look for that blessed hope, who wait for His son from Heaven, and who love His appearing.

4. The Crown of Life. “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him” (James 1:12). “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

The Crown of Life is reserved for those who have given all their lives for the sake of the Gospel. Not all of our Lord’s witnesses have been called to suffering and martyrdom. Not all would be willing to pay with their lives to take the message of salvation to the lost. How thoughtful and just our heavenly Father was when He prepared a martyr’s crown for those who suffer persecution for Christ’s sake! Though some of us will not receive the Crown of Life, we will rejoice with those who refused to count the cost and have died proclaiming the Gospel of Christ.

5. The Crown of Glory. “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:2-5). There are many who have been called and ordained by God to preach and teach His Word. These are the undershepherds who care for the flock of God during the absence of the Chief Shepherd. My brother-minister, let us give ourselves without ostentation to the care of the sheep of His pasture, for the crown of unfading glory awaits us in the day when the Chief Shepherd shall appear.

If there is to be joy and rejoicing for those who receive the crowns, surely there will be disappointment and sorrow for those who will not receive them. God keeps an exact record of the sins and works of His children. The record includes all of our motives and acts, our response to or our rejection of God’s call to faithful stewardship and service. When an unfaithful Christian hears and sees the true record of his unfaithfulness; when he is reminded of the large sum of money he left behind, a portion of which could have been given to the spreading of the Gospel; when he sees how the cause of Christ has suffered because of his neglect and indifference when a Christian who has wronged his brother and never repented of his sin sees that ugly deed dragged out of its hiding place, will that Christian be unmoved by the revealing of his empty and wasted life while on earth? Will there be no regret, no shame, no consternation? Listen once again to God’s immortal declaration: “If a man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer . . .”

The story was told of a great fire in a city apartment house. The tenants had all been led to safety with the exception of one family on one of the upper floors. The mother, driven to frenzy by the terror that accompanied the flaming and smoke-filled room, leaped to safety into a fireman’s net. But it was discovered that, in her befogged and delirious mind, she completely forgot her children who perished in the flames. She was saved as by fire, but she suffered great loss. May God grant that we should strive to labor in the light of that hour when all of our work shall be judged by Jesus Christ Himself and we shall be rewarded accordingly.

The Judgment Seat of Christ seems a necessity to the writer. Think of the believers, all members of the body of Christ, who are divided because of differences. In organizations, in churches, and in families I have seen Christians who are not on speaking terms. People who were at one time very close and intimate friends are now separated and a bitter feeling exists between them. Each blames the separation on the other, and they continue on, trying to serve the Lord, but their difference has not been adjusted. Now if our Lord returns before there is a reconciliation of such Christians here on earth, it is necessary that they get right with each other somewhere, for certainly they cannot continue on forever in holding hatred and animosity in their hearts. Heaven knows no such actions. Hatred and unforgiveness is sin. Yet there is no sin in Heaven. Hence the necessity of the Judgment Seat of Christ.

The Judgment Seat of Christ is necessary because not one believer has received his reward for any service he has rendered in this life. Often, and frequently at funerals, we hear it said that the departed one has gone to his eternal reward. This is not Scripturally correct. The departed saints are with the Lord, but not one has received his reward as yet. We are not rewarded one by one at death. None of the disciples nor the apostles has received his rewards yet, nor will he until Jesus comes back and all saints are gathered together. Jesus said to the Pharisee in whose house He had dined: “Thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14).

Dear Christian, “Be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love” (Hebrews 6:10). “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Jesus Christ” (Colossians 3:23, 24).

One final word! “And now, little children, abide in Him; that, when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (1 John 2:28). Ashamed at His coming! What a sorry closing chapter for any believer’s life! How ashamed we will be if we are engaged in dishonest business, unclean conversation, or unholy living. Let us, with singleness of purpose, abandon ourselves to His perfect will for our lives so that we may hear Him say to us: “Well done.”

The Eternal Punishment of the Lost

This chapter is an endeavor to write a statement of the most solemn doctrine in all the Bible. When I first attempted to preach on this subject some years ago, invariably I found myself asking God for tenderness in presenting it. Today I must confess that there still lingers an averseness on my part to declare that there is no hope that any measure of divine grace or mercy ever will be extended to one person after death, but that there is rather a fearful anticipation of retribution in the lake of fire. This averseness to assert the divine claims about Hell is not the result of waning convictions or of doubts concerning the reality and literalness of the everlasting misery of the unsaved. Contrariwise, the growing convictions and God-given confirmations of the endless agony of the wicked dead cause me to tremble at the horrible thought of damned souls in flames of torment forever.

Hell--An Unpopular Subject

I am aware of the fact that this subject is an unpopular one. Since those memorable days when Jonathan Edwards preached that potent and moving sermon on “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” the doctrine of the eternal retribution of the lost has gradually gone into obscurity. A daily newspaper printed the following on May 29, 1944. “A Navy chaplain said today some naval officers forbade chaplains to tell their men they were in danger of Hell. The chaplain, Frederick Volbeda, of Washington, a veteran of Pearl Harbor, said his own commanding officer once heard him preach repentance and actual punishment and swore he would ‘have no hell-fire preaching on this ship.’” Chaplain Volbeda made his report at the 84th annual General Assembly of the Southern Presbyterian Church.

When Irvin S. Cobb, the internationally famous humorist and writer, died in March 1944, he referred to Heaven as “a powerfully dull place, populated to a considerable and uncomfortable degree by prigs, time servers and unpleasantly aggressive individuals,” and then he added that “Hell may have a worse climate but undoubtedly the company is sprightlier.” Of course Cobb did not believe in Hell, for he insisted that those in charge of his burial “avoid reading the so-called Christian burial service, which, in view of the language employed in it, I regard as one of the most cruel and paganish things inherited by our forbears from our remote pagan ancestry. Instead, let the 23rd Psalm be read. This has no threat of eternal hell-fire.”

Irvin Cobb was doubtless a success as a humorist, but no amount of jocose treatment of Hell can deliver him from the anguish and agony of his soul today. The best this wit and humorist could say about our Lord Jesus Christ was that He was “the greatest gentleman that ever lived.” To all such flattery and humanism our Lord only answers: “Ye must be born again.” On this vital and eternal issue Cobb declared himself. If he died denying every fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith, how solemn will be his day of accounting for casting such aspersions. God brands all who reject and ridicule His Word as “raging waves of the sea foaming out their own shame, . . . to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” (Jude 13). Some day the tables will be turned, and “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh” (Psalm 2:4).

Our hearts go out in sympathy and pity for Cobb and the millions like him who died unbelievers and passed consciously into an endless eternity and the hell-fire they scoffed and denied.

Mr. Cobb requested that at his funeral the Twenty-Third Psalm be read because it contains “no threat of eternal hell-fire.” We do not propose a debate on the theological content of this best loved Psalm of David, but we can say without fear of contradiction that Cobb’s knowledge of the Bible was the result of a prejudiced investigation, to say the least. The Author of the Shepherd-Psalm is also the Author of all that the world knows about the future life, and eschatology of the Holy Scriptures is not silent on the doctrine of the eternal retribution of the unbelieving and wicked dead in a place of torment.

False Theories

Many conflicting theories have been formed regarding this subject. Of course, those mentioned under the above heading are human theories that have not the support of the Word of God. Here we can do little more than make a passing reference to these man-made ideas These are Conditional Immortality, Universalism and The Restoration Theory.

1. Conditional Immortality. This theory is built on the error that all who do not receive everlasting life will die as the animals and be annihilated or wiped out of existence. It contends that immortality is conditional upon receiving the gift of everlasting life. If anyone dies not having the gift of everlasting life he shall not be punished with everlasting torment. He shall be annihilated.

2. Universalism. The universalistic theory holds the idea of universal redemption. For example, a certain number of Scripture references are used to prove that Christ died for all men alike. Therefore all men alike shall be saved in the end. Universalism uses such texts as Paul’s when he said: “We preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:28). Certainly the Apostle could not have meant that he expected every man that ever came into the world to be made perfect in Christ. The words “every man” could refer only to those to whom Paul addressed his Epistle; namely, “To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ” (1:2). This theory does not deny that all men are lost by sin, but it contends that all men will finally be saved and enter into everlasting life. Universalism falls when it overlooks the Biblical fact that salvation and everlasting life are applied to no one apart from his personal acceptance of it as a divinely bestowed gift to “whosoever will.”

3. The Restoration Theory. This view, called by some Restitutionism, appeals to the universalist in that it does not deny that all men are lost, but that sometime, somewhere, all creation (including Satan and the fallen angels) will be restored or reconciled to God. Being contrary to reason and common sense, the average person labels this view as preposterous. But let us look at two texts that are used to form the basis of the false view of Restitutionism. The words of our Lord are quoted: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me” (John 12:32). We must exercise care that these words of Christ do not lead us to believe the heretical teaching of Restitutionism. Our Saviour never meant that all men finally shall be saved by His crucifixion. Dr. A. C. Gaebelein in his commentary on “The Gospel of John” says: “The analogy of other texts shows plainly that the only reasonable sense is, that Christ’s crucifixion would have a ‘drawing’ influence on men of all nations, Gentiles as well as Jews.” But it is quite possible also that this verse has a future application. In the preceding verse (31) which was given in connection with verse thirty-two, Jesus spoke of the future when “the prince of this world shall be cast out.” Of a truth, in that day “all men” will be drawn unto Him.

Another favorite text used by the Restitutionists is one of Peter’s statements given in his second sermon after Pentecost. The Apostle said:

Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began (Acts 3:19-21).

Again the teachers of this false doctrine have seized upon a phrase and have deliberately torn it from its context to make it fit their scheme of thought. The phrase “restitution of all things” cannot be interpreted correctly if applied to any other than the house of Israel. Remember, it is to Israel that Peter is addressing his message. His introductory statement was: “Ye men of Israel” (vs. 12). It is the restitution of all things for Israel when Christ comes to restore the nation to which the apostle is referring. Furthermore, it is to be the “restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets.” Immediately we are limited in defining Peter’s statement, for we must confine it to the restitution (or restoration) of which the prophets spoke. Frequently the prophets wrote of the restoration of Israel to the land of Palestine, but nowhere in the prophetic writings have we ever come across so much as an inference that the wicked dead ever will be saved.

Restitutionism depends largely upon that mighty statement uttered by the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:10, 11, “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” This passage means that all creation, whether animate or inanimate, in heaven, on earth, or under the earth, will confess (or publicly declare) and thereby agree to the testimony that God the Father has given of His Son. There is not the slightest indication that all men who acknowledge the authority of Christ must be saved or that they will be saved. While our Lord was here on earth the demons frequently acknowledge His authority (see Mark 1:24, 34; 3:11, 12), and we know that everlasting fire is prepared for the Devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).

Arguing Against Hell from the Love of God

We hear it said often that God is too tender, kind, and forgiving to allow men to suffer in Hell. Pleading the love and pity of God, men insist that He would not allow His creatures to perish. There are many beautiful and sentimental sayings about the love of God that are quoted to support the view that He would not allow one soul to suffer torment in eternity. But we dare never lose sight of the fact that one’s escape from Hell is not dependent upon the love of God but upon the repentance and faith of each individual person. God is love, to be certain, but man also has a free will. Men are not doomed and damned to Hell by God, but they go there because they have willfully rejected God’s only way of escape from sin’s penalty, saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. God was love in the Old Testament times, and yet the children of Israel were punished for their sins. God is love now, but He does not open the doors of penal institutions to deliver those who are being punished for their crimes. It is but the fair treatment of society to protect it against the persistent wrong doings of the criminal, and certainly Heaven would not be safe nor desirable if there were no protection against sin and crime. It would seem to the writer that God owes it to the faithful believers that the wicked be separated from them in Heaven. It would be an insult to the justice and honor of God were He to allow the unrighteous and unholy rejectors of Jesus Christ to share eternally the abode and “the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

The natural and inevitable consequence of sin is punishment. Proper punishment of a child does not derogate from the love of the parent. Sin condemns just as sure as fire burns, and God is justified in putting into effect the immortal law that “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:8).

Hell--A Literal Place of Future Punishment

Some people engage themselves in much wishful thinking about Hell. It has been said that the fires of Hell mean the torments of conscience. Others say that Hell is simply the grave. We do not question that the torments of conscience will be included in the eternal punishment of the lost, though Hell will not be the torments of conscience only. But we cannot agree at all with those who teach that Hell is simply the grave. One must be either a deceiver or an illiterate to say that Hell is the grave. When the unsaved rich man died he went to Hell, and cried: “I am tormented in this flame” (Luke 16:24). Certainly he was not merely in the grave. He had five brothers whom he desired to be saved lest they also should come to that place of torment. Now if his five brothers would have repented and become saved, their conversion could not have kept them from the grave, for “it is appointed unto men once to die” (Hebrews 9:27). Repentance and conversion will keep one from Hell but never from the grave. The bodies of all men, excepting those believers who are alive when Christ comes, will return to the dust. Hell is not the grave. The body of the rich man was dead, but that man knew that his soul was in a literal place and not merely in a spiritual state.

Notice the use of the word “fire,” which denotes that the fire of Hell is as literal as the place itself. Repeatedly our Lord and the apostles spoke of the fire of Hell.

But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire (Matthew 5:22).

Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire (Matthew 7:19).

The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:41, 42).

Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire (Matthew 18:8, 9).

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).

Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:44).

And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame (Luke 16:24).

In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:8).

And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire (Jude 6, 7).

The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb (Revelation 14:10).

Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her (Revelation 18:8).

And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone (Revelation 19:20).

And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Revelation 20:10).

And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14, 15).

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death (Revelation 21:8).

You may study these statements and believe them, or else you may pass them by. You may believe that the Bible is for today, or else you may laugh at it as a bit of obsolete dogma. But today you are face to face with eternal statements in the Word of God which will survive the heavens and the earth. Your unbelief cannot disprove nor alter them. When the resurrected physical bodies of the unbelievers of every age leave the Judgment of the Great White Throne, they will go into a literal Hell of fire.

And be sure that the body will share with the soul in its suffering. Jesus said: “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28, 29). May we ask what part of man is in the grave? We all agree that it is his body. Therefore we can depend on Christ’s statement that that part of man that is buried in the grave will come forth to be damned eternally.

Will Future Punishment be Endless?

At death the eternal state of each person is immutably fixed. The words “eternal,” “everlasting,” “for ever” and “for ever and ever” express endless duration. The New Testament use of these expressions denotes eternity.5 It is unreasonable to assume that there is an eternal Heaven but not an eternal Hell. Eternal punishment is as much a truth of God’s Word as is the eternal rewards for the righteous. Jesus said: “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal” (Matthew 25:46). The life of the righteous is everlasting, but so is the punishment of the wicked everlasting. The Bible says that salvation is eternal (Hebrews 5:9), life is eternal (John 6:54), redemption is eternal (Hebrews 9:12), and the inheritance of the saints is eternal (Hebrews 9:15). But it says also that the fire of Hell is eternal and everlasting (Matthew 18:8; Jude 7); the chains of Hell are everlasting (Jude 6); the blackness of darkness is for ever (Jude 13), and the torment is for ever and ever (Revelation 20:10). The punishment of the wicked and the life of the righteous are for equal duration, “for ever and ever.”

Where is Hell?

Here we cannot be dogmatic. This question cannot be answered fully. Geographically Hell cannot be located. The old theory that is held by many is that Hell is in the heart of the earth. A brief article appeared in “Moody Monthly” (July 1940) in which the author sought to locate Hell. The following is a brief summary of that article.

It is clear that Hell is not in this earth. The Apostle Peter speaks of the day when the earth is to be dissolved by fire:

The earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved.... Nevertheless we, according to His promise look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Peter 3:10-13).

We are not persisting in this view of the geographical location of Hell, for the Bible gives us no positive declarative statement of its situation. Where this outer darkness is, where the endless fire is, where Hell is we do not know, nor must we know. It is sufficient to say that Hell is a prepared place, and experientially it is at the end of every unsaved sinner’s life.

Come sinners, seek His grace
Whose wrath ye cannot bear;
Flee to the shelter of His cross,
And find salvation there.

The Consciousness
of the Soul After Death

Is the soul conscious after death? This is not a new question. For centuries there have been certain religionists who have contended that the soul existed after death but that it was not conscious. Upon investigation, some of you may be surprised to know of the wide-spread belief in the teaching of the sleeping of the soul. Because of the universal interest in the whereabouts of the dead, false sects prey upon the public, claiming complete knowledge of the subject. Such groups as Jehovah’s Witnesses, spiritualists and others have spread the sophistical conclusion that at death the body returns to dust and the soul becomes unconscious.

Such statements as the following are but a few of the distortions and perversions of the Holy Scriptures that have to do with the soul after death. “At death, it is not the body but the soul which dies.” “The interim from death until the soul is resurrected is one of unconsciousness.” “Even the apostles were unconscious for centuries.” These assertions are being made by the advocates of the teachings of Russell and Rutherford, but they are the views of the men themselves, imposed upon the Holy Scriptures. These ideas were read into the Bible, but were never in the mind of the inspired writers.

Man Is Created to Endless Existence

Every human being enters the world possessed with endless existence. It is true that at death the soul is separated from the body. It is not consistent with the teaching of the Bible to say that at death the soul lapses into a state of complete unconsciousness or even into a deep sleep. If at first glance it would seem that the Bible teaches this, then we will do well to examine those passages where death is referred to as sleep. The few texts that mendacious scholars have dislodged from their context in order to prove that physical death is the cessation of all consciousness can be easily and understandingly explained when interpreted in the light of the many other passages that deal with this subject.

In Ecclesiastes we read “The dead know not anything” (Ecclesiastes 9:5). Certainly we all agree that a dead and deteriorating body has absolutely no consciousness of anything past, present, or future. But are the advocates of “soul-sleep” justified in using the above text as evidence of the unconscious state of the soul after death? We believe that this method using a text to support a false theory that elsewhere is denied in Scripture, proves that those who stoop to such methods either are untruthful or deficient. Those who teach “soul-sleep” will find it quite difficult to harmonize their views with other statements that are made by the same writer of Ecclesiastes:

Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God Who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

All go unto one place; for all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again (Ecclesiastes 3:20).

Now we know that this verse is speaking of the body, for in the next verse we read:

Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward? (Ecclesiastes 3:21).

Only Man’s Body Dies (or sleeps)

In Scripture we read that man sleeps, but the sleep always is identified with the body. Never once does the Bible refer to the soul sleeping. Where some fall into danger is in identifying man merely with his body and in ignoring the fact that he is a triune being. Man is a trinity; body, soul and spirit. Now the body is not the whole man. Therefore it cannot be concluded that the death of the body is the death of the whole man.

Another misconstrued verse is found in the prophecy of Daniel where we read:

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 (Daniel 12:2).

Some scholars question whether this verse has anything to do with physical resurrection. Dr. A. C. Gaebelein in his commentary on Daniel says that if physical resurrection were taught in this verse, the passage would clash with the revelation concerning resurrection in the New Testament, for there is no general resurrection for the righteous and wicked together. “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 of Israel.

It is the same figure as used in the vision of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37. This vision is employed by men who have invented the theory of a second chance and larger hope for the wicked dead to back up their evil teaching; but anyone can see that it is not a bodily resurrection, but a national revival and restoration of that people. Their national graves, not literal burying places, will be opened and the Lord will bring them forth out of all the countries into which they have been scattered. The same distinction holds good which we have already pointed out. The great mass of Jews, who cast their belief in God and His Word to the winds, who accepted the man of sin and acknowledged the wicked King, will face everlasting contempt, but the remnant will possess all things promised to them and become the heirs of that Kingdom, which is prepared from the foundation of the world. And besides the national blessing which they receive, they will be in possession of everlasting life, for they are born again.” We have given this rather lengthy quotation for the reason that some readers may not be acquainted with this view.

However, even if the above interpretation of verse two is not correct, but a physical resurrection is intended, certainly Daniel would not be referring to anything except the resurrection of the body. We are not to conclude for his body.

The New Testament Teaches
Man’s Endless Conscious Existence

The citation of a few New Testament verses make it clear that man’s conscious existence is endless.

And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose (Matthew 27:52).

Please notice how the Holy Spirit says that the “bodies” slept. Jesus said:

Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep . . . Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead (John 11:11, 14).

Death to our Lord was never anything more than sleep. It is a figure of speech that the Bible applies, for there is never a pause in our consciousness. It was the body of Lazarus that was dead. It was his body that Martha said “stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.” When Jesus said plainly that Lazarus was dead, He could mean only his body, for when He added: “I go, that I may awake Him out of sleep,” He did this by raising the body of Lazarus from death and the grave. We read in verse forty-four: “And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave clothes.” The part of Lazarus that was dead was that part of him that was bound “hand and foot, and his face.”

Since the soul of man never dies, and the soul is as much a part of man as is his body, then we may say that the dead are alive. The writer became convinced that there was never a pause in man’s consciousness while thinking upon the last words of dying men. Think for a moment of our Lord’s last words as He hung dying upon the Cross. He said: “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, He gave up the ghost” (Luke 23:46). Only a little over three decades before, Christ had come from the presence of the Father, His spirit having taken its abode in the body prepared by God in the womb of the Virgin. He came to bring life and immortality to light through His Gospel. He came, not to bring immortality, but to reveal it and to show man that he could have everlasting life.

By finishing His task He fulfilled every demand of God’s righteous law. He offered His life a ransom for sin, and then departed this life. Jesus knew that His Father was watching, listening eagerly and intently; so with every confidence He spoke to the Father with the consciousness that His task was well done. Then His words, “Into Thy hands I commend My Spirit,” is the doctrine of immortality. Here Christ is teaching the world the survival of the spiritual part of man after his physical body has died. Death to Jesus was but a passage into the presence of God, not a cold unconscious condition. He knew all about life and death, and He left us with divine assurance that only the body dies. The spirit continues to exist in a conscious state.

Another of our Lord’s last words from the Cross proves that death touches only the physical part of man. Let us give consideration to the malefactor hanging on the cross next to the Lord Jesus. This man had not joined the jeering mob, but instead he acknowledged Christ in the face of the Roman opposition. With a contrite spirit and simple faith he said: “Jesus, Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom” (Luke 23:42). The world shall never forget the words which Jesus answered the dying thief. With the soul of this criminal at the very portals of Hell, the dying Saviour said to the dying sinner: “Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.” They were killing his body to be sure, but Jesus promised him that there would be no time of waiting, no pause of sleep or unconsciousness of the soul. Jesus assured him that before that very day had come to a close, he would still be alive and with Christ in Paradise. These words of Christ from the Cross manifest the supreme confidence that He had in a place of blissful life immediately after the believer takes his departure from this earth. If we are called away from this earth today, then “today”--not at some distant period--but immediately, on that very day we shall ascend into His presence. The death of the body is the gateway into a fuller and larger life into which the soul passes.

There will be no sluggishness nor insensibility after death. Dr. Rimmer writes: “The phenomenon of sleep is peculiar to the flesh alone. The soul, the spirit, and the mentality never sleep, and that is why we dream. In that great study that is called the psychology of dreams, it is conceded that all dreams are the result of past experience. The past experiences may be either mental or physical, but all dreams are predicated upon some past event. When the body succumbs to the influence of sleep, the spirit or soul, in which is resident the consciousness of self, goes off on the amazing peregrinations that men call dreams.” There is a remarkable power of the subconscious mind even when the body is asleep.

The martyrdom of Stephen is a strong argument in favor of the supremacy and the survival of the spiritual part of man. When they stoned Stephen to death, we read that “he fell asleep.” This could have no reference whatever to the soul, for it was his body they had pummeled with rocks. As Stephen’s body went to its death, earth was receding but Heaven’s gate approaching. He knew that he was entering into another sphere of the living. He prayed: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). This disciple of Christ did not seek to postpone death or to fight it off. His murderers held no fear for him. He remembered the words of Jesus: “Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do” (Luke 12:4). It is the assurance of immortality and eternal life that enables the servants of Jesus Christ to bear suffering, face all opposition, and die if they are called upon to do so. The scoffing and the scorning of the enemies of Christ can never cheat us out of the presence of our Lord and the place that He has prepared for us.

The Apostle Paul gives us a glimpse into his inner life in an experience that appears only once in all of his writings.

It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell, or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell; God knoweth;) How that He was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter (2 Corinthians 12:1-4).

In this singular but rich experience of Paul’s there is valuable material that bears upon our subject. So personal and sacred was this experience that Paul is reticent to tell. There is no doubt that the mighty Apostle is referring to himself, although he refers to himself in the third person. Fourteen years before the writing of this Epistle, Paul says that he was caught up into the “third heaven,” also called “paradise.” The Bible speaks of three heavens. There is the atmospheric heaven in which the birds fly, the heaven where the stars shine, and the third heaven, called paradise, where God is and where His glory is set forth. It was into the third heaven, into the presence of God, where the great apostle was taken. If we study the chronology of Paul’s journeys and labors we find that a little more than fourteen years before he wrote his Epistle to the Corinthians he was laboring at Lystra (Acts 14:19). There the Jews stoned him and dragged him outside the city supposing he had been dead. It is generally believed that his experience in paradise to which he refers took place at Lystra while he lay unconscious. He tells us that he was so enraptured by the glories that he saw in Heaven that he did not know whether or not he was there in body--“whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth.” Do not overlook the teaching here. It is possible to be fully conscious and yet be absent from the body. Such clear and unmistakable teaching as this of the Apostle Paul defies and defeats the theory of “soul-sleep.”

There are three accounts of our Lord’s raising the dead. Each time He approached the dead and spoke to him as if he were alive. To the son of the widow of Nain He said: “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise” (Luke 7:14). When Christ came to the daughter of Jairus, we are told: “He took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise” (Luke 8:54). Finally, He said to the brother of Mary and Martha: “Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:43). In each case Jesus speaks to the person as if he were alive. We can only answer that each was alive. As G. Campbell Morgan says: “The body was dead. The man was not dead. No man is ever dead when his body lies dead!” The soul of man will never enter into a state of non-existence nor unconsciousness.

In Christ’s account of the rich man and Lazarus we have the matter summed up and settled that the soul is conscious after death. Both men died and were buried. Though their bodies were in the graves, each of them was alive and conscious. The rich man in Hell could see, hear, speak, and feel (Luke 16:19-31).

Let the unsaved heed God’s warning. There is a life after death. The unsaved and the saved will be separated from each other. The lost will doubtless carry with them some memories of the past, and their retribution for rejecting Christ will be endless.

But let the believer take courage and be comforted. When we move out of this tabernacle, the real man will leave the body and enter into the presence of the Lord.

Heaven--The Home of the Redeemed

Heaven! A comforting word is this! But who among us mortal creatures can envision its blessed reality? Neither the artist’s brush, the sculptor’s chisel, nor the theologian’s exegesis can depict the things which God hath prepared for them who love Him. The wonder, the glory, and the effulgence of the home of the redeemed will be seen only through the eyes of our glorified bodies when we awake in Christ’s likeness. “Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Still we are not left alone to grope in dark ignorance. A foretaste of glory divine has been preserved for us upon the pages of God’s eternal and unerring Word.

Is it not strange that we do not take up the Bible to study more about the abode of the blessed dead who die in the Lord? Should not we ourselves become better acquainted with our future home? What a pitiable plight would be ours if the Christian’s hope of Heaven were but a hallucination! How dark would be the future if what we have been taught about Heaven were delusive and deceptive! But we can know the truth from God’s Word and we can be certain that the descriptions of the Christian’s future home are not fraudulent. Some years ago I was lured to an undesirable vacation spot by grossly exaggerated statements that spoke of refinement. Upon arriving I discovered that the town and its environment in no way tallied with the advertising. You can imagine how great was my disappointment. But the infallibility of the Holy Scriptures assures us of no disappointments in Heaven. We may be correctly informed by a careful study of what God says about it.

D. L. Moody told of an acquaintance whose only child had died. The accompanying sorrow was so great that his heart was almost broken by it. Before he suffered this loss, he had never given serious thought to life after death. Shortly after the child had been buried the friends and relatives of the man were surprised to see the deep interest he was showing in the Bible. He read it continually. When someone asked him about his sudden interest in the sacred Book, he answered that he was trying to find out something about the place where his boy had gone. He had come to the only source of satisfaction and reliable information. An instant after death the departed saint will know more about Heaven than all of the saints here on earth. But until we are called Home to be with the Lord, our knowledge is confined to what the Holy Spirit has revealed to us in the Bible.

There Is a Place Called Heaven

Some general ideas that are held about Heaven are not found in the Word of God. Because Heaven is beyond the limits of our vision many people regard it as merely a sphere of life, or a state independent of locality. But Heaven is a place. It was the dwelling place of Christ before His Incarnation. He said: “I came down from Heaven” (John 6:38). Heaven was also the place to which He ascended after His resurrection. Luke says: “While He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into Heaven” (Luke 24:51). It is the place where the glory and power of God are set forth. Jesus is there now, “Set (or seated) on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (Hebrews 8:1). Our Lord said: “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). When Jesus went away He must have gone somewhere to a place. Therefore, we are not flattering ourselves with an unfounded hope that makes dying easier but that deceives us at the last. Some scientists have concluded that because Heaven could not be found, there is no such place. But the great expanse of the Almighty God is not within the measuring lines of man. True, the astronomer has located the North Star over 400,000,000,000 miles away, but neither is that far when one reckons distance with God. We believe in the Biblical idea of Heaven as a definite, tangible place.

Where is Heaven?

The Bible mentions three heavens: the aerial, the sidereal, and the celestial. First there is the atmospheric or aerial heavens where the birds fly. This is visible to the naked eye and is mentioned by Jeremiah where he said: “The birds of the heavens have fled” (Jeremiah 4:25). Next, there are the stellar or sidereal heavens from which shine the stars and constellations. Isaiah speaks of the Day of the Lord when “the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light” (Isaiah 13:10). Finally, there is the third Heaven, the celestial or “the Heaven of heavens” (2 Chronicles 6:18). “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are figures of the true; but into Heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24). Jesus said “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Here our Lord was referring to the third Heaven, and He says the Father is there. When the believer dies he is “absent from the body, and present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). He enters immediately into Heaven itself and is at home with the Lord.

But do we know the location of the third Heaven (called Paradise) where God, Christ, the unfallen angels, and the disembodied spirits of the believing dead are? In other words, exactly where is Heaven? If this question were asked of a small child, the answer doubtless would come back in the form of a finger pointing up, and perhaps the accompanying words, “Up there.” Heaven to almost everyone is “up.” Karl G. Sabiers asks: “Which way is ‘up’? If we say it is in the direction at right angles with the earth’s surface wherever we may happen to be, then it would be in a different direction from every point on earth. From North America and from China it would be in exactly the opposite directions. According to this, ‘up’ would be everywhere in general and nowhere in particular.” When Satan rebelled against God, he said: “I will ascend into Heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; and I will set upon the mount of congregation in the uttermost parts of the north” (Isaiah 14:13 R.V.). No matter on what part of the earth one is standing, north will always be “up.” When the prophet Ezekiel got his vision from the Lord, he wrote: “And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north” (Ezekiel 1:4). It would seem reasonable to conclude that Heaven is somewhere in the northern heavens beyond the reach of the astronomer’s powerful telescope.

Christians Are Citizens of Heaven

“For our citizenship is in Heaven, whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20 R.V.). When Paul wrote this Epistle, Philippi was a Greek city but a colony of Rome, her citizens possessing Roman citizenship. The commonwealth of which the saints in Philippi were citizens had its fixed location in Rome. The Apostle Paul used this fact to illustrate to the believers their heavenly citizenship with its privileges and responsibilities. They were a heavenly people with a heavenly citizenship. Though they dwelt on earth, the commonwealth and the Sovereign of which the saints were citizens and subjects had its fixed location in Heaven. What was true of the saints at Philippi then is true of all believers. We were born from above. Ours is a heavenly destiny, and we are to live heavenly lives while we sojourn in a foreign land. As a heavenly people it is our privilege and responsibility to live a heavenly life on earth.

The Apostle Peter wrote: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). As strangers and pilgrims we are living in a temporary dwelling beside natives of a foreign land. Jesus Christ is our Sovereign. One day He will come back for us and take us to our native Home, changing our bodies of humiliation like to the body of His glory. The curse of sin has humiliated these physical bodies of ours, but we are to abstain from fleshly lusts and live the same holy life here that we would were we at home in our native land. The Christian has a temporary home in a territory ruled by Satan, but he is not to subject himself to the god of this world. We must remain true to our Sovereign, “considering the High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus,” for we have become “partakers of the heavenly calling” (Hebrews 3:1).

Is the Present Heaven
the Final Abode of the Saints?

There are several verses of Scripture that have confused not a few students of the Bible on this question. The following verses have led some to believe that the earth and the heavens that now are will one day be annihilated.

Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed (Psalm 102:25, 26).

And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree (Isaiah 34:4).

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Peter 3:10-13).

And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever (1 John 2:17).

And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them (Revelation 20:11).

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea (Revelation 21:1).

From these inspired statements of Peter and John some have adopted the view that the present abode of the righteous dead is to be burned up, reduced to ashes, and an entirely new dwelling place created for all of the saved. The writer finds difficulty in reconciling this teaching with other Scriptures. The Psalmist testified: “Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: Thou hast established the earth, and it abideth” (Psalm 119:90). It is written: “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever” (Ecclesiastes 1:4). Here the teaching appears to be that the creation of God will not be annihilated, for He has said that it abides forever. How, then, are we to understand this seeming contradiction? How can Heaven and earth be destroyed and yet abide forever?

After the Millennium and the final judgment of Satan the heavens and the earth will be thoroughly purged by fire. This does not mean that the old heavens and the old earth are to be completely consumed and reduced to ashes. Neither is there any indication that the new heaven and the new earth are to be entirely new planets. The old world probably will be destroyed by fire in the same sense that God destroyed it with water in Noah’s day. “Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished” (2 Peter 3:6). The world of Noah’s day was not annihilated. Geologists agree to the fact that the present world shows evidence of being visited by a flood between five and six thousand years ago. When we read in Scripture that unbelievers shall “perish” (Luke 13:3, 5, 35), and be “destroyed” (Leviticus 23:30; Matthew 10:28), there is no thought of their being annihilated; for we have seen in two previous chapters how that both soul and body will exist in endless consciousness. But we do see an instructive parallel between the judgment of earth by fire and the judgment of the lost by fire. Both are said to be “destroyed.” Yet neither will be annihilated. We encounter no problem here when we think how the primitive earth which was made void by Satan (Genesis 1:2) was restored again by God and made new in the time of Adam and Eve.

It appears that the great conflagration, the flames and the melting, suggest the idea of purifying. There will be a new creation just as each believer who is born again is said to be a new creation. “Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature (or a new creation): the old things are passed away: behold, they are becoming new” (2 Corinthians 5:17 R.V.). He is “created in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:10). The new birth does not render inactive or annihilate the old nature. The child of God becomes a partaker of the New Nature which is divine, and all stain is purged by the Blood of Christ. Just exactly how God will bring to pass the purifying of the old heavens and the earth and make them new we do not know. But we are certain that they will pass through a molten ball of fire, and will come forth from that baptism of judicial fire clean and holy. Every strain of sin, every evidence of evil will be wiped out in that day.

We question the idea of the third Heaven being burned, for no purging or purifying is needed there. However, at the end of the day of the Lord, the earth and the heavens that surround it along with all the works of man, will be consumed even as fire purifies gold. Then shall we have “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1)--not new in the sense of just coming into existence, but new in its renovation, transformation, and fixtures.

Our Home Over There

When our Lord was here upon earth, He said to His disciples: “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). He was thinking of His Death, Resurrection, and Ascension into Heaven itself in the presence of the Father. The dwelling of God always has been a stately abode. Jesus describes it as a place of “many mansions,” one Heaven divided into many rooms. The desire of the heavenly Bridegroom is to make a room for each of His redeemed ones. This He has been doing, and it was the unique privilege of the Apostle John to get a glimpse of the final abode of the righteous. Since we have a divine revelation of our heavenly Home presented to us by the Holy Spirit, we are assured of the accuracy of every description that He has given.

John says: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth . . . the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:1, 2). We are being introduced here to a place of absolute perfection and of eternal immutability, the home of the saved of all ages. It is called “the holy city” (Revelation 21:2; 22:19), for in it every person and every thing will echo the glory and the holiness of God. All powers of evil and all unbelievers will have been cast into the lake of fire forever. This means that every possibility of sin will have been expelled. When Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for us, it would be just such a place as this that one would expect the holy Son of God the divine Architect, to build. No mere mortal hands could be employed in the construction of the Holy City. It must be of heavenly origin and construction.

The fellowship in Heaven will surpass anything that we have known on earth. Up there “God is with men; He will dwell with them, and God Himself shall be with them.” We shall enter into a fellowship with the triune God that is utterly unknown on earth. Men dwelling with “God Himself!” Could anything be higher and more glorious? Then we will know the blessed reality of the words of Christ, where He said: “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). In addition to having fellowship with “God Himself,” Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we will commune with the “innumerable company of angels, the general assembly and church of the firstborn, and to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:22-24). What a fellowship! What a joy divine!

Heaven will bring permanent relief from all of the ills of earth. It is written of the redeemed that in Heaven “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” I have dried the tears of my own children many times, but I have discovered my inability to stop the tears. When I feel that I have succeeded, I find that more tears begin to flow. The fountain of grief has been flowing perennially on earth since the dawn of the human race, and every earthly power has been limited in binding up broken hearts and assuaging the sorrows of man. But God is able. And how our hearts yearn for that glad occasion when the loving and almighty hand of our heavenly Father shall wipe away, once for all, every tear. The tears that flow from “sorrow,” “crying,” and “pain” shall be dried forever, for these things are not known in the land of pure delight. Earth’s grief is forever gone and along with it is the extirpation of every cause.

In Heaven there will be “no more death.” One cannot read the newspaper at home or walk the city streets without seeing our common enemy death. The hearse, the crepe, the undertaker, the graveyard, and the stonecutter all seek to remind us that we are on the waiting list for death and the grave. But believe along with me the divine record that God has arranged a time when death itself shall die. Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

Heaven is revealed as a place of activity. John saw how that in the New Jerusalem “His servants shall serve Him” (Revelation 22:3). While it is true that Heaven is a place of rest, “a rest for the people of God,” it will not be the rest of inactivity or idleness. We will not merely lounge within the pearly gates to gaze forever on the eternal beauty of our heavenly home. It is not the unwarranted view inscribed on a grave: “Don’t weep for me now, don’t weep for me ever; For I’m going to do nothing forever and ever.”

Heaven would soon become monotonous if such were true. The saints “shall serve Him day and night in His temple” (Revelation 7:15), says John. When the Bible records the work of God in creation, it says: “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all the work which He had made” (Genesis 2:2). Does this mean that God has been inactive and idle since creation? Most assuredly not! Jesus said: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17). By no means does the “rest” of the redeemed mean idleness. In Heaven we shall serve Him unhampered by earth’s enemies and limitations, without painful stress and strain and sweat. “And what will we be doing?” someone asks. David said: “In Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11). For one thing, we will enjoy to the full our blessed relationship with God. On earth we are hampered by so many things. The Apostle John realized that believers were enjoying merely a measure of that which God had for them. He wrote: “These things write we unto you, that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:4). In Heaven the joys and pleasures of our union with Jesus Christ will be appreciated and apprehended to the full, unhindered by the disturbing and distracting things on earth.

In Revelation 4:10-11 we are clearly shown that in Heaven, we will worship our Lord and cast our crowns before His throne. On earth He is not worshipped and adored as He should be. Our so-called worship is sometimes no worship at all. How often we have gone through the motions when our hearts were not right! We enthrone self and steal the crowns to the boast of what we have done. But yonder in the land of pure delight, in our glorified state, we shall give Him our all. How these thoughts of our future home and its varied spheres of activity should encourage us to more zealous and diligent service during earth’s pilgrimage! There is much about our heavenly activity that we do not know in detail now, but in that day we shall know even as we are known. But we know that we shall be engaged with Him who has redeemed us and brought us to our eternal dwelling place.

Babies in Heaven?

Jesus said:

At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:1-4).

Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish (Matthew 18:14).

But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for such is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:14).

Many able and well-known Bible scholars have held the view that in Heaven there will be more occupants than in Hell. They base their belief on the fact that so many countless millions of children have died before reaching the age of accountability. It seems hardly possible that one of these little ones should ever be lost. Certainly they are not saved, that is, by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 16:31). But it seems Scriptural and reasonable to conclude that all children who are not able to decide this issue for themselves are divinely safe.

Christian parents should, by daily prayer, the reading of the Scriptures, church attendance, and an exemplary life seek to lead their children who have arrived at an age of accountability to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. The thought of my being in Heaven while my children are lost in Hell would make me tremble. Let us make our first aim and duty the salvation of our children so that in Heaven the family circle will be unbroken.

Shall We Know
Each Other in Heaven?

The profoundness of the subject of this paper demands reverence and humility. We approach it with just that spirit and pray that God will illumine our hearts and minds, thus preserving us from wild and fanciful conjectures and reckless assertions that are without foundation. We feel about this subject as Robert G. Lee, a great preacher of the South, must have felt when he said: “I believe in recognition in Heaven as surely as I believe there is a God. If consciousness, character, love, memory, fellowship, are in that life, why should there be any question about it? May God help me for your sakes to take the doctrine of Heavenly Recognition out of the region of surmise and speculation into the region of absolute certainty.”

Man is the acme of God’s creation, the crown of all that our heavenly Father has brought into existence by His own mighty power. The remarkable strides that men have made in scientific research, in industrial progress, in agricultural development, and in the civilization and evangelization of the peoples of the world are an indication of the treasures of genius which God has put at man’s disposal. Is it reasonable to believe “that He might lead it towards one place--a black hole in the ground where it could bury its intellect and memory and imagination and prayer in the depths with the leaf and the worm?” The answer is “No.” If death means the utter forgetfulness of God-given gifts and of earthly friends and loved ones in the Lord, then this aching emptiness in our hearts never shall be satisfied, and the undying memory of departed loved ones will never be anything more than just a buried hope.

The Desire of All Nations

From time immemorial men have held to the doctrine of recognition in the future life. Like an unbroken thread in human history, there has been a deep conviction in man’s spirit that the purpose of being created could not be fulfilled in his short-lived visit in this life.

The ancient Athenian philosopher Socrates could say that since “death conveys us to those regions which are inhabited by the spirits of departed men, will it not be unspeakably happy to escape from the hands of mere nominal judges? Is it possible for you to look upon this as an unimportant journey? Is it nothing to converse with Orpheus, and Homer, and Hesiod? Believe me, I could cheerfully suffer many a death on condition of realizing such a privilege. With what pleasure could I leave the world, to hold communion with Palamedes, Ajax, and others!”

Cicero wrote: “For my own part, I feel myself transported with the most ardent impatience to join the society of my two departed friends. O, glorious day! when I shall retire from this slow and sordid scene, to assemble with the divine congregation of departed spirits; and not with those only whom I have just mentioned, but with my dear Cato, that best of sons and most valuable of men! . . . If I seemed to bear his death with fortitude, it was by no means that I did not most sensibly feel the loss I had sustained: It was because I supported myself with the consoling reflection that we could not long be separated.”

Untaught savage kings in some part of the world believed that they could send secret messages to departed friends by whispering the message in the ear of one of their subjects and then immediately cutting off his head. It is reported that in some savage tribes, when a king died, hundreds of his subjects willingly submitted to death in order that their king might be better served in the spirit world. Even our American Indians, in some places, believed that when the tribal chief died, it was proper to slay his wife and other close associates in order that he might retain his dignity and be assisted by the same servants in the future life.

The belief in recognition and reunion in the afterlife is a universal one. It prevailed among cultured philosophers and poets, among untutored pagans, and it is voiced by the peoples of the world in our own day. The universal, instinctive belief is that we shall know each other in the future life. Someone has expressed the yearning of his heart in the following verse:

When the holy angels meet us
As we join their happy band,
We shall know the friends that greet us
In that glorious spirit-land.
We shall see the same eyes shining
On us as in days of yore.
We shall feel the dear arms twining
Fondly, round us as before.
Author unknown.

The Hymns of the Church

For many years the Christian Church has been singing hymns that express positively the belief that heavenly recognition is a blessed assurance.

Oh, how sweet it will be in that beautiful land,
So free from all sorrow and pain,
With songs on our lips and with harps in our hands,
To meet one another again,
To meet one another again,
With songs on our lips and with harps in our hands,
To meet one another again.

I’ll soon be at home over there,
For the end of my journey I see;
Many dear to my heart, over there,
Are watching and waiting for me.
Over there, over there,
I’ll soon be at home over there,
Over there, over there, over there,
I’ll soon be at home over there.

There’s a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith we can see it afar;
For the Father waits over the way,
To prepare us a dwelling-place there.
In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore;
In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore.

Oh, the dear ones in glory, how they beckon me to come,
And our parting at the river I recall;
To the sweet vales of Eden they will sing my welcome home,
But I long to meet my Saviour first of all.

Friends will be there I have loved long ago;
Joy like a river around me will flow;
Yet, just a smile from my Saviour, I know,
Will thro’ the ages be glory for me.

My loved ones in the Homeland
Are waiting me to come
Where neither death nor sorrow
Invades their holy home.

Heavenly Recognition in the Old Testament

An encouraging oft-repeated refrain in the Old Testament substantiates the doctrine of Heavenly Recognition:

Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people (Genesis 25:8).

And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years: and he gave up the ghost and died; and was gathered unto his people (Genesis 25:17).

And Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people, being old and full of days: and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him (Genesis 35:29).

And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people (Genesis 49:33).

Aaron shall be gathered unto his people; for he shall not enter into the land which I have given unto the children of Israel, because ye rebelled against my word at the waters of Meribah (Numbers 20:24).

And the Lord said unto Moses, Get thee up into this mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given unto the children of Israel. And when thou hast seen it, thou also shalt be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother was gathered (Numbers 27:12, 13).

When Abraham died, he was buried in a cave at Machpelah in the land of his sojourn. He purchased the field himself for a possession to be certain of a burying place at death, but it was not the sepulchre of his ancestors. Therefore, the language of the Scripture does not mean that his body was gathered to the place of his forefathers, for some of them had died and were buried back in Ur of the Chaldees. Notice also that Abraham was gathered to his people before his body was buried, for it was after he was gathered to his people (verse 8) that his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah (verse 29). The same is true also of Moses who was gathered to his people, but whose body was buried in a valley in Moab, and “no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day” (Deuteronomy34:6). As we study the lives of other Old Testament characters of whom it was said that they were gathered unto their people, we will find that it meant more than merely being buried with them. They were gathered to their loved ones in the abode of departed spirits with not one moment’s solitude between their memories on earth and their joining them in Heaven. A blessed recognition! A hallowed reunion!

The attitude of David at the death of his child shows that Israel’s King believed in Heavenly Recognition. He had fasted and wept in the hope that God would be gracious to him and allow the child to live. But when final word was received that he was dead, David ate food, wiped the tears away from his eyes, and found comfort in a hope that he expressed in the words: “I shall go to him” (2 Samuel 12:23). Would there be any comfort for David if he had to go to his child whom he would not know? What would the blind get out of going to behold a sunset? What would the deaf get out of going to hear music?

May we say here that we do not believe there will be infants in Heaven as such. There will be no deformed, deficient, nor decrepit bodies in Heaven. There will be no old age or infancy in the home of the blessed. We have stated in the previous chapter that no infant who dies will be lost and sent to Hell. However they will not appear in their resurrected bodies as infants, for, as Dr. West has said: “Infancy is an immature stage and an imperfect state of existence. Adam and Eve were not infants when made, but adults.” What a tragedy if weak and helpless infants are doomed to an eternal state of weakness and infirmity! We encounter no problem here in a parent recognizing its child in Heaven. When we think of Christian mothers who have died giving birth to a child, and the child growing to full maturity and becoming a Christian, we still believe that the mother shall recognize her son or daughter even though her last view of the child was in its infancy.

Heavenly Recognition
in the New Testament

The scene on the Mount of Transfiguration is generally accepted as strong evidence of Heavenly Recognition. After death the spirit is clothed with a spirit body that is recognizable. This fact was in evidence when Jesus took Peter, James, and John up into the Holy Mount. As Heaven shone forth in celestial effulgence, there appeared before Christ and His disciples Moses and Elijah. These two Old Testament saints did not appear as angels or ghosts, but, Luke says: “There talked with Him two men, which were Moses and Elias” (Luke 9:30). Not only were Moses and Elijah recognizable by our Lord, but they were known to the disciples also. Peter certainly knew them, for he said: “Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles: one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias” (verse 33). When we recall how the disciples with earthly, limited vision could recognize the two saints from Heaven, certainly when we arrive there in our glorified bodies and with heavenly vision, we will be able to recognize those with whom we associated on earth.

When the rich man died and went to Hell, “he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:23). Here is a case that proves both recognition and remembrance in the future life. If, in the abode of the lost with its limitations of spiritual wisdom and perception, there is feeling for and recognition of loved ones, how much greater will be the affinity and knowledge of our loved ones in the eternal Home of the redeemed where cognizance is not limited!

Heaven is revealed as a social place, where enjoyment and fellowship are set forth under the figure of a feast. Jesus said: “And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11). Assuredly, the patriarchs and prophets knew each other at this holy festival, and so will the saved from every quarter of the earth.

The Apostle Paul believed and taught that Heaven was a place of mutual recognition for the children of God. In his first Epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote: “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For ye are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19, 20). There is no mistaking what Paul had in mind. He fully expected to meet the converts from Thessalonica in Heaven, and furthermore, he looked forward to being able to distinguish them from others who had found Christ during the years of his ministry. By the Holy Spirit, Paul taught also that those who were saved under his teaching and preaching would know him. He says, “As also ye have acknowledged us in part, that we are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus” (2 Corinthians 1:14). Elsewhere Paul speaks of “the whole family in heaven and earth” (Ephesians 3:15). Heaven is our home, and all who go there are one family with God as their Father. How sad if we had to live throughout eternity as strangers! It would not be home.

But we take courage and press on hopefully, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Today our knowledge is confined to the revelation that God has given us, and how we do praise Him for that marvelous revelation in His Word! But in that day--“face to face!” O blessed hope! Face to face with family and friends whom we have loved and long since lost awhile. But more wonderful still we shall see Him as He is, “face to face.”

Face to face! O blissful moment!
Face to face--to see and know;
Face to face with my Redeemer
Jesus Christ Who loves me so.

1 T. L. Cuyler

2 The use of this illustration was suggested by Dr. H.A. Ironside in “Death and Afterwards.”

3 Philippians in the Greek New Testament.

4 R. C. H. Lenski

5 See an excellent book on the subject, entitled “The Bible: Its Hell and Its Ages,” by T. J. McCrossan, Seattle, Washington.

Related Topics: Eschatology (Things to Come)

Biblical Prophecy

Related Media

1. 70 weeks of Daniel – A prophecy map

    Daniel reveals 70 “weeks” (70 x 7 = 490 years) of time from his day until God completes His plan for the Jews (Daniel 9:24-27). The events of the 1st 69 “weeks” (483 years) ended at Christ’s triumphal entry. Since the Jews rejected Christ, a gap occurred between the 69th and 70th week. This “church-age” gap is now almost 2,000 years. The final week (7 years, Daniel 9:26b, 27) will yet be fulfilled when God resumes His plan for Israel and judges the world (The 7-year Tribulation).

2. The Rapture

    Definition: Christ returns in the air to take believers to heaven at the end of the church age and before the Tribulation (living and dead believers are given new bodies).

    Key Passages: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; Revelation 3:10

3. The Tribulation

    Definition: The Tribulation is a 7-year time of unequaled war and supernatural disaster during which the Antichrist asserts himself as the world ruler and God resumes His plan of bringing many Jews to salvation.

    Key Passages: Daniel 9:26b, 27; 11:36-45; 12:9-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3; 2 Thessalonians :1-12; Matthew 24, 25; Ezekiel 38, 39; Revelation 4-18

4. Second Coming of Christ

    Definition: Christ returns to the earth, ending the Tribulation. He comes to judge the Antichrist and the world, and to rescue the many Jews who turn to Christ as Messiah.

    Key Passages: Zechariah 12, 14:1-15; Matthew 14:29-31; 2 Thessalonians 2:8; Revelation 19:11-21

5. The Millennium

    Definition: The Millennium is the 1,000 year period on earth following the Tribulation in which Christ rules and the Old Testament promises to Israel are fulfilled. At the end Satan is loosed to rebel once more (Revelation 20:7-9). He is judged, and then all unbelievers are finally judged (Great White Throne – Revelation 20:10-15).

    Key Passages: Old Testament prophecies of the kingdom (Isaiah 60-66 etc.) Revelation 20

6. The Eternal State

    Definition: The eternal condition of all believers as they enjoy the new heavens and new earth.

    Key Passages: Revelation 21:1-22:5

Further Reading:

    Leon J. Wood, The Bible and Future Events. Zondervan. 1973

Related Topics: Prophecy/Revelation

Bible Prophecy

Related Media

The Importance of Bible Prophecy

Does God have a plan which includes the earth and the human race? If so, can man know it? The answer is an emphatic, Yes! God does have a plan, and that plan is clearly outlined in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Man can know God’s plan clearly if only he will come to the Bible and submit his mind and heart to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

A very striking and strange condition exists at present, namely, the deliberate refusal on the part of religious and political leaders to consult carefully the prophetic Scriptures. True, there have been cranks, blind fanatics, hobby-riders and unwise date-setters posing as prophetic teachers, but all of these unscholarly obscurantists put together do not afford any man a legitimate excuse for not studying the divine plan as it is plainly set forth in the Bible.

God Has a Plan

Before ever the Bible was given to man, God had a plan, and we must remember that it is to that foreordained plan that He is working.

The Prophet Isaiah wrote by divine inspiration:

Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it. Hearken unto me, ye stouthearted, that are far from righteousness: I bring near my righteousness; it shall not be far off, and my salvation shall not tarry: and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory (Isaiah 46:9-13)

Here is a tremendous statement. Nowhere in the writings of mortal man can anything like it be found. The claims are supernatural, and therefore, they can apply to none other than God Himself. Here He declares Himself to be the self-existent, eternal, sovereign, uncreated One, “declaring the end from the beginning.”

Where has God declared the end from the beginning? He has told it clearly on the pages of the Holy Scriptures. Holy men of God, guided by the Holy Spirit, wrote of great world events centuries before they were to come to pass. Since it is inherent in the heart of man to know the future, why should he not examine the prophetic Scriptures with an unbiased mind? The magicians, sorcerers, astrologers, diviners, enchanters and necromancers have all failed to predict accurately things of the future. Even today there are multiplied thousands who pay money to listen to palm readers, teacup readers and fortune telling by varied methods, all because of a deep desire to know the future. I believe that such a desire is present in man because he has a future. The nations of the earth have a future, and God has a plan for the future.

No course of study on the principles of Biblical interpretation could be complete if prophecy were omitted. Prophecy constitutes a large part of the sacred Scriptures, therefore to neglect it or, as some have done, to utter a boasted contempt for the subject of prophecy, is to cast dishonor upon divine revelation. Moreover, if the prophecies were not in the Bible, the remainder of the Book would be meaningless.

The first ray of light and hope to come to the world immediately after the fall of man was the promise of a Redeemer (Genesis 3:15). This first prediction is the pivotal prophecy of the entire Word of God.

Enoch, the seventh from Adam, preached prophecy concerning the Lord’s coming to execute judgment upon the ungodly (Jude 14, 15).

The Passover in Exodus was, in a sense, a prophecy in type of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, for, said Paul: “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” (Exodus 12 cf. I Corinthians 5:7, 8).

Moses received a great prophecy from God concerning the Messiah, the greatest of prophets (Deuteronomy 18:15-18), to which Peter gave assent after Pentecost (Acts 3:22, 23). Other pivotal chapters in Deuteronomy, taking prophecy as a whole, are 28, 29, 30.

Many of the Psalms are prophetic in nature. In Psalms 16, 22 and 40 Messiah’s sufferings are depicted. In Psalms 2, 45, 72 and 110 His glory is described.

Add to these the prophetic books, and you will see clearly that the prophetic Scriptures make up a substantial portion of the sixty-six books that constitute the Bible.

The Key of Prophecy

Begin with Moses and go on through all the prophetic writings, and you will discover that Christ is the grand theme of the Bible. He said: “Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me” (John 5:46). If we deny Him of whom Moses wrote then Moses, by inspiration, becomes our accuser.

To Adam and Eve Christ was promised as the Seed who would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15).

To Abraham God had said that in Christ all nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 22:18 cf. Galatians 3:14-16).

To Israel the Paschal Lamb foreshadowed the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world (Exodus 12 cf. John 1:29; I Corinthians 5:7).

To Israel in the wilderness the serpent of brass lifted upon a pole (Numbers 21:8, 9) typified the lifting up of Christ upon the cross (John 3:14).

Balaam’s prophecy of the Star that would come forth out of Jacob (Numbers 24:17) was none other than our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 2:2; Revelation 22:16).

Christ was also the smitten Rock (Numbers 20:11 cf. I Corinthians 10:4) and the greater Prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15).

When Philip first met Jesus Christ he ran to Nathanael, and said: “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth . . . ” (John 1 :45).

The closing words of the Bible declare that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). This is but saying that the testimony of Jesus is the “key” to prophecy. “His name is called The Word of God” (19:13), hence the spirit of the Word is not that of confusion, but rather of harmony and unity, all pointing to the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever else the prophets predicted, they did not omit the details of Messiah’s two advents. Prophecy relates primarily to the world’s Redeemer. If you fail to grasp this great truth you have lost the key to a clear understanding of the prophetic Scriptures. Christ is its great theme. All prophecy is to find its final application and fulfillment in the past sufferings, present sufficiency and future sovereignty of the Lord Jesus. Christ is above all in prophecy. Bible prophecies, Bible analogies and Bible types, are so closely related to Jesus Christ that He alone explains them.

The Value of Bible Prophecy

That there has been opposition, both aggressive and passive, to the study and teaching of prophecy, is well-known to anyone who is acquainted with current religious thought. This attitude is not without justification in the minds of some. There are those, whose sincerity I have no right to question, who fear the unfavorable repercussions that could accrue from the preaching and teaching of prophetic themes. On one occasion, upon the announcement that I intended to preach such a series, a dear brother in Christ cautioned me to “go easy.” He was not opposed to my delivering these discourses, but he was a bit apprehensive, and his reasons for being so were valid.

Having had some experience with date-setters and fanatics who have made startling and sensational predictions in order to get crowds, I can understand my friend’s kind words of caution, “go easy.” I believed him to be in earnest in his endeavor to save the Christian message from being dragged into disrepute.

In spite of all the fanatics, and foolish and false teachers, no legitimate reason can be offered for anyone refusing to study the prophetic Scriptures. Nor should Bible prophecy be shunned merely because the teachings of some sincere Christians have been discredited. A textbook on science used in the college classroom five years ago, and for which one paid five dollars, can now be purchased in a used book store for ten cents. Even though that book is now obsolete and some of its contents rejected, we would not disregard nor dispute all the findings of modern science. In my own library there are more than one hundred books on prophetic subjects written by as many different writers, and while in some details there may be divergence and difference of opinion, there is a remarkable degree of unanimity regarding the major points of eschatology.

Another reason for shunning prophecy is the ignorance of many concerning it. With the exception of some who have had contact with evangelical Bible conferences, Bible institutes, and some theological seminaries, the preaching of Bible prophecy is generally met with disfavor and opposition. I believe it can be said, without fear of contradiction, that those who reject it know little or nothing about it. What a sad commentary on our church leaders, seminary leaders and pastors!

Then, too, it is difficult for many to give ear to the prophetic Scriptures because the prophecies of the Bible shatter the illusion that religion, science, psychology, or philosophy can bring to pass universal peace and the subjugation of evil. Scriptures teach, rather, that the very things in which man is placing his hope must be utterly destroyed and stripped of all the dignity and merit he has attached to them. The human heart is by nature proud and will not readily admit that its confidence is misplaced. How many professing Christians, yes, and real believers also, have made idols of church organization, a denomination, personal achievements, only to be faced with the declaration of God’s own Word that all of these things must perish!

Having examined a few of the many objections to the study of Biblical prophecy, let us list some reasons why we should pursue such a study.

To Know the Mind of God

Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets (Amos 3:7).

This verse tells us that the prophets themselves are inspired of God, a truth that is supported by the New Testament, for we read,

God . . . spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets (Hebrews 1:1).

Before the message of the prophets, we must bow humbly if we desire to know God’s secret concerning things to come. The eternal and omniscient God assures His people that much of that which He intends to do He has told His prophets. If the prophet warns of coming judgment, wars, perilous times, famine and the like, it is not because he is a calamity howler, but rather the announcer of that which God has told him will come to pass. Why blame the prophet for speaking as he does? Why shun what he says merely because he has predicted peril before peace, and poverty before plenty? It is God who has spoken! When we study the prophets we are studying the movements of God. The prophet must obey God no matter how the people react to his message. All of the true prophets prophesied because they were compelled by divine constraint to do so.

For Light in a Dark World

Ever since the development and use of the atomic bomb, men in all walks of life--statesmen, scientists, historians, politicians and industrialists--are asking, in effect: “Where are we going? What next? When will the end come?” Many books written since the first explosion of an atomic bomb, including Time for Decision, Persuade or Perish, The Annihilation of Man, and No Place to Hide, indicate man’s uncertainty and concern about the future.

The New Testament tells us clearly that the prophetic Scriptures are essential if man is to have light on the pathway of the future. Look at the statement from the inspired pen of Peter,

We have also a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts (II Peter 1:19).

The Apostle had just related what he had seen and heard while on the Mount of Transfiguration (vss. 16-18). There was both a vision and a voice from heaven, testifying of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Peter says that we have the prophetic Word as a surer confirmation of God’s plans than what he himself saw and heard on the Mount. The Old Testament prophecies are stable and trustworthy. Our age is distressed, exhausted and fearful of what the future holds. The one bright and cheering lamp for the world’s darkness is the prophetic Word. How foolish we are to neglect the only ray of light that can afford much knowledge relative to God’s plan for the future!

For Comfort and Hope

Dr. Wilbur M. Smith suggests that there are three different attitudes one may take toward the future. The first is indifference, the second is fear and the third is hope. No intelligent person would take the first, no one needs to be ensnared in the second, but all can possess the third. There is comfort and hope for all believers who love and study the Bible. Paul wrote,

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope (Romans 15:4).

What is said here to be true of the Bible in general is, of course, true of the prophetic Scriptures.

One of the strongest fears which drive many to despair is the fear of the future. Most persons simply cannot have peace of mind unless they have a measure of certainty of what the next day will bring forth. Of this no man can be absolutely sure; and the awful dread of uncertainty robs the average person of peace of mind which may in turn create a spirit of despair and hopelessness. While the heart of the hopeless and fearful man is failing him, the Christian with an understanding of Bible prophecy can face the future with confidence and comfort.

The Two Advents of Christ

All Christians who read and study the Bible believe in the coming again of Jesus Christ. I would not say that all Christians are in agreement as to the details of His coming. However, the fact of it is as unquestionable as is the historical proof of His first appearing. That the Lord Jesus Christ will return to earth a second time in the full power and glory of His Deity is a major theme of scriptural revelation.

The importance that God Himself attributes to the doctrine of the return of Christ in Scripture is in itself significant. Many of the prophecies in the Old Testament, pertaining to Jesus Christ, have to do with His appearing on earth in glory and majesty to reign. Someone has counted 319 verses in the New Testament which are devoted to the return of Christ. This means that one out of every twenty-five verses in the New Testament is related to this major doctrine.

The First Prophecy

Almost all evangelical scholars are in agreement that the first overt prophecy which has to do with Christ and His redemptive work is Genesis 3:15:

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

We shall not attempt a full exposition of this verse. Actually it is not one single prophecy, but a compound prophecy. It is the fountainhead of all prophecy from which flows the ever-increasing stream of testimony to the promised Deliverer. One great promise respecting the Redeemer is that He should be of the human race, but peculiarly of the woman’s “seed,” not the man’s. To fulfill this promise, Jesus Christ cannot, therefore, be begotten by any man. He must be born of a virgin. This is precisely what Isaiah prophesied more than 3000 years after the promise was first given:

Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).

In spite of atheistic denials and rationalistic evasions, this verse is a direct prophecy of the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus Christ and supports Genesis 3:15. This fact is settled in view of the quotation of Isaiah’s prophecy in the New Testament:

Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us (Matthew 1:22, 23).

And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore, also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God (Luke 1:31-35).

These passages prove that the birth of Christ is the only possible fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in support of God’s words to Satan in Genesis 3:15. Thus:

When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman (Galatians 4:4).

This verse attests the real humanity of Jesus Christ and declares the method and manner by which the eternal Son became Incarnate. By escaping the natural processes of ordinary generation, and being conceived in the Virgin’s womb by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, He remained free from the sin that affected the whole human race consequent to the fall of Adam and Eve. Paul is not here presenting a case for the virgin birth, but his subject matter is vital nevertheless. If Christ was born of a human father, He was then like the rest of the human race, full of sin; but we know that He had no human Father.

What we now desire to emphasize in the Edenic prophecy in Genesis 3:15 is that Christ shall bruise Satan’s head.

It (He) shall bruise thy head.

We have already stated that this verse contains a compound prophecy combining both the first and second appearances of Christ on earth. When Jehovah said to the serpent, “l will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed,” He was announcing an age-long warfare that was to culminate in the final overthrow of Satan. The first appearance of the woman’s seed was to result in his being bruised, but not in a vulnerable spot. Jehovah said to Satan, “Thou shalt bruise his heel.” On the cross “He was bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:6). “It pleased Jehovah to bruise Him” (Isaiah 53:10). Christ appeared the first time to complete the redemptive program (Hebrews 9:26), but He must appear again to complete the final overthrow of Satan and establish the kingdom program.

A bruised heel can be healed, but at the same time a crushed head spells utter defeat, a destruction from which there is no recovery. Our Lord rose again from the dead and is presently in heaven at the Father’s right hand awaiting that moment in the divine program when He will return to the earth and terminate the conflict. The Apostle Paul wrote:

And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen (Romans 16:20).

Satan’s efforts against the saints will continue until Christ comes again, at which time the woman’s seed will bruise him. While Paul’s statement refers to Satan’s opposition against the saints in Rome, there is doubtless an allusion to the prophecy in Genesis 3:15. The word “shortly” (Gr. en tachei) may mean “quickly, speedily” as in Revelation 1:1; 22:6; thus, Satan’s overthrow will be accomplished by Christ with rapidity, in a sudden manner. When the seventy disciples returned from their mission, rejoicing in the power of Christ over demons, Jesus said,

I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven (Luke 10:18).

This is Satan’s history from beginning to end. He had a swift fall from his angelic position as Lucifer, and his final fall into hell will be with equal suddenness when Christ comes again. The origin and destiny of Satan are each marked by a fall, both of which are recorded in one comprehensive passage:

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer . . . Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell . . . (Isaiah 14:12-15).

A Principle of Bible Study

Whoever reads the Bible for the first time cannot escape the mental confusion that is bound to come to one who has not been taught to distinguish between things that differ. Certain subjects and topics in the Bible may look alike or have certain similarities, yet be vastly different. The inability to put divine truths in their proper places, and to apply them to the people addressed, results in a tragic misunderstanding of the Bible. The divinely given method of the study of the Scriptures is suggested in the following verse:

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (II Timothy 2:15).

The obligation of every minister of Christ is to meet the specifications required of him by God. He must cut straight and handle rightly the Word of God. An approved workman will plow straight, he will give a straightforward exegesis.

First, it is needful that we distinguish between those Scriptures which apply immediately to the Jew, to the Gentile, or to the Church of God:

Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles nor to the church of God (I Corinthians 10:32).

Since the Bible has a message to all three, we must conclude that “all the Bible is for us, but not all the Bible is about us.” The Jew, the Gentile and the Church, each having its peculiar relationship to God and its own pathway of prophecy, must be distinguished the one from the other.

Second, it is essential that we distinguish between law, grace and the Kingdom. Each is a different dispensation characterized by contrasting principles. In point of time the first is past, the second is present and the third is future. Our Lord Jesus Christ has a direct bearing on each.

For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:17).

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth (Romans 10:4).

Law is God prohibiting and punishing. Grace is God seeking and saving. Law utterly condemns the best of men. Grace freely justifies the worst of men. Under the personal reign of Christ at His Second Coming to the earth, both law and grace will be in evidence. The law was given expressly to Israel, thus the seat of His power during the Millennium will be Jerusalem and He shall reign over restored Israel. Moreover, the saved of this dispensation of grace, who make up the Church which is His Body, will be associated with Him. Our Lord’s disciples did not clearly understand this distinction (Luke 24:21; Acts 1:6, 7).

Third, we must distinguish between the two Advents of Jesus Christ. Any person reading the Old Testament for the first time may fail to see the distinction between Christ’s first coming to earth in weakness and humiliation to suffer and to die, and His Second Coming to earth in sovereign power to rule and reign as earth’s glorious King. The religious leaders of Christ’s day rejected Him simply because they did not make this distinction.

Now there are a number of other distinctions which the Bible makes and which we should understand, such as faith and works, salvation and rewards, the Christian’s standing and state, the Christian’s two natures, and the two resurrections. We shall give neither time nor space to them at this writing. Helpful books are available which discuss these distinctions more fully.1

A Principle of Prophetic Interpretation

This introduced a principle of prophetic interpretation which is illustrated in Genesis 3:15. It is the fact that the time element in prophecy is frequently ignored. When God uttered this prophecy to Satan in the hearing of Adam and Eve, He did not indicate that at least four thousand years would elapse before Messiah would suffer, or that nineteen hundred years, and we know not how many more, would intervene between the “sufferings” and the “glory.” Words spoken in one breath, and written in one sentence, may contain prophetic events millennia apart in their fulfillment.

These two appearings of Christ, the first to die for man’s redemption and the second to reign over the earth, are described in the New Testament in terms of “suffering” and “glory.” After our Lord’s Resurrection He encountered two tired and troubled disciples on their way to the village of Emmaus. Their unbelieving hearts had cast them into a spirit of dejection. Jesus said to them,

O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory? (Luke 24:25, 26)

Notice the order here. The suffering precedes the glory. The cross must come before the crown. When one is reading the Old Testament it might appear that the sufferings and glory of Christ were to appear together, that both would take place at one appearing of Christ to the earth. However, almost 2000 years have passed since He suffered, and Satan is still the prince of this world, and the age becomes increasingly worse. The earth awaits Christ’s coming again in glory.

The Apostle Peter wrote of the compound prophecy concerning Christ’s two appearings. He said:

Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow (I Peter 1:10,11).

The “sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow” were like two mountain peaks which, when viewed from a distance, might appear to touch each other, but as they are approached they are seen to be divided by a wide valley. The prophets wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but they did not always understand all they wrote (see Daniel 12:8, 9). The “sufferings” of Christ and the “glory” that should follow were subjects of the prophets, but those holy men of old did not always see the gap between the two mountain peaks of prophecy. That gap is the present dispensation of grace between the cross and the Glory of Christ. Even Christ stated that the prophets did not know the time elements related to the prophecies they wrote. In His parables in Matthew 13 He presents a picture of the course of this present age. Concerning these times He said,

For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them (Matthew 13:17).

Not only were the prophets and peasants unaware of the time element between Christ’s two appearings, but angels likewise did not distinguish between them. There are passages in God’s Word which show that angels are not perfect in understanding. At the birth of our Lord, the angels manifested a genuine interest in the spiritual needs of humanity. They evidently are concerned about the salvation of the lost (Luke 15:12).

The Angel Gabriel was sent to Mary to announce to her that she was to become the mother of the Messiah:

And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end (Luke 1:30-33).

This remarkable prediction takes us back to Genesis 3:15. The woman’s “Seed” is now to make His entrance into the world. Apart from His name, “JESUS,” a translation of the Hebrew word “Joshua,” meaning “Jehovah is the Saviour” (See Matthew 1:21), the Annunciation by Gabriel to Mary contained nothing of the salvation He would bring to sinners through His sufferings and death. Two things only are mentioned. They are the greatness of His character and His imperial reign on the earth. To Him shall be given the royal might and sovereignty promised of old to the Messiah-King, the descendant of David (II Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7; Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:14, etc.).

From this announcement one might be left with the idea that His throne would be established at His first Advent. But two thousand years have passed already. Thus we see in this one passage both the “near” and “far” fulfillment of prophecy, the two Advents of Christ.

Concerning Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, we have a good word from the pen of Dr. J. C. Ryle, the late Lord Bishop of Liverpool. He said, “Let us beware of spiritualizing away the full meaning of these words. The house of Jacob does not mean all Christians. The throne of David does not mean the office of a Saviour to all Gentile believers. The words will yet receive a literal fulfillment, when the Lord Jesus comes the second time, and the Jews are converted. The promise of Gabriel is parallel with Jeremiah 30:9. The kingdom of which he speaks is the glorious kingdom foretold in Daniel 7:27, before which all other kingdoms are finally to be overthrown at Christ’s Second Coming.”

When an angel announced our Lord’s birth to the shepherds, he said:

Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:10, 11).

Then we read that at that same time a multitude of angels burst forth in praise to God, saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men (Luke 2:14).

In these verses we see angels announcing both mountain peaks of the great compound prophecy, but the majority of them were wrong. The announcement of the multitude of them, “on earth peace,” was premature. When Peter wrote of the incomplete knowledge of the prophets concerning the two appearings of Christ, he added the words,

. . . which things the angels desire to look into (I Peter 1:12).

Peter is saying the same thing about the angels as he did the prophets. The coming of the Messiah excited the deepest interests of holy men on earth and holy angels in heaven, but neither men nor angels could see clearly the distinction in time between Christ’s sufferings and glory.

Isaiah’s Prophecies

Isaiah prophesied of both the sufferings and glory, and judging from Peter’s statement of the prophet’s ignorance of any time element between the two, we may conclude that Isaiah did not see the gap. In one statement he speaks of Christ’s birth and governmental rule:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulders: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this (Isaiah 9:6, 7).

Here again we meet the compound prophecy, the first part of which has already been fulfilled, for indeed the Child was born and the Son was given. But during the days of His first appearing the government was not upon His shoulder, nor did He rule in peace. The vision of the prophet is that the long expected Messiah is to be born, but not immediately after Isaiah received his vision. He knew neither the time element of the birth of the Child nor the period when He would rule as King in peace and righteousness.

Of particular interest is the phrase, “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.” There had been no lasting peace before Christ’s first appearing; there was none during His brief span on earth, and certainly the world has not known peace since He ascended from the earth to return to His Father’s throne in heaven. At no time was the government upon His shoulder, nor did He rule in peace. Contrariwise He said,

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34).

It is true that Christ is the “Prince of Peace,” the great Peacemaker, but He foreknew that His first appearing would result in strife and division. He knew that those who rejected Him would hate and persecute their nearest of kin who would stand with Him. In every society where the Gospel of Christ has been preached, it has caused dissension, simply because there are always those who refuse to obey its demands, and Christ cannot pronounce His benediction of heavenly peace upon those who oppose Him. Every true Christian knows something of the opposition which unbelief creates against the truth, and this sometimes becomes one of the severest trials of the children of God. When men reject the King they cannot have His kingdom of peace, and time has proved that no just and lasting peace can be consummated through the efforts of men. The world must await the second appearing of Christ for the fulfillment of the second phase of the compound prophecy.

Still more obvious is this compound prophecy in Isaiah 11:

And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots, And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge, and of the fear of the LORD, And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked (Isaiah 11:1-4).

The first three and one-half verses are doubtless a prophecy of our Lord “in the days of His flesh” To look for a fulfillment of this prophecy in Hezekiah or Josiah, or in any man other than Jesus Christ, would be an idle pursuit. The description of His human relationship with David and the perfection of His attributes, fits no other man in history. How exquisitely the Lord Jesus Christ is portrayed in His birth and earthly life! The royal house of Judah may be cut down, but it will send forth from its stump a Branch, even the predicted Immanuel (7:14; 9:6, 7. See also Jeremiah 23:5).

But in the middle of verse 4 there is a break. The rest of the chapter depicts the millennial conditions of subjection, righteousness, peace and the gathering of Israel a “second time” (vss. 4, 5, 11). Notice conditions in the animal world (vss. 6-9). These cannot be regarded as symbolic. Any attempt to spiritualize these Old Testament prophecies concerning the Kingdom is faulty. If this prophetic chapter says anything, it says that Christ is to appear again, for most of its prophecies were not fulfilled when He came the first time.

Now listen to Isaiah as he speaks again:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek, he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified (Isaiah 61:1-3).

I doubt seriously whether many of us would have detected in this passage the compound prophecy of our Lord’s two Advents apart from that incident in the beginning of His ministry recorded by Luke. This is the passage from which Christ read in the synagogue at Nazareth. Let us read it carefully:

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, 18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, 19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. 20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him (Luke 4:16-20).

At once you are struck with the fact that this is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. But did you notice where He stopped reading and closed the Book? He stopped in the middle of a sentence, in the middle of Isaiah 61:2. Why did He not go on and finish the sentence? The reason is obvious. The remainder of the passage, “The day of vengeance of our God” was not being fulfilled at the time of His first Advent. The first one and one-half verses of Isaiah’s prophecy tell of Christ’s mission to the world when He came the first time. It was a mission of mercy to which our Lord’s hearers responded with warm enthusiasm (Luke 4:22). This ancient prophecy was then an outline of Christ’s gracious ministry of succour and salvation which He has already provided at His first coming. He did not come the first time to usher in “the day of vengeance of our God.” You see, the entire dispensation in which you and I live is represented in the comma which appears after the word “Lord” in Isaiah 61:2.2

Are we to assume that what follows the comma in Isaiah is unimportant? Certainly not! The day of God’s vengeance upon the unbelieving nations of the world is a future event which will take place when Christ comes back to earth again. Our Lord said:

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31, 32).

Micah’s Prophecy

The prophet Micah likewise presents in one prophecy the “near” and “far” fulfillment:

But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting (Micah 5:2).

With Micah’s prophecy the picture of Messiah’s appearing becomes clearer. “The little town of Bethlehem” is distinctly indicated as the place of His birth. The name “Bethlehem” means House of Bread. Here He was to be born who was indeed the Bread of Life (John 6:48). The chief priests and scribes correctly understood this prophecy to refer to the place of Messiah’s birth (Matthew 2:1-6), and many of the people as well (John 7:40-42).

Again we have in one sentence, and almost in one breath, the “near” and “far” fulfillment. Micah says that He is to be “ruler of Israel.” The chief priests and scribes recognized this also (Matthew 2:6). The compound prophecy in this one verse in Micah is beyond the highest range of human thought. It is timeless and yet timed. It goes back into eternity past to introduce the eternal and ageless One “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” It looks forward seven hundred years to His Incarnation at Bethlehem, through two thousand years more of this present dispensation of grace, and on to His Second Advent when He shall govern the nations in peace and righteousness.

If man only knew His worth, he would acclaim Him to be the ruler of his life now. But the divine, pre-existent One will come as the Holy Conqueror, and “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10, 11).

The prophets saw His suffering and His sovereignty, but there was one mystery they did not see:

Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:26, 27).

They saw Christ on the cross and on the throne, but they did not see the gap between the two, when Christ would dwell in the heart of every believing sinner who would receive Him. And so, for the child of God there is peace with God (Romans 5:1), while we await His appearing.

1 C. I. Scofield, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth; Clarence Larkin, Rightly Dividing the Word; W. S. Hottel, Distinctions of Truth Which Differ.

2 Harry A. Ironside, The Prophet Isaiah.

This pamphlet was originally made available through the Biola Hour radio ministry. His written materials are used by permission.

Related Topics: Prophecy/Revelation

The Apocalypse Of John And The Rapture Of The Church: A Reevaluation

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Problem And Purpose

For all of the attention given to the rapture of the Church2 by students and teachers of eschatology, one wonders why the doctrine of the catching up of the saints described by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is not more clearly mentioned in John's Apocalypse!3 This is especially problematic when Jesus says that He gave the revelation to his servants to show them “what must happen very soon” (Rev 1:1).4

Various commentators and Bible teachers have presented a number of options for the description of the rapture in the Book of Revelation.5 However, none of these have been universally satisfying, nor do any of them seem to do justice to the profundity of the doctrine of the rapture and its Pauline association with the resurrection and ultimate expression of our salvation.6

This paper will consist of two sections. First, it will examine some of the problems that have been associated with placing the rapture of the Church in particular passages of the Apocalypse. Second, it will present an alternative position for the rapture in Revelation, which is consistent with all interpretive considerations: lexical, contextual, theological, and literary.

The Many "Raptures" Of Revelation

Robert Mounce, in his commentary on the Apocalypse, suggests that “the very discussion of a ‘rapture of the church’ lies outside John's frame of reference.”7 However, commentators of Revelation offer a multitude of often contradictory passages to fill the void. This section will explore the most prominent and viable options, critically evaluating the arguments for each.8

    Revelation 3:10

The promise of protection in Revelation 3:10 is considered by many commentators to be the best exegetical proof of a pre-tribulational rapture of the Church. Lewis Sperry Chafer has called Revelation 3:10-11 the “determining passage” with regard to the timing of the rapture.9 Many other pretribulationists concur.10

Arguments for the rapture in Revelation 3:10. The promise in Revelation 3:10-11 is thus: “Because you have kept my admonition to endure steadfastly, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is about to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth” (NET). Although the promise is given specifically to the Philadelphian church (Rev 3:7), the promise is applicable to all believers (Rev 3:13).

Those who see the rapture in this verse argue primarily on the basis of the phrase τηρησω ἐκ τῆς ὥρας “I will keep you from the hour.” It is suggested that τηρήσω means to “preserve” or “protect,” while the preposition ἐκ means “out from within.”11 It is emphasized that the believers are not merely promised protection from the trial, but protection from the entire hour of trial, necessitating a removal from earth to heaven.12

Although some have argued that ἐκ indicates “emergence from” the hour of trial, thus guaranteeing protection through it,13 this particular affected meaning of ἐκ depends greatly on the type of verb to which it is related.14 Daniel Wallace suggests a general principle of transitive prepositions like ἐκ when used with stative verbs such as τηρέω: “Stative verbs override the transitive force of preposition. Almost always, when a stative verb is used with a transitive preposition, the preposition's natural force is neutralized; all that remains is a stative idea.”15 Therefore, it is argued from for syntactical reasons that the meaning of the passage is preservation away from the hour of trial, not preservation through it.

Problems with the rapture in Revelation 3:10. Although this present writer finds the grammatical arguments in favor of understanding τηρήσω ἐκ as “preserving from” to be rather compelling, there are reasons for questioning this passage’s role as the “determining passage” on the rapture.

In spite of the grammatical considerations, comments such as that of Mounce are common among competent exegetes: "The hour of trial is directed toward the entire non-Christian world, but the believer will be kept from it, not by some previous appearance of Christ to remove the church bodily from the world, but by the spiritual protection he provides against the forces of evil."16 Similar views seem to represent a weakening of the force of the language, so that "from the hour" is comprehended in a more general or figurative way; that is, believers are thought of as being "kept from the trial" in the sense of participating in the judgments, but not being "kept from the hour of trial" in a temporal or spatial sense. Certainly, such an imprecise understanding of the idiom is within the range of possibility. On the other hand, Beale argues that the keeping from the hour of trial refers not to protection from a future tribulation, but the harm of “falling away from the faith, that is, protection from trials that induce unbelief.”17

Another problem is the choice of the verb, τηρέω. While the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is one of either sudden or forceful motion, τηρέω is stative. If this passage tells the reader anything about the rapture, it merely describes the results of that event, not the event itself. Even advocates of the pretribulational rapture view admit to this shortfall. Thomas writes:

The statement does not refer directly to the rapture. What it guarantees is protection away from the scene of the "hour of trial" while that hour is in progress. This effect of placing the faithful in Philadelphia (and hence, the faithful in all the churches; cf. 3:13) in a position of safety presupposes that they will have been removed to another location (i.e., heaven) at the period's beginning.18

A further problem with identifying τηρέω ἐκ as physical removal from the tribulation period is the usage of the same construction in John 17:15: ἵνα τηρήωῃς αὐτοὺς ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ “in order that you may keep them out of the evil.” Ladd argues:

In our Lord’s prayer, there is no idea of bodily removal of the disciples from the evil world but of preservation from the power of evil even when they are in its very presence. . . . In the same way, the promise of Revelation 3:10 of being kept ek the hour of trial need not be a promise of a removal from the very physical presence of the tribulation.19

Other commentators have set forth this same objection.20 While scholars have presented enough rebuttal arguments to at least preserve the viability of the view that the rapture is suggested in Revelation 3:10,21 the debate is far from settled and one must give pause with regard to dogmatic assertions on either side.

In conclusion, it can be safely said that a rapture could very well be implied by the verse if the stative verb with a transitive preposition indicates “protection away from” and if the phrase “hour of trial” literally means the period of time, necessitating a translation from this present world. Yet even given these conditions, the key element missing from Revelation 3:10 is the rapture itself. The systematic theologian must read the event of 1 Thessalonians 1:17 into the promise and see Revelation 3:10 as the result. These debatable variables must at least relegate Revelation 3:10 to a position of secondary significance or corroborative evidence with regard to the rapture of the Church in the Apocalypse of John.

    Revelation 4:1-2

It has been argued by pretribulationists innumerable that the experience described by John in Revelation 4:1-2 is a symbol of the rapture of the Church.22

Arguments for the rapture in Revelation 4:1-2. The passage itself reads, “After these things I looked and there was a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet said: ‘Come up here so that I can show you what must happen after these things.’ Immediately I was in the Spirit, and a throne was standing in heaven with someone seated on it!” On this passage Seiss writes,

That door opened in heaven is the door of the ascension of the saints. That trumpet voice is the same which Paul describes as recalling the sleepers in Jesus, and to which the Saviour refers as the signal by which His elect are gathered from the four winds, but which we have no reason to suppose shall be heard or understood except by those whom it is meant to summon to the skies. And that “COME UP HITHER” is for every one in John’s estate, even the gracious and mighty word of the returning Lord himself, by virtue of which they that wait for Him shall renew their strength, and mount up with wings as eagles. (Is. 40: 31)23

The mention of the trumpet, the voice, heaven, and the Spirit, as well as the implied action of John's “rapture” into heaven thus lend themselves to this symbolic interpretation.

A further argument in support of the assertion that the rapture occurs at 4:1-2 (or at least is unmentioned, but implied, between chapters 3 and 4) is the interpretation that the phrase μετὰ ταῦτα “after these things” of verse one marks a major section break in the Apocalypse. Chapters 1 through 3 are called ταῦτα “these things” (cf. 1:19), that is, the present Church age, while everything from chapter 4 onward represents events that take place after the present Church age.24 Contributing to this argument, some advocate an interpretation that the letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor outline the flow of church history in prophetic form,25 as well as the interpretation that the twenty-four elders first seen in Revelation 4:4 are either a symbol for, or representatives of, the raptured, glorified saints.26

Problems with the rapture in Revelation 4:1-2. While some of the images appear to be similar, the interpretation of the rapture in Revelation 4:1-2 has significant problems. The passage actually appears to be describing in normal language the actual experience of John in receiving his prophetic vision. One dispensationalist writer, Robert Thomas, admits this difficulty and concludes, “This summons is best understood as an invitation for John to assume a new vantage point for the sake of the revelation he was about to receive.”27

Second, regarding the meaning of μετὰ ταῦτα, it must be noted that the phrase occurs throughout Revelation (4:1; 7:1; 7:9; 15:5; 18:1); in these instances it denotes a sudden change in the content of John's vision, not a change in ages, epochs, or dispensations. Regarding whether or not a chronological sequence is implied with regard to the events prophecies, Smith writes,

This phrase denotes sequence or a passing from what was mentioned to what follows in order of time. However, when the phrase modifies “I saw,” as it does eleven times in the book, the reference may be to the order of vision merely and not necessarily (though usually) to the chronological sequence of events. For instance, as far as the language employed is concerned, the seer may refer merely to his having had a new vision and not necessarily to the fact that the things he is about to mention succeed those already mentioned in order of time.28

In conclusion, it seems that unless one is specifically seeking the rapture of the Church before the Great Tribulation, Revelation 4:1-2 does not naturally lend itself to such an interpretation. In this context, it is best to interpret the passage as the sole experience of John in the ecstatic spiritual state in which he receives his visions.

    Revelation 4:4 and 5:9-10

Arguments for the rapture in Revelation 4:4 and 5:9-10. It has often been asserted that the twenty-four elders in heaven, who first appear in Revelation 4:4, are either symbols or living representatives of the raptured, glorified Church. Walvoord writes, “One of the reasons the twenty-four elders are considered to be men redeemed and rewarded is that they are pictured as having golden crowns and clothed in white clothing (Rev. 4:4). This would imply that they have already been judged and rewarded, as would be the case if there had been a pretribulational Rapture and a judgment seat of Christ following in heaven.”29

In a similar vein, Thiessen writes:

We conclude, then, that the scene in Rev. 4, 5 is the direct outcome of the Rapture. The Lord has descended from heaven, the dead in Christ, of both Old and New Testament times, have been raised, and the believers remaining until the Lord's return have been caught up together with the others to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:16, 17). These “elders” represent these two companies before the throne. From this it follows that the Rapture takes place before the Tribulation, for the “elders” are arrayed, crowned, and enthroned before the first judgment is sent upon the earth.30

Earlier expositors have relied heavily on the Textus Receptus reading of Revelation 5:9-10 in support of their interpretation that the twenty-four elders must represent the glorified Church. The passage describes the twenty-four elders singing about redemption in the first person plural: ἠγόρασας τῷ θεῷ ἡμᾶς ἐν τῷ αἵματί σου . . . καὶ ἐποίησας ἡμᾶς τῷ θεῷ ἡμῶν βασιλεῖς καὶ ἱερεῖς, καὶ βασιλεύσομεν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς “you redeemed us to God by your blood . . . and made us kings and priests to our God.” It is then argued that since the Church is seen in heaven as already glorified before the Tribulation events unfold, they have therefore been resurrected/raptured prior to this point.31

Problems with the rapture in Revelation 4:4 and 5:9-10. The first problem with this approach is that the identification of the twenty-four elders with the Church does not, in reality, say anything concerning the rapture itself. If the company of twenty-four elders is determined to represent the Church, nothing is mentioned concerning the means by which they arrived there. Again, the rapture and resurrection itself is missing.

Second, the interpreter must first demonstrate conclusively that the visions of Revelation 4 and 5 are portrayals of the future and not the heavenly situation at the time of John's vision.32 If the throne room scene within which all of the subsequent visions occur is determined to be a description of the present heavenly situation, the identification of the twenty-four elders with the post-rapture company is debunked.

Third, while the twenty-four elders singing in the first person plural would, in fact, argue strongly for an identification with glorified humanity, the textual evidence for the these readings is unremarkable.33 It is highly improbable that the twenty-four elders were singing the song in the plural first person. This does not rule out the possibility that they were singing about themselves (and all redeemed humanity) in the third person.34 It does mean that such an interpretation is not a necessary conclusion.

In sum, the inability to conclusively identify the twenty-four elders with the Church, the omission of any rapture/resurrection event, and the uncertainty as to the chronological nature of the heavenly throne room vision, all leave the rapture prior to Revelation 4:4 and 5:9-10 as a possible yet unverifiable hypothesis.

    Revelation 4-18

Another common argument for the rapture in Revelation for some pretribulationists is the assertion that the Church is not mentioned on earth anywhere between Revelation chapter 4 through 18.35

Besides being an argument from silence, the position can also turn into circular reasoning. For example, in response to the assertion that “saints” in Revelation imply the presence of the Church on earth (cf. Rev 12:17, etc.), Renald Showers demonstrates the possibility of making a distinction between Tribulation saints and Church saints. While the possibility for this distinction certainly exists, the only proof of this distinction would be a pre-tribulation rapture. But if the pre-tribulation rapture is not proved first, the interpreter has no choice but to categorize the faithful saints of the coming tribulation as members of the Church. Without first proving the pre-tribulation rapture, pretribulationists can not legitimately appeal to the absence of the Church in Revelation 418 as implying the rapture. This reasoning appears to be circular, for it assumes what it is attempting to prove.36

Another problem with this evidence is that it assumes a strict chronological structure to the Book of Revelation, an assumption that is neither universally held nor supported by the evidence. For the absence of the Church from Revelation 4 through 18 to be significant, it must first be proved that those chapters describe events limited only to the future seventieth week of Daniel.37

Therefore, the argument based on the absence of the word “church” in Revelation 4 through 18 still leaves the event of the rapture/resurrection of the Church unmentioned.

    Revelation 7:9-17

Some students of Scripture have seen the presence of the great multitude from “every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” in Revelation 7:9-17 as indicative of the raptured/resurrected and glorified saints.

Arguments for the rapture in Revelation 7:9-17. One proponent of this view, Robert Van Kampen, boldly asserts that “there is one inescapable proof that this multitude must be the raptured church, not martyrs who have died during the great tribulation by Antichrist.”38 Although Van Kampen’s work is done at a more popular level, any suggestion of an “inescapable proof” warrants some attention, especially since books with popular appeal tend to exercise greater influence on the theology of the Church as a whole.39

Van Kampen writes, “As noted in several other places in this book, the fifth-seal martyred saints pictured under the altar in heaven (Rev. 6:9) are described as ‘souls’ who do not yet have their resurrected bodies. As explained in Revelation 20, these martyred saints will not be given their resurrection bodies until the Millennium begins.”40

He goes on to contrast the souls of the saints in Revelation 6:9 with the great multitude in Revelation 7:9ff.:

The saints depicted in Revelation 7:9, on the other hand, are standing before the throne, clothed in white robes, holding palm branches in their hands—indicating conclusively that they already possess resurrected bodies. This great multitude then can only be the resurrected saints who have been raptured out of the great tribulation of Antichrist—and it must be exactly the same heavenly group (who also have bodies) referred to in Revelation 16:2 as “those who had come off victorious from the beast . . . standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God” (emphasis added).41

Problems with the rapture in Revelation 7:9-17. Van Kampen's “conclusive” proof that the great multitude is the raptured Church fails on several fronts. First, it is assumed that non-resurrected souls are unable to be portrayed as “standing,” “clothed,” or “holding.” It is uncertain where this conviction comes from, but no biblical support is supplied for the presupposition that disembodied souls can do nothing but flitter about amorphously.

Second, the “souls” of Revelation 6:9 are each given white robes. Van Kampen indicates that being clothed in white robes proves the great multitude of Revelation 5:9 are resurrected. Does this not prove the same thing for Revelation 6:9? Or were the white robes given to the souls, but since they had no resurrected bodies, they could not put them on? The arguments set forth appear to be self-defeating.

Third, although angels are incorporeal beings (they are spirits), they are able to interact with both the physical and material world. On what basis are incorporeal human souls denied this, especially when they are limited to the realm of heaven?42

Fourth, the precise nature of the vision is unquestioned. It is simply assumed that everything in the vision is literal, that John is seeing first hand future events as they will actually transpire. However, it is possible, and well within a literal approach to the apocalyptic genre, to take the vision as a symbol of a future event. That is, it may well be a general picture relaying the message that those suffering martyrdom in the tribulation will be gathered in heaven and rewarded, celebrating their victory.

So, while Van Kampen's “conclusive” proof is anything but conclusive, a number of additional problems with identifying this great multitude with the resurrected saints arise.

First, if the great multitude is the raptured Church, who are the 144,000 of Revelation 7:1-8 and why are they not raptured? This is especially perplexing when one sees the description of them in Revelation 14:4-5: “These are the ones who have not been defiled by women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed from humanity as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb, and no lie was found on their lips; they are blameless.” Surely, such a stellar crowd would be involved in the rapture, had it occurred somewhere in Revelation 7!

Second, the crowd described in Revelation 7:9-17 actually appears to be the martyred saints who suffered persecution under the beast and are shown to be ultimately victorious in heaven.43 Therefore, this writer understands the scene to be proleptic, not chronologically sequential; it looks at the tribulation as a whole and shows the victory of the martyrs.

    Revelation 11:11-19

The surface parallels between 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and Revelation 11:11-12 are often appealed to in order to identify the rapture at this point in the Apocalypse. Sometimes the sounding of the seventh trumpet in 11:15 is added as a parallel to 1 Corinthians 15:52 and the songs of the voices and twenty-four elders are further interpreted in this light.

Arguments for the two witnesses as the rapture.

James Buswell, a proponent of this view, argues as follows:

It is my opinion that in the coming to life and Rapture of the two witnesses (Revelation 11:11 ff.) we have an exact synchronization of events. The two witnesses are caught up into heaven “in the cloud” at the same moment that the elect of God are caught up together in the clouds to the meeting of the Lord in the air (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).44

Of course, Buswell is not alone in his identification of the rapture at Revelation 11:11-19. Others suggest that the two witnesses are not actual individuals, but are representatives of the Church as a whole, either symbolically or as two individual members of that Church.45 The parallels in language do, in fact, seem to indicate the resurrection and rapture to heaven. The following chart illustrates these parallels between Revelation 11:11-12 and the key rapture passage, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.

Revelation 11:11-12

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

But after three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them and they stood on their feet, and tremendous fear seized those who were watching them. (11:11)

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven … and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (4:16)

Then they heard a loud voice from heaven … (11:12a)

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, … (4:16)

… saying to them: “Come up here!” So the two prophets went up to heaven in a cloud while their enemies stared at them. (11:12b)

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord always. (4:17)

Problems with the two witnesses as the rapture. Those who conclude, as Mounce does, that the two witnesses are not individuals but are a symbol of the witnessing church in the last tumultuous days before the end of the age”46 seem to have the preponderance of evidence against them. First, if the two witnesses are a symbol of the witnessing Church, their death at the hand of the beast (Rev 11:7) after the 1,260 days of testimony would indicate that the whole Church was destroyed by the beast. Second, if the two witnesses themselves are symbols, it seems rather strange to describe the symbols in terms of symbols with the analogy of the “two olive trees and the two lampstands” (Rev 11:4). The imagery of the olive trees and lampstands is borrowed from Zechariah 4, where the referents are two actual individuals, Zerubbabel and Joshua.47 Third, the activities and experiences of the two witnesses make the symbolic interpretation difficult to maintain. They are said to call down all sorts of plagues at will (Rev 11:6), an ability that has always been reserved for specially-anointed prophets, never the whole Church at large. After they are killed, their corpses are said to lie in the streets of Jerusalem (11:8), a rather preposterous event if the two witnesses represent the entire witnessing Church; why would the symbol limit their corpses to Jerusalem, or to any single city, for that matter? Fourth, the whole tenor of the passage from 11:3-13 is one of straight-forward description of future events. Although certain images and symbols are clearly present (11:4, 5, 7, 8), the referents of these symbols are evident in the context.48 Therefore, the burden of proof appears to be on the side of those who interpret the two witnesses as symbols, for they must address the symbolic significance of the various details which seem to be pointing to a straight-forward description of the experience of two eschatological individuals.

Nevertheless, the greatest problem with identifying the elements of Revelation 11:11-12 with 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 is that the two only appear to correspond on the surface. A closer examination reveals a difficulty in correlating the order of events. In Revelation 11:11-12, the order of events is: 1) resurrection; 2) loud voice; 3) ascension. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, the order is: 1) shout, voice, trumpet, decent, resurrection; 2) snatching up. This is particularly problematic considering the command of the loud voice in Revelation 11 is specifically directed toward the two witnesses (λεγούσης αὐτοῖς) and is commanding them to come up into heaven (ἀνάβατε ὧδε). In stark contrast, the shout, voice, and trumpet of 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (as well as the trumpet in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52) announces generally the descent of the Lord and the resurrection of dead saints and transformation of living saints. The catching up of that glorified body takes place afterwards. Thus, in Revelation 11:12, the voice calls the witnesses into heaven; it does not announce their resurrection.

It is also interesting, if not relevant, to note that the two witnesses are commanded, “Come up here!” (ἀνάβατε ὧδε); then they immediately obey the command (ἀνέβησαν). The verb ἀνέβησαν, being in the active voice, indicates that they participated in the action, they were not “taken up” or “snatched up” as is indicated by the verb ἁρπάζω in the passive voice in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. While the witnesses are actively involved in a gradual ascent, the Church is portrayed as passive partakers of an instant removal.

These problems, of course, are not entirely insurmountable. It could be argued that the narrative in Revelation is merely focusing on the unique experience of the two witnesses and leaving out all of the details of the resurrection/rapture proper.49 Yet this is virtually the same as saying the rapture is not really found in the “two witnesses” passage.

Arguments for the seventh trumpet as the rapture. It is also often asserted that the blowing of the seventh trumpet in Revelation 11:15 heralds the rapture of the Church. Since this is the “last trumpet” in the series of seven in the book of Revelation, it is often equated with the “last trumpet” announcing the resurrection/rapture of the saints described in 1 Corinthians 15:52. Caird writes, “We know from the New Testament that the last trumpet had already in Christian usage become the conventional signal for the Parousia of Christ (Matt. xxiv. 31; 1 Cor. xv. 52; 1 Thess. iv. 16), and this is beyond question the meaning of John's seventh trumpet.”50

Problems with the seventh trumpet as the rapture. First, it can not be automatically assumed that the sounding of the trumpet of Revelation 11:15 will be an actual future event as opposed to a symbolic sounding in John‘s vision which simply announces the visions of future events. That is, are the trumpets in Revelation signs of things to come, or are they themselves the things to come? Schilling represents those who propose that the seventh trumpet will actually sound in the future. He writes:

That the seventh trumpet of Revelation is a literal trumpet which will sound in the future is indicated by the fact that the mystery of God will be finished in the days of the seventh trumpet as God has promised His servants the prophets (Rev. 10:7). Since the mystery of God was not finished at the revelation of the events of the seventh trumpet in Revelation, this indicates that the seventh trumpet will actually sound in the future.51

However, this interpretation demands the genitive of the phrase ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις τῆς φωνῆς τοῦ ἑβδόμου ἀγγέλου “in the days of the sound of the seventh angel” to be understood as “in the days during which the seventh trumpet sounds.” Yet this is not the only way to take the genitive here. It could just as well mean “the days characterized by [or associated with] the sound of the seventh angel.” This does not necessitate an actual sounding of the trumpet in the future when the events occur. It could mean that the sounding of the seventh angel points to the days in the future when the “the mystery of God is completed.” Had John wanted to more clearly indicate that the events would occur during the actual sounding of the trumpet, he could have used ἐν plus the dative without ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις, as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 15:52. Thus, Schilling’s interpretation that the seven trumpets must sound during the tribulation is not demanded by the grammar in Revelation 10:7.52

Second, even if we suppose the sounding of the seventh trumpet to be a literal future event and not limited strictly to John’s vision, this still does not imply that the “last trumpet” of 1 Corinthians 15:52 is equal to the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15. The syllogism that some adopt appears to run as follows:

    Premise 1: The rapture = last trumpet (1 Cor 15:52)

    Premise 2: Last trumpet = seventh trumpet (Rev 11:15)

    Conclusion: The rapture = seventh trumpet.

However, unless one first demonstrates Premise 2 conclusively, this syllogism may be a classic case of equivocation. Regarding this assumption, 1 Corinthians 15:52 does not tell us of which series this particular trumpet is the “last.” Paul does not say, “The last trumpet which will ever sound in the history of the universe.” Nor does he say it is the final trumpet in a particular eschatological sequence or vision. He simply takes it for granted that his readers will understand something that is obscure to us. The term “last trumpet” in 1 Corinthians 15:52 has not been shown to be equal to the “seventh trumpet” of Revelation 11:15.

There are, in fact, several considerations militating against equating the “last trumpet” of 1 Corinthians 15:52 and the “seventh trumpet” of Revelation 11:15. First, it must be noted that only at 1 Corinthians 15:52 is the eschatological trumpet designated the “last” trumpet (ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ σάλπιγγι). In the two other places in the New Testament where a trumpet is associated with the return of Christ or the resurrection of the dead, it is called σάλπιγγος μεγάλης “a loud trumpet blast” (Matt 24:31) and σάλπιγγι θεοῦ “trumpet of God” (1 Thes 4:16). The first occurrence likely depends on the Septuagint of Isaiah 27:12-13 and the loud trumpet blast heralding the in-gathering of the dispersed sons of Israel.53 If we are correct in linking the events of 1 Corinthians 15:52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, then the sounding of the trumpet described by Paul in both contexts is probably a reference to the same eschatological event. Thus, the “last trumpet” of 1 Corinthians 15:52 is “the trumpet of God.” Can we, then, equate the trumpet of Paul to the seventh trumpet of Revelation?

If the last trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15:52 and the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15 refer to the same trumpet, then Paul’s phrase, ἐσχάτῃ σάλπιγγι, would mean "last in a series." But what series is he referring to? Those who equate the two trumpets would say ἔσχατος refers to the “seventh” trumpet in the series. But even if we were to accept the Neronic dating of Revelation (c. A.D. 68),54 then 1 Corinthians, written circa A.D. 5555 is still thirteen years too early to draw on the imagery from Revelation. The second alternative is that the author of Revelation drew on the epistle of Paul, specifically 1 Corinthians, and composed the Apocalypse so that the seventh trumpet would correspond with Paul’s mysterious “last trumpet.” However, this is highly suspect, for had the author of Revelation been dependent on Paul’s solitary reference to the trumpet as the “last,” it seems probable that he would have designated the seventh trumpet with that technical term in order to make the allusion more obvious. Also, since the “last trumpet” in Paul is associated specifically and exclusively with the resurrection (not the second coming of Christ), and since Revelation 11:15 is completely silent with regard to the resurrection, the theory of dependence is further weakened. The final alternative is that by divine inspiration, the Holy Spirit had Paul write “last” with no real referent in his own mind, but God’s referent was actually the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15, which was not to be written for at least another thirteen years. Thus, the term “last” would have been meaningless both to Paul and to his initial readers in Corinth. This is, perhaps, the most unlikely hypothesis, since such ecstatic writing of cryptic Scripture is simply not to be expected in epistolary literature.

In light of the above considerations, it seems somewhat artificial and forced to equate the “last trumpet” of 1 Corinthians 15:52 announcing the resurrection and the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15. While a satisfactory explanation for Paul’s use of ἔσχατος in 1 Corinthians 15:52 is yet to be found, the notion that it means “last in a series of seven” appears to this writer to be the least likely option.

Arguments for the songs of victory announcing the rapture. Since the problems associated with equating the “last trumpet” of 1 Corinthians 15:52 and the sounding of the seventh angel of Revelation 11:15 have been discussed in the previous section, all that remains is the assertion that the song of the loud voices from heaven and of the twenty-four elders in Revelation 11:15-18 implies the rapture of the Church.

One proponent of this view, James Oliver Buswell, presents a five-point argument for the rapture of the Church at Revelation 11:15-18. His argument does not depend on the identification of Paul’s “last trumpet” and the seventh trumpet of Revelation. Thus, it will be presented in virtually his own words:56

    1. The seventh trumpet announces the time of rewards for the righteous dead
    (Revelation 11:18).

    2. The time of rewards for the righteous dead is “at the resurrection of the righteous.”
    See Luke 14:14. In this passage Christ declared, “He will reward thee at the resurrection of the righteous.”

    3. The resurrection of the righteous takes place at the same moment, “twinkling of an eye,” at which the saints who are alive when Christ comes again will be changed and made immortal (1 Corinthians 15:52).

    4. This same moment is predicted as occurring “at the last trumpet" (1 Corinthians 15:52).

    5. The moment of the resurrection of the righteous, of rewards for the righteous dead, of the change to immortality of the living saints, of the last trumpet is the moment of the rapture of the saints who will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Buswell thus concludes: “It does seem to me that the correlation of data centering around the seventh trumpet as the trumpet of the rapture is so complete, so precise, and so unequivocable that more attention ought to be devoted to a study of the seventh trumpet and its relationship to other Scriptures than has ever been so devoted thus far in the history of the church.”57

Problems with the songs of victory announcing the rapture. Buswell’s five-point argument will be addressed below point by point.

Buswell’s first premise asserts that Revelation 11:18 announces the time of the rewards for the righteous dead. As has been emphasized in this article, it is doubtful whether John is seeing events of the future, that is, whether the sounding of the seventh angel is an event that will take place in the future and announce the time of rewarding the righteous or if the sounding is an event in John's vision which symbolizes future events. If one determines that John is, in fact, seeing the future unfold and the blowing of the seventh trumpet will literally occur, then we must determine what is meant by καὶ δοῦναι τὸν μισθὸν τοῖς δούλοις σου τοῖς προφήταις “and to give the rewards to your servants the prophets.” It is probable that the song of the seventh trumpet does not, in fact, refer to the rewards that the resurrected saints receive for their good deeds (cf. 2 Cor 5:10), but that it is announcing the divine wrath upon the beast in vengeance against the saints and martyrs who gave their lives in the tribulation. It is, then, the answer to the fifth seal of Revelation 6:9-11.58

Concerning Buswell’s second premise, that Luke 14:14 indicates the rewarding of the righteous will take place at the resurrection, this view does not consider that the statement of Jesus in Luke 14:14 seems to be a simple summary of rewards coming in the life hereafter rather than in the earthly life. The emphasis is not on the timing of the rewards, but on temporality versus eternality.

Buswell’s third premise appears to be sound, except that it is possible that the resurrection of the righteous occurs in stages rather than all at once.

The fourth premise regarding the equating of the last trumpet with the seventh trumpet has been sufficiently dealt with in the previous section.

Buswell’s conclusion, then, does not appear to be based on solid or incontrovertible premises. Other Scriptures, which demand a more complex approach to the subject than a mere identification of similar elements, appear to be neglected.

Conclusion regarding the songs of victory announcing the rapture. It has been shown above that there is really no good reason for seeing the rapture in the songs of Revelation 11:15-18, unless one correlates the “last trumpet” of Paul with the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15 or if the rewarding of the servants, the prophets, in Revelation 11:18 is proved to be a rewarding after the resurrection. I have attempted to demonstrate that both of these assertions are suspect.

    Revelation 14:14-20

Another place where the rapture/resurrection is positioned in Revelation is the time of the reapings in Revelation 14:14-20. The question really boils down to the imagery used. Is it one of judgment, salvation, or both? If the image portrays the gathering of the elect followed by gathering of the nations of judgment, is the gathering of the elect to be equated with the rapture or with some other event?

Arguments for the rapture in Revelation 14:14-20. David V. Schilling, in his Th.M. thesis entitled “The Rapture According to the Book of Revelation,” argues that the first reaping of Revelation 14:14-20 portrays the rapture of the Church immediately preceding God’s final out-pouring of wrath at the close of the tribulation. In summarizing his arguments, he writes:

In summary of the foregoing discussion, several things can be said. (1) In the harvest of Rev. 14:14-16, Jesus is seated on a cloud and He seems to remain seated on the cloud until the earth is reaped because the sitting one . . . “swung” . . . “His sickle over the earth; and the earth was reaped” . . . . This is consistent with the expectation of the Church to meet the Lord in the clouds when He comes for the rapture of the Church (1 Thess. 4:17). (2) The loud voice of the angel before the reaping (Rev. 14:15) may fulfill the expectation of the voice of the archangel which precedes the rapture of the Church (1 Thess. 4:16). (3) If it is correct that the harvest takes place in the time period inaugurated by the seventh trumpet at the end of the tribulation period, then this may fulfill the expectation of the Church to be raptured at the last trumpet (1 Thess. 4:16; 1 Cor. 15:52). (4) While the rapture passages do not mention the use of angels in the event of the rapture, angels are used in the gathering of the children of the kingdom (Matt. 13:30), and in the gathering of the elect (Matt. 24:31), and this may explain how Christians are caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17).59

Thus, the correlations between the cloud, the loud voice, the seventh trumpet, and the gathering of the elect mentioned in Matthew 13:30 and 24:31 are considered to be strong indicators of a conceptual link.

Another argument is the image of “reaping.” To many scholars, there appear to be two distinct, though related, harvests in Revelation 14:14-20. The first is the grain harvest; the second the harvest of grapes. The first is often considered to be a harvest of the righteous. Caird’s lexical arguments here are typical of this viewpoint:

The noun therismos (harvest) and the verb therizo, though they could perfectly well have been used of the mowing down of enemies, are never so used in the Septuagint, even in the passages where judgment is likened to a reaping; and in the New Testament they are used of the ingathering of men into the kingdom of God (Matt. ix. 37f.; Mark iv. 29; Luke x. 2; John iv. 35-38).60

Although Caird links the two harvests and applies both to the righteous,61 other commentators apply the harvest of the Son of Man in Revelation 14:14-16 to the righteous, that is, the rapture; the second harvest in Revelation 14:17-20 is the harvest of the wicked unto judgment.62 For some the first harvest is of the righteous, though not necessarily those raptured to heaven, while the second is a reference to judgment.63

Problems with the rapture in Revelation 14:14-20. First, many commentators point out that the images in all of Revelation 14:14-20 are of judgment, not salvation of the righteous.64 Passages such as Jeremiah 51:33 and Joel 3:11-16 are cited as the sources of these images.65 Seiss writes concerning Joel 3:11-16, “Here is both a harvest and a vintage; the one like and part of the other, and both exclusively applicable to the destruction of the wicked. This harvest and this vintage are unquestionably the same described in the text [of Revelation 14].”66 The arguments for both images referring to judgment will be further developed below.

Second, contra Caird, θερίζω “to harvest” only occurs twelve times in the LXX, and never in apocalyptic literature. Six of those are substantival participles referring to those doing the work of reaping.67 One phrase is καὶ ἦν ὁ τρυγητὸς ἕτοιμος τοῦ θερίζειν “and time of gathering was approaching to harvest” (1 Kings 13:21). Thus, although Caird is right in that the verb is not used in judging enemies, it is also not used in gathering the elect. The noun form, θερισμός, only appears fourteen times; it, too, is never used in apocalyptic texts, either for judgment or gathering of the elect. In the New Testament, the verb θερίζω is used twenty-one times. Only three of these are in apocalyptic contexts: all in Revelation 14:15-16. The noun form is used thirteen times. Of these, three occurrences in Matthew 13:30, 39; and one in Mark 4:29 seem to be referring to the end of the age. All of the rest refer either to a literal harvest (John 4:35a) or to the “harvest” done in evangelism and bringing unbelievers into the kingdom in this present age (Luke 10:2; John 4:35b, etc.). Therefore, if Revelation 14:14-15 refers to a harvest of the New Testament, its parallel must be found in either Mark 4:29 or Matthew 13:30, 39.

In Mark 4:26-29 there is nothing said of either judgment or gathering for blessing. Given the non-eschatological contexts of all of the other parables in Mark 4 (the four soils in Mark 4:3-20, the lamp in 4:21-25, and the mustard seed in 4:30-32) it is quite likely that this parable has no eschatological scope, but is rather focusing on the sowing of the Word of God in this present age. Thus, the “harvest” would refer to evangelism, an analogy that is entirely consistent with the New Testament’s use of the harvest language and imagery (Matt 9:37, 38; Luke 10:2; John 4:35, 38).

A more likely candidate for the Revelation 14:15-16 referent is Matthew 13:24-30, with its explanation in 13:36-43. The context is the growing together of the wheat and the tares, the sons of the kingdom and the sons of the evil one (13:38). In the parable, the sower tells his servants, “Let both grow together until the harvest (θερισμός). At harvest time (θερισμός) I will tell the reapers, ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned, but then gather the wheat into my barn’” (NET). The order of harvest is first the gathering of the weeds to be burned (judgment), then the gathering of the wheat into the barn (the kingdom?).

In Jesus’ interpretation of the parable, he explains that the sower is the Son of Man (13:37), the field is the world (κόσμος), the good seed is the sons of the kingdom, and the weeds are the sons of the evil one (13:38). The enemy who sows the weeds is the devil and the harvest Jesus describes as “the end of the age” while the reapers are “angels” (13:39). Having interpreted the symbols, Jesus then presents a straight-forward description of the end of the age. He says:

The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather from his kingdom everything that causes sin as well as all lawbreakers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.68

However, the scene described in Revelation 14:14-16 is remarkably different. First appears the “Son of Man” sitting on a white cloud. The allusion is undoubtedly to Daniel 7:13. He is holding a sharp sickle in his hand (Rev 14:14). An angel comes out the temple and instructs the Son of Man to begin to reap (14:15). The Son of Man responds by swinging the sickle over the earth (γῆ) and reaping the earth. The scene suddenly shifts to another angel executing the reaping of grapes, which is certainly an allusion to judgment (cf. Rev 14:19-20).69

Matthew 13:41-43 says the Son of Man will send forth the angels to reap; Revelation 14:14-16 has an angel instructing the Son of Man to reap. In Matthew 13:41-43, the wicked are reaped out from among the righteous, who are then gathered into the kingdom. In Revelation 14:14-20, if the first reaping is of the righteous, this order is reversed. Considering that Jesus’ words in Matthew 13:41-43 are a straight-forward interpretation, the symbols of Revelation 14:14-20 do not seem to adequately portray the event described by the Lord.

There are perhaps two better explanations that allow for the first reaping to refer to the righteous while the second refers to judgment. First, Revelation 14:14-16 could represent in a summary fashion the entire in-gathering of the righteous throughout the Tribulation period. That is, the “harvest” image may very well be one related to evangelism rather than the consummation (cf. John 4:35). A second possibility is that the gathering described in Revelation 14:14-16 is the gathering of the remnant of Israel, the 144,000 described earlier in 14:1-15. They are seen as gathered together in one place (Mount Zion, 14:1), they were redeemed from the earth (γῆ, 14:3; cf. 14:15-16), and they are described as “firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” (14:4), a possible allusion to the gathering of the firstfruits of the harvest in passages such as Exodus 23:16 and 34:22. This in-gathering, then, would be either similar or equivalent to the gathering of the elect in Matthew 24:31 (cf. Isa 27:12-13).70 In either of these two views, the image is not a rapture of the Church of God, but the gathering of the righteous into the kingdom either throughout the Tribulation (first view) or of the elect ones of Israel at the end of the Tribulation (second view).

However, I believe the best explanation for the images of the harvests is that both refer to judgment and are an expansion of the two-fold harvest in Joel 3:13. Joel 3:13-16 reads as follows:

Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, And gather yourselves there. Bring down, O Lord, Thy mighty ones. Let the nations be aroused And come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat, For there I will sit to judge All the surrounding nations. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, tread, for the wine press is full; The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon grow dark, And the stars lose their brightness. And the Lord roars from Zion And utters His voice from Jerusalem, And the heavens and the earth tremble. But the Lord is a refuge for His people And a stronghold to the sons of Israel.

The commands to send forth the sickle are so similar in Revelation 14:15 and Joel 3:13 that we can hardly take them as anything less than parallel: ἐξαποστείλατε δρέπανα ὅτι παρέστηκεν τρύγητος εἰσπορεύσθε “Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe” and πέμψον τὸ δρέπανόν σου καὶ θέρισον, ὅτι ἦλθεν ἡ ὅρα θερίσαι, ὅτι ἐξηράνθη ὁ θερισμὸς τῆς γῆς “Put in your sickle and reap, because the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe.” Moreover, in both Joel 3:13 and Revelation 14 the harvesting of wheat is followed by a harvest of grapes. It is my assertion that these parallels strongly argue for a judgment theme for all of Revelation 14:14-20.

Another consideration is the fact that the Book of Revelation as a whole leans more heavily on imagery from the Old Testament rather than New Testament writings. This is true to such a degree that some critical scholars have suggested that Revelation was first a Jewish writing that was adopted by Christian redactors.71 This does not rule out the possibility of allusion to some New Testament passage such as Matthew 13, but it does suggest that the interpreter ought to first see if there is a more clear Old Testament allusion before resorting to a New Testament passage. This Old Testament allusion appears to be Joel 3:13-16 and the final judgment on the Day of the Lord.

In sum, it seems that a casual equating of the reaping in Revelation 14:14-16 to the rapture of the Church described in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is highly problematic. The images seem to better match the in-gathering of the elect into the millennial kingdom at the close of the tribulation or to the “weeding out” of the wicked at the end of the tribulation for judgment. Although it must be admitted that the rapture may actually be here in a highly cryptic fashion, there is nothing in the text that demands this, nor does it seem to me that the passage easily lends itself to such an interpretation.

    Revelation 19:11-20:6

Since post-tribulationists see the rapture of the Church after the tribulation and at the second coming of Christ, the chain of events in Revelation 19:11—20:6 is an obvious point of investigation. This is especially important to consider since Revelation 20:4-6 describes an actual resurrection, an event closely associated with the rapture of the Church in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

Arguments for the rapture in Revelation 19:1120:6. I am aware of no debate among premillennialists regarding the vision of Revelation 19:11-16; it is unanimously held that this passage describes in vivid figures the second coming of Christ to execute final judgment on the enemies of God and establish his earthly reign. Therefore, if one were to demand on synchronizing the rapture/resurrection and second coming proper, this is the most obvious section in which to place the rapture of the Church.

It can also be argued that the resurrection described in Revelation 20:4-6 is the very same resurrection described in 1 Corinthians 15:52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:17 at Christ’s coming. Thus, by analogy of Scripture, the rapture of the Church must by necessity take place at this moment.

There are, however, great problems with this view.

Problems with the rapture in Revelation 19:1120:6. First, and probably most incidental, the rapture is not mentioned in Revelation 19:11—20:6.72 To be sure, a resurrection is described in some detail in 20:4-6, but a catching up of the saints is not found here. However, this is an argument from silence. It is indeed possible that the rapture takes place here but is just not mentioned in the text.

A greater problem with the rapture of the Church in the context of this passage is the apparent sequence of events from Revelation 19:11—20:6. There certainly appears to be a sequential progression here rather than a string of independent visions. If this interpretation is legitimate, then the alleged rapture/resurrection does not occur at the moment of the descent of Christ from heaven, but some time after the second coming and destruction of the enemies of God. Contrary to this, 1 Corinthians 15:52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 make the descent of Christ, the trumpet, and the resurrection/rapture all simultaneous events.73 We would not, therefore, expect to see the resurrection of the Church occur after the second coming, but simultaneous to it.

Another reason why the resurrection/rapture of the Church and the resurrection of the souls in Revelation 20:4 should not be viewed as parallel events is the identification of the armies of heaven accompanying Christ at His second coming (Rev 19:14) and their distinction from those resurrected in 20:4. Although some have argued that the armies accompanying Christ in 19:14 are an angelic host,74 there is much evidence militating against this. First, the armies are described as wearing “white, clean, fine linen.” This image is identical to the “white linen” of the Bride of Christ, the Church, described in Revelation 19:8 as τὰ δικαιώματα τῶν ἁγίων ἐστίν “the righteous deeds of the saints.” Second, the armies accompanying Christ at his return are explicitly interpreted proleptically in Revelation 17:14. The angel describes the final battle of Armageddon and says, “They [the armies of the beast] will make war with the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those accompanying the Lamb are the called, chosen and faithful.” This description of those accompanying Christ at his coming to destroy the armies of the beast are κλητοὶ καὶ ἐκλεκτοὶ καὶ πιστοί. It is significant that the terms κλητός and εκλεκτός are used only here in Revelation. Elsewhere in the New Testament they refer most commonly to believers.75 The term πιστός is used eight times in Revelation. Three times it describes Christ (Rev 1:5; 3:14; 19:11); twice it describes Christians (Rev 2:10, 13) and twice it refers to the trustworthiness of the words of the prophecy of the Revelation itself (Rev 21:5; 22:6). The other occurrence is here in Revelation 17:14. Given the lexical evidence, it seems rather clear that redeemed saints are in view in Revelation 17:14 accompanying Christ at his coming. Thus, the host of riders in Revelation 19:11 would be resurrected and glorified saints.

What does this tell us about those resurrected in Revelation 20:4? Since the vision from 19:11 through 20:10 appears to be in sequence, and since the armies accompanying Christ are the resurrected, glorified Church, it seems best to understand the unmentioned subject of the third person plural verb in Revelation 20:4 to be referring to Christ and the armies of heaven accompanying Him. The passages begins: Καὶ εἶδον θρόνους καὶ ἐκάθισαν ἐπ ᾿ αὐτοὺς καὶ κρίμα ἐδόθη αὐτοῖς. Some translations have recognized the problem of the lack of the subject here and have adjusted their translations accordingly.76 However, if one reads the entire passage from 19:11 through 20:10 as one long vision described by John, one realizes that immediately before 20:4 the only persons present in the vision are Christ and his armies descending upon the earth. Thus, those who sit upon the thrones and those to whom judgment is given are those accompanying Christ on white horses. If this is the case, the ones resurrected in Revelation 20:4-6 would be limited to the saints martyred during the Tribulation.

That the resurrection of Revelation 20:4-6 seems to be limited only to those of the Tribulation is further validated by their description in 4:4b: “These had not worshiped the beast or his image and had refused to receive his mark on their forehead or hand.” The description appears to apply to all the souls who are resurrected. Ladd writes:

The language suggests two different groups: one group to whom judgment was given, and a smaller group who are the martyrs of the great tribulation. In Greek, the language is quite ungrammatical, which leads Charles to treat the first phrase as a gloss. However, it may well be that John actually envisaged two groups: a larger group of all the saints and then a smaller group—the martyrs—whom he singles out for special attention.77

Certainly, one cannot be dogmatic here. To the present writer the evidence best supports a distinction between those sitting on the throne as the glorified saints accompanying Christ at his coming and those who are resurrected in Revelation 20:4. The other alternative which would equate the two does not seem to take into consideration the identification of Revelation 17:14, the apparent progression of the vision from Revelation 19:11 through 20:10, the unspecified subject of the verb ἐκάθισαν in Revelation 20:4 as a reference to the armies of heaven which have just descended to the earth and destroyed the enemies of God’s people, and the description of those resurrected in Revelation 20:4-6 as those who were martyred under the reign of the beast (Rev 20:4). With these considerations, it seems highly improbable that the resurrection mentioned in Revelation 20:4-6 is best equated with the resurrection/rapture of the Church described in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:17.


Of the passages above, none completely satisfy as an explicit reference to the rapture of the Church in the Book of Revelation. Some may imply a rapture/resurrection while missing the event itself (e.g. Rev 3:10). Others may relate certain similar elements on the surface but lack genuine concord upon closer examination (Rev 4:1-2; 11:11-19; 19:11—20:6). After brief examination of the positive and negative evidences, we are still left with the impression of Mounce that “the very discussion of a ‘rapture of the church’ lies outside John's frame of reference.”78 From this point in the reevaluation of the Apocalypse of John and the rapture of the Church, we move to one final place in the Revelation which has been an occasional candidate for the rapture of the Church: Revelation 12:5.

The Rapture In Revelation 12:5

The previous section surveyed the many places in the Apocalypse where commentators, exegetes, and theologians have identified the rapture of the Church. This section will examine one final placement of the rapture in the Book of Revelation, one that has been either over-looked by commentators in spite of its merits79 or rejected for what I hope to demonstrate are weak objections. In this section I will show that a formidable argument from genre, context, and lexical analysis can be presented for identifying the rapture of the Church with the catching up of the male child of Revelation 12:5.

    Genre Considerations

Most evangelical scholars concur that the Revelation of John is, for the most part, an example of New Testament apocalyptic/prophetic literature.80 By applying the category of “apocalyptic/prophetic” to Revelation, the present writer wishes to emphasize the use of revelatory images, not the conformity of the author to apocalyptic literature of the intertestamental period.81 While the latter entertains considerable debate and discussion in New Testament studies,82 the former is fairly well-established in Evangelical circles.83

The hermeneutical approach to this type of literature is both qualitatively and quantitatively different than the approach to non-apocalyptic/prophetic literature. Qualitatively, the certainty of conclusions is by the very nature of the genre lessened to a greater degree than conclusions from epistolary or narrative literature.84 Quantitatively, exegesis of apocalyptic literature requires additional work as images are compared, referents are identified, possible sources or allusions are examined, and decisions are made between whether the vision is pointing to the details or to the big picture.85

With regard to Revelation 12, we begin with a brief introductory examination of the type of literature, the perspective of the passage, the structure of the passage, and the function and meaning of the symbols in the over-arching context of apocalyptic literature.86

A brief statement regarding the type of literature is called for. While many passages of Revelation approximate other types of genre (i.e. Rev 2-3 as epistolary), Revelation 12 falls under this article’s broad definition of apocalypse in that it uses symbols to describe a revelation from heaven. The vision opens with καὶ σημεῖον μέγα ὦφθη ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ “and a great sign appeared in heaven . . .” The combination of the symbol (σημεῖον) as well as the heavenly origin of the symbol (ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ) makes this identification clear.

Second, the perspective of the passage is fairly clear, even if on the surface the symbols are not. There is pain and anguish of the woman (12:2) and the threat of imminent danger from the dragon toward the child about to be born (12:4). The growing tension is eased when the child is snatched away from the looming danger while the frustration of the dragon increases (12:5). He turns his attention to the woman, who herself is rescued from his presence (12:6, 14). Finally, he moves from frustration to wrath when he is cast from heaven in a great battle and begins waging war against the “rest of her offspring,” a war which he appears to be winning (Rev 13). So, the general themes of deliverance from the enemy for certain of God's people and the repeated foiling and defeat of the dragon and his armies contribute to the perspective of the passage. Such a perspective is surely a tremendous encouragement to the saints of every age suffering persecution, either physical or spiritual, who are looking for that way of escape and deliverance from the pain of this κοσμός. Although some are destined to suffer death (Rev 12:17; 13:7, 10), their end will still be perfect paradise and bliss (Rev 14:1-5; 20:4-6), while the end of their enemies will be eternal torment (Rev 19:19-21). So, the vision of Revelation 12 focuses primarily on those who will be miraculously delivered from the wrath of the dragon, both the male child and the woman.

Third, the structure of the passage is difficult to ascertain. Within the larger unit, it appears that Revelation 12 lies in the center of a chiastic structure in which the two witnesses' triumphant authority for 1,260 days in chapter 11 mirrors the two beasts’ totalitarian authority for 42 months in chapter 13. Whereas the testimony of the two witnesses ends in death and resurrection, the career of the two beasts begins with the death and resurrection of the first beast (Rev 1:3). While the two witnesses are hated by all nations (11:10), the two beasts are worshiped (13:3-4).87 Whether this chiastic structure extends outwards towards both ends of the Revelation is debatable;88 but it does appear that the centrality of the twelfth chapter within the unit of Revelation 11—13 is a safe assertion. As will be mentioned later, there are further considerations why the birth and catching up of the male child lie at the focal point not only of this section, but also of Revelation's predominant theme of the defeat of God's enemies and the return of Christ.

Within the smaller unit of chapter 12 itself, the woman and dragon are first introduced and the events of 12:1-6 appear to follow a general chronological order. The war in heaven of 12:7-12 appears to be an expansion of the fate of the dragon upon the catching up of the male child to heaven. Then, 12:3-18 recapitulates the events after the catching up of the male child, filling in details regarding the pursuit of the woman and the preservation initially described in 12:6.

Fourth, the function and meaning of the symbols will be discussed in more detail below. In preview, I will argue that the woman symbolizes the Israel of faith, or the true Israel according to election of both the Old and New Testaments (cf. Rom 9–11). The male child is a symbol for the whole people of God incorporate in Christ's mystical body, the Church, beginning with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and consummating at the rapture of the Church. The dragon symbolizes the world powers working in harmony against the people of God throughout history, as well as the power behind those empires, Satan himself.

    The Symbols Of Revelation 12

There are primarily three symbolic personages in Revelation 12:1-6—the woman, the dragon, and the male child. Each of these will be discussed in turn.

The woman. The first sign is the woman, introduced in Revelation 1:1. She is described as “clothed with the sun and with the moon under her feet, and on her head was a crown of twelve stars” (12:1). Such is her appearance. Her condition is as follows: “She was pregnant and was screaming in labor pains, struggling to give birth” (12:2).

Some have identified this woman as the Church of both the Old and New Testaments.89 Others, especially dispensationalists who assert a strong distinction between Israel of the Old Testament and the Church of the New, see the woman as representing national Israel alone.90 Still others lean towards the Israel view, but with a caveat: the woman is “ideal” Israel.91

Recognizing that the woman is a symbol and not merely an historical individual, it seems most probable that the woman primarily represents the true, elect, and faithful remnant of Israel of both the Old and New Testaments. That is, she is the body of Israel incorporate, whose members are not merely the physical seed of Jacob, but that smaller, spiritual “Israel within Israel” which Paul calls the “remnant chosen by grace” (Rom 11:5). This does not preclude the possibility that the symbol includes a second referent with Mary as the mother of Jesus fulfilling historically some aspect of the vision.92 It does, however, suggest that the primary significance of the symbol is the Israelite community of faith.

This is substantiated by the description of the woman. When the Greek of Revelation 12:1 and Genesis 37:9 (LXX) is compared, we see a strong lexical correspondence. Revelation 12:1 reads: Καὶ σημεῖον μέγα ὤφθη ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, γυνὴ περιβεβλημένη τὸν ἥλιον, καὶ ἡ σελήνη ὑποκάτω τῶν ποδῶν αὐτῆς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτῆς στέφανος ἀστέρων δώδεκα “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” The LXX of Genesis 37:9 has: ὥσπερ ὁ ἥλιος, καὶ ἡ σελήνη, καὶ ἕνδεκα ἀστέρες προσεκύνουν με “as it were the sun, and the moon, and the eleven stars did me reverence.” Both order and use of the symbols point to the conclusion that this woman represents Israel. The sun, moon, and stars correspond to the symbols in Joseph’s dream of Genesis 37:9, where they represented the patriarch, matriarch, and the sons of Jacob, the father, mother, and twelve tribes of the nation of Israel respectively.93

The symbol of a woman for the nation of Israel is found throughout the Old Testament's prophetic and apocalyptic literature.94 In fact, the condition of “pains of childbirth” is also echoed in the Old Testament.95 There is, however, one major grammatical consideration often overlooked by exegetes that helps in identifying both the woman and the male child born to her.

In Revelation 12:5 the neuter adjective ἄρσεν modifies the masculine υἱόν. This lack of concord, though strange for Greek, is not atypical in Revelation.96 Often, the harsh clash of grammar is used to point out to the reader that a particular passage from the Old Testament is being alluded to. Such is the case in Revelation 12:5. G. K. Beale argues that the passage being alluded to by ἄρσεν in Revelation 12:5 is Isaiah 66:7. He concludes:

John may intentionally have the neuter pronominal adjective ἄρσεν (instead of the masculine) irregularly modify the masculine υἱὸν. As observed above in the textual comparisons of Revelation 12 and Isaiah 66, the unusual grammar reflects the actual wording of the Isaiah text, where both the mention of 'male' and the corporate plural of 'son' (or 'child') occur in synonymous phrases expressing Jerusalem bearing in travail. That John has not made a careless grammatical blunder is clear from 12.13, where the masculine τὸν ἄρσενα is correctly used.

On the other hand, some do not see a grammatical incongruity in the use of ἄρσεν, but view it as a noun in apposition to 'son', further describing it. . . . But this still leaves unanswered the question why the neuter occurs in 12.5 and the masculine in 12.13; in addition, the substantival use normally would be articular, as in 12.13.97

Thus, John’s use of “poor grammar” in Revelation 12:5 is intended to point the reader back to the images of Isaiah 66:7, which reads: “Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she gave birth to a boy.” The next verse demonstrates that the woman and child are not intended to represent individuals, but rather assemblies: “Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Can a land be born in one day? Can a nation be brought forth all at once? As soon as Zion travailed, she also brought forth her sons.” The passage switches from the singular “son” to the plural “sons,” and describes the birth of “a land” and “a nation.”

Therefore, given the symbolic parallels between the description of the woman of Revelation 12:1 and Israel of Genesis 37:9 as well as the intentional verbal allusion to Isaiah 66:7, where the woman is clearly the nation of Israel, “Zion,” the conclusion that best fits the evidence is that when the scene of Revelation 12 opens up, the woman primarily represents Israel of the Old Testament in travail.98 Yet it is entirely possible that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is also partially in view, but only secondarily.

The Dragon. Later, in Revelation 12:9 the dragon is called “the ancient serpent, the one called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world.” Although the dragon is identified as “Satan,” he is much more than merely an individual. The symbolism of the seven heads and ten horns is not intended to identify him as the beast of Revelation 13, but as the nations throughout history who were opposed to God’s people. In fact, the seven heads and ten horns of the dragon in Revelation (and the beast in Revelation 13) are likely meant to correspond with the seven heads and ten horns of the four beasts of Daniel 7:1-8.99 Thus, the dragon symbolizes both the world system as the great inimicus of God's people throughout history and the secret ruler of that world system, Satan himself.

The Male Child. The crux of the argument of this paper lies with the identification of the male child born to the woman, Israel. The following section will examine this identification in greater depth. In preview, it will be argued that the male child born to the woman has, like the dragon, and possibly the woman, a double referent, one an individual, Jesus Christ, the other a corporate body, the Church. Five main arguments for this identification will be given: 1) the consistency in symbolism in Revelation 12; 2) the significance of the allusion to Isaiah 66:7-8; 3) the lexical issues involving the snatching up of the male child; 4) the identification of the male child as the one who will “rule over all the nations with an iron rod;” and 5) the absence of the death and resurrection of the Messiah argues for the identification of the male child with the Church.

    The Identification Of The Male Child

Revelation 12:5 reads: καὶ ἔτεκεν υἱὸν ἄρσεν, ὅς μέλλει ποιμαίνειν πάντα τὰ ἔθνη ἐν ῥάβδῳ σιδηρᾷ, καὶ ἡρπάσθη τὸ τέκνον αὐτῆς πρὸς τὸν θεὸν καὶ πρὸς τὸν θρόνον αὐτοῦ “She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne” (NIV). To be sure, many commentators identify the male child as the none other than Jesus Christ.100 Certainly, a first reading of the passage lends itself to this interpretation. However, the following considerations each lessen the likelihood that Jesus Christ alone is in view here while at the same time strengthening the notion that the child symbolizes the entire body of Christ, the New Testament Church.

Identifying the male child as the body of Christ is more consistent with the symbolism of Revelation 12:1-6.101 As noted at the beginning of this section, Revelation 12 is a chapter of symbolic representations of reality, not a picture of the reality itself. The woman has been shown to most probably symbolize the faithful, spiritual remnant of Israel within the physical descendants of Jacob. Thus, the woman primarily represents a corporate body whose individual members change throughout history, though an application to Mary, the mother of Jesus is not negated by this identification. Likewise, the dragon, though symbolizing Satan, has been shown to also symbolize the nations or gentile powers of the world system who were adversaries of Israel and God's people throughout history. Again, the dragon represents a corporate entity (the nations) as well as an individual (Satan).

To take the male child, then, as only an individual man, Jesus of Nazareth, would be to break consistency within the symbols of Revelation 12:1-7. It is acknowledged that such an inconsistency is certainly the prerogative of the author, but it fails to come to grips with the fact that John is not composing the passage ex nihilo, but describing a vision we believe actually occurred. Thus, the elements of the vision could be mixed; that is, the woman and the dragon could symbolize corporate entities while the male child is an actual human being. However, an interpretation that understands the male child to be a corporate entity does not contradict the context of the passage; it does, in fact, better suit the context.

This interpretation does not deny the fact that the individual, Jesus Christ, is part of the vision. It does, however, suggest that Jesus Christ is not alone in the vision, nor is he necessarily the primary identification. Rather, the Church, the body of Christ, which is in mystical, spiritual union with him by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:13-14), is in view.102 It is undeniable that this unio mystica is one of the great and distinct doctrines of the New Testament. 1 Corinthians 12:27 says, “Now you are (plural) the body (singular) of Christ, and members individually.” Romans 12:5 reads, “So we who are many are one body in Christ, an individually we are members who belong to one another.” Ephesians says that the goal of the ministry of the body is that we all attain to a “mature man” (ἄνδρα τέλειον); in the same context Paul uses the image of the body, Christ being the head (4:15-16). Likewise, the account in Acts 9:4 demonstrates that Christ himself is so intimately associated with His Church that the persecution of the Church equals the persecution of the ascended Christ!

Therefore, the identification of the male child in Revelation 12:5 does not discount the notion that Christ is also in view. At the same time it is consistent with the visions of the corporate entities seen in the woman and the dragon.103 It is also consistent with the real and spiritual union enjoyed by believers as the body of Christ by the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Identifying the male child as the body of Christ best explains the allusion to Isaiah 66:7. This issue was mentioned briefly under the discussion of the identification of the woman as Israel. There it was shown that the use of the neuter adjective ἄρσεν as a modifier of the masculine υἱόν is an intentional device by the author to make an allusion to the LXX of Isaiah 66:7.104 The allusion is subtle and is not likely intended to make a wholesale transference of the meaning of Isaiah 66:7-8 to Revelation 12:5. However, certain elements of Isaiah 66:7-8 suggest the identification of the male child with a corporate body, the Church.

In Isaiah 66:7-8 the child of the woman, who is certainly a personification of Israel or Jerusalem (“Zion,” 66:8), is shown to be not a single individual, but himself a corporate body, for he is later called τὰ παιδία “the children.” This parallelism is seen in both the LXX and the MT.105 In the original context, God is promising Israel a miraculous restoration and renewal (Isa 66:10-24), as well as an in-gathering of people from every nation to see the glory of the Lord (Isa 66:18-19). It is in this context that God makes “the new heavens and the new earth” (Isa 66:22). While this ultimate regeneration in the new heavens and new earth is portrayed in Revelation as yet future (cf. Rev 21:1-22:5), this regeneration is seen in the Church in embryonic form (Rom 8:20-22). If the male child of Revelation 12:5 is understood as the body of Christ, the point of the allusion is both the source of the Messianic community (the nation of Israel), as well as the relationship between the Messianic community and the eschatological regeneration.

In conclusion, the allusion to Isaiah 66:7 indicated by the neuter adjective ἄρσεν in Revelation 12:5 is best explained if the male child represents a corporate entity, the Church, rather than an individual only, Jesus Christ.

Identifying the male child as the body of Christ takes seriously the language of Revelation 12:5.106 The destiny of the male child is described by the following: καὶ ἡρπάσθη τὸ τέκνον αὐτῆς πρὸς τὸν θεὸν καὶ πρὸς τὸν θρόνον αὐτοῦ “and he was snatched up to God and to his throne.” If this passage is taken as referring to the ascension of Christ, as it so often is, the view creates a very troublesome lexical problem. Boldly stated, the verb ἁρπάζω seems to this writer to be utterly inappropriate for the ascension of Christ. This bold assertion can be demonstrated by the following considerations:

1. Inherent in the unaffected meaning of ἁρπάζω is the notion of “snatching,” not merely relocating from one physical location to another.107 In every usage in both the Septuagint (including Apocrypha) and the New Testament, ἁρπάζω brings to the passage this connotation (see chart in Diagram 2). This notion of “snatching away” does not fit at all the descriptions of the ascension of Jesus to the Father.108

2. For the ascension of Christ, the New Testament authors use terms such as ἐπαίρω “to be lifted up” (Acts 1:9), ἀναβαίνω “to ascend” (John 20:17; Eph 4:8-10), and ἀναλαμβάνω “to received up” (Mark 16:19; Luke 1:11). These are more neutral terms of spatial relocation in an upward direction. Some of these terms are used with Jesus as the actor (John 20:17; Eph 4:8-10), not simply a passive object of the action. Jesus was actively involved in his own ascension, which is portrayed as a gradual upward action.109

John was well aware of these ascension terms. Besides using the word ἀναβαίνω for the ascension of Christ in John 20:17, John also uses the exact word some twelve times in the Book of Revelation itself. Especially noteworthy is that John used ἀναβαίνω just twelve verses earlier in describing the ascension of the two resurrected witnesses to heaven (Rev 11:12). With the ascension vocabulary fresh in his mind, John used instead ἁρπάζω in Revelation 12:5. If the removal of the male child to heaven represents the ascension of Christ, it must be asked why John did not use the ascension term, especially since it would have made the most sense and identified most clearly that the male child was, in fact, Jesus Christ.110

3. Another factor to be considered is the affected meaning of ἁρπάζω in the Old and New Testament as well as the context of Revelation 12:5. As shown in the chart in Diagram 2, ἁρπάζω is used repeatedly in passages to connote violent attack, robbery, or rescue, besides its plain or normal usage, “to snatch away.” None of the nuanced meanings are inherent in ἁρπάζω, but this pattern of usage does demonstrate the types of situations in which ἁρπάζω describes the action. The question we must ask, then, is this: does Revelation 12:5 fit one of these affected nuances of ἁρπάζω, and if so, does this aid in interpreting the figure of the male child?

Revelation 12:1-4 sets up a rather intense situation in which the dragon lies with “open jaws,” waiting to devour the male child as soon as it is born. The vision clearly portrays imminent danger towards the male child from an intended attack by the dragon. Thus, the term ἁρπάζω here seems to be used in a rescue context, a context which is appropriate for the term. (Acts 23:10; Jude 23). Such a rescue nuance is utterly incompatible with the New Testament portrayal of the ascension of Christ. Jesus Christ was not snatched away to God to escape any threat, either real or imagined, either from Satan or from any other.111 Ladd emphasizes this problem when he writes, “This can hardly be an allusion to the ascension of Christ, for his rapture did not have the purpose of escaping Satan's hostility. On the contrary, as the crucified and resurrected Christ he had already won his triumph over satanic power (Heb. 2:14; Col. 2:15).”112

In conclusion, the lexical problems associated with identifying the male child as Jesus Christ appear to be considerable. At least the interpretation that the male child represents only Jesus Christ is unsupported by the use of ἁρπαζω; at most, it is contradicted.

Identifying the male child as the body of Christ best harmonizes with the quotation of Psalm 2:9 found at the beginning, middle, and end of Revelation.113 J. Dwight Pentecost argues that the quotation of Psalm 2:9 offers undeniable proof that the male child is Jesus Christ. He writes: “Since this child is born ‘to rule all nations with a rod of iron’ (Rev. 12:5), it can only refer to Christ, the one whose right it is to rule. The Psalmist confirms this interpretations in Psalm 2:9, which is admittedly Messianic.”114 Such a bold statement requires a substantial response.

It is my assertion that the quotation of Psalm 2:9 actually strengthens the identification of the male child as the body of Christ rather than Jesus Christ alone. This is demonstrated by an examination of the other two occurrences of the quotation of Psalm 2:9 in the Book of Revelation.

Psalm 2:9 is first quoted in Revelation 2:26-28, where the promise of the psalm is extended by Jesus Christ to believers. Jesus says:

And to the one who conquers and who continues in my deeds until the end, I will give him authority over the nations: He will rule them with an iron rod and like clay jars he will break them to pieces, just as I have received the right to rule from my Father, and I will give him the morning star. (NET)

At the return of Christ to earth recorded in Revelation 19:14-15, the passage is quoted once again, this time applied to Christ:

The armies that are in heaven, dressed in white, clean, fine linen, were following him on white horses. From his mouth extends a sharp sword, so that with it he can strike the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod, and he stomps the winepress of the furious wrath of God the All-Powerful. (NET)

This dual application of the promise of Psalm 2:9 harmonizes perfectly with the identification of the male child with the body of Christ, for such an interpretation does not deny that something of Christ is in view, but contends that it is Christ in union with his spiritual body, the Church, that is being symbolized.115 This may place the catching up of the male child in the midst of a great inclusio (Rev 2:26-27; Rev 19:15), from which it could be argued that the event of Revelation 12:5 is at least a significant, if not central passage in the structure of the book.

Identifying the male child as the body of Christ best explains the omission of the sine qua non of the gospel, that is, the death and resurrection of the Messiah. One of the difficulties that commentators have with the male child as Jesus Christ is the omission of the death and resurrection in Revelation 12:5.116 Often, the idea of foreshortening is invoked. However, it seems very strange indeed that the sine qua non of the Christian faith and message is deleted without even a hint in Revelation 12:5. Although such an omission is certainly within the realm of possibility, the identification of the male child as the body of Christ completely relieves the problem.

Conclusion. Taken together, the five lines of argument presented above seem to tip the preponderance of evidence in favor of the interpretation that the male child represents not Christ alone, but the body of Christ, the Church. The “snatching up” of the male child, then, would be equated with the catching up of the Church described in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

    Arguments Against Identifying The Male Child As The Church

In spite of the above considerations, a number of scholars have argued against the corporate body interpretation of the male child in favor of the view that Jesus Christ alone is represented.

Spiritualizing out of time and space.117 One argument against the interpretation presented here comes from a spiritualizing of the passage to a point at which it does not predict future events at all. In support of such a view, Ladd writes:

This is not a vision of an event which is to take place at the end; it is a vision in highly imaginative terms of the heavenly warfare between God and Satan, which has its counterpart in history in the conflict between the church and demonic evil. As such, the vision completely transcends the usual categories of time and space. It is not meant to be a foretelling of history but a representation of the struggle in the spiritual world which lies behind history. . . . This chapter, in other words, embodies a surrealistic word-picture which describes the spiritual struggle standing behind historical events.118

Of course, this understanding borders a denial of the futuristic approach to Revelation as a whole. Even so, there are indications in the passage itself which seem to anchor the vision down to the “usual categories of time and space” without denying the symbolic and figurative guise in which the future events are portrayed. First, as described in some detail above, the symbols themselves are rooted in Old Testament passages which themselves have real, historical or historical-prophetic referents. For example, the seven-headed, ten-horned dragon of Revelation 12:3 seems to be an amalgamation of the four beasts of Daniel 7:4-7, which themselves symbolize successive world empires in actual history (Dan 7:17-20). Secondly, the chronological indicators in Revelation 12:6 (“one thousand two hundred and sixty days”) and 12:14 (“time, times, and half a time”), which are allusions to the same time elements in Daniel 12:7 and likely 9:27, also serve to anchor the vision to time-space events of the future.

Overstatements of the “obvious.” Often, interpreters will argue against the body of Christ interpretation not by presenting positive or rebuttal evidence, but by simply over-stating the opposing view. Thus, Smith writes, “The reference here is unmistakably to the birth of Christ in Bethlehem of Judea. The Greek says, ‘She brought forth a son, a male.’”119 Regarding the allusion to Psalm 2:9, he writes, “This second clause plainly alludes to Psalm 2:9. . . . and establishes the fact that the man-child is Christ.”120 Regarding the “snatching up” to God, Smith writes,

Clearly the reference is to the ascension of Christ. Objection has been taken to this view on the ground that the original word for caught up denotes a violent snatching away from danger. Cf. Jude 23; Acts 23:10. That the word is not restricted to such a usage is plain from its use in Acts 8:39, where the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, and again in II Corinthians 12:2, 4, where Paul is said to have been caught up into Paradise. In fact, the word may have the direct opposite sense, as in the case where the sheep in a place of safety is caught by the world (John 10:12), and again in the same chapter in the declaration, “[No one is able to] pluck them out of my hand” (verse 28).121

Since the lexical issues have been discussed at some length in the previous section and will be dealt with briefly below, suffice it to say that Smith’s evidences do not really render the conclusion “obvious.” Nowhere does this paper argue that the unaffected meaning of ἁρπάζω is “to rescue,” while it has been demonstrated that it does not mean merely “to ascend” without the connotation of a violent snatching away.122

Mixing metaphors. Another argument against the corporate body view is the suggestion that seeing the male child as the Church “mixes metaphors” for the Church. Smith writes, “The church cannot consistently be thought of as a bride and also as a son, a male.”123 Walvoord writes:

If the identification of the twenty-four elders is properly to be regarded as the church in heaven, it would seem to mix metaphors to have the church represented as a male child, especially when the church is regarded in chapter 19 as the wife and bride. There is no good reason for not identifying the man-child as Christ and interpreting the drama of verse 5 as the panorama of His birth, life, and ascension.124

First, it is not a mixing of metaphors if the symbols appear in two different visions, as these do. Second, Ephesians 4:13 envision the Church as a “man” (ἄνδρα). If this does not constitute a contradiction to portraying the Church as the Bride, then neither does portraying the Church as a male child in Revelation 12:5. Third, does not Walvoord’s own identification of the Church as both the twenty-four elders and the Bride mix metaphors by his own criteria?

Caught up to God and to his throne” is not applicable to the Church. Others suggest that the Church could not be described as being “caught up to God and to His throne,” that this destination is reserved for the Son of God only.125 Yet in other places in Revelation we see that the destination of the throne of God is not reserved strictly for the Son of God (Rev 4:4; 7:9); and it must be pointed out that Revelation 12:5 does not say the male child sits on the throne, but that he is caught up “to God and to his throne,” indicating the direction of the snatching away (πρὸς τὸν θεὸν καὶ πρὸς τὸν θρόνον αὐτοῦ).

῾αρπάζω is virtually identical to ἀναλαμβάνω. When it comes to the lexical problems with the use of ἁρπάζω, some commentators who hold that the male child refers to Christ alone simply weaken the force of the language by commentary. Swete writes thus:

With ἡρπάσθη (Vg. raptus est, A.V., R.V., “was caught up”) compare Acts viii. 39 . . . 2 Cor. xii. 2, 4 . . . 1 Th. iv. 17 . . . . Here, if our interpretation is correct, it answers to ἀνελήμφθη in 4 Regn. ii. 11, Acts i. 2, 11, 22, 1 Tim. iii. 16, representing the Ascension as a ‘rapture’—a graphic and true, if not exhaustive description.

Likewise, Thomas argues in the following way:

It best refers to Christ's ascension to His Father's throne after the resurrection (cf. Acts 2:33, 34; 5:31; 7:55, 56; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Heb. 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet. 3:22). Harpazo need not carry the connotation of escape from immediate danger. It is simply another way of describing the action of ἀνελήμφθη . . . of Acts 1:2, 22; 1 Tim. 3:16 (Swete). The main purpose of His ascension was not to escape Satan's hostility, but this was a by-product of it. Once the Messiah was in that heavenly presence, Satan had no further access to Him, so he had to redirect his animosity.126

But such a glossing over of the word simply ignores the solid evidence that ἁρπάζω carries with it the notion of “snatching,” that Christ is never portrayed as being “snatched up” in any of the ascension passages, and that the context of Revelation 12:5 does, in fact, appear to be a rescue from the imminent threat from the dragon. Thomas’ discussion of the escape of the Messiah from hostility must also be dismissed in light of the fact that after Christ’s resurrection, he was under no threat from Satan whatsoever, either real or imagined.127

Psalm 2:9 proves that Christ is in view, not the Church. Pentecost writes, “Since this child is born ‘to rule all nations with a rod of iron’ (Rev. 12:5), it can only refer to Christ, the one whose right it is to rule”128 and later asserts that the allusion to Psalm 2:9 “identifies the man child here as none other than Jesus Christ.”129

Robert Thomas relies heavily on the allusion to Psalm 2:9 when he asserts:

Though some earlier interpreters took υἱόν ἄρσεν to be Christ and the church or even the church alone, it is clearly a reference to Jesus Christ (Swete, Seiss).130 This finds verification in the relative clause ὅς μέλλει ποιμαίνειν πάντα τὰ ἔθνη ἐν ῥάβδῳ σιδηρᾷ ( . . . “who is about to destroy all nations with a rod of iron”). The words of the clause are from Ps. 2:9 and are applied to the overcomer in 2:27 as they are to the Warrior-King in 19:15 (Alford). . . . In His triumphant return, Christ will destroy “all nations” . . . and then have dominion over new nations that will arise when He institutes His kingdom. This picture drawn from Psalm 2 requires that the birth pictured here be that of Jesus Christ (Alford).131

Yet Thomas appears to be making an unwarranted associative jump, disregarding the other lines of evidence for the identification of the male child with the Church. Merely pointing out the allusion to Psalm 2:9 and its applicability to Christ does not automatically rule out that the passage applies also the Church (cf. Rev 2:26-28). In fact, as shown above, Revelation 19:11-16 suggests that both Christ and the armies of heaven (the glorified saints) destroy the nations assembled against them.132 Thus, Thomas’ “verification” that Revelation 12:5 is “clearly a reference to Jesus Christ” fails to overcome the obstacles of the evidence.

The catching up of the male child refers to the death or resurrection as the enthronement rather than the ascension. This view is represented by scholars such as Caird and Beale.133 The major argument lies in the allusion to Psalm 2:9, an enthronement psalm. It is then shown that in Christ’s death and resurrection he was “declared the Son of God with power” (Rom 1:4). Yet Thomas points out that “the kingly theme is not prominent enough in the present context to warrant seeing this as His assumption of the throne.”134 However, there are greater concerns with this view. If the “snatching up” refers to either the death or resurrection as the enthronement, one must explain why the destination “to God and to his throne” is inserted at this point. Beale suggests that “[a]llusion to resurrection from the dead may be implicit in the word ἁρπάζω (‘catch up’), which is often used of taking something away forcefully. The idea may be that the devil momentarily devoured the Christ-child by putting him to death, only to have victory taken away at the resurrection.” Yet, this explanation fails to take seriously the prepositional phrase πρὸς τὸν θεὸν καὶ τὸν θρόνον, which indicates the destination of the motion in ἁρπάζω.135 For forty days after Christ’s resurrection, he appeared on earth to the disciples (Acts 1:3); only after this period did he ascend to heaven (Acts 1:9). Thus, the “snatching away” can not refer to either the death or resurrection as the enthronement, for Jesus was not immediately caught up to God (John 20:17); neither can it easily refer to the ascension of Christ, for although Christ ascended to God and to his throne, he was not “snatched away” (Acts 1:9).136 Although attractive on the surface, the suggestions of Caird and Beale are both unsatisfactory; yet they must be commended for wrestling with the difficulty in describing the ascension itself with ἁρπάζω.

Schilling’s four arguments against the Church as the male child in Revelation 12:5. Schilling, whose Th.M. thesis at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School dealt with the rapture of the Church in Revelation, answers the question, “[C]an the man-child's being ‘caught up’ to God's throne represent the rapture of the Church, since the Church is clearly the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12)?”137 This is precisely the question this present paper has answered with “Yes.” Schilling’s four best arguments against this view, however, are quoted here in their entirety:

    1. The representation of the man-child clearly fits Jesus Christ and no additional symbolic reference is necessary.

    2. The man-child would represent the individual Christ at His birth and then be changed to represent the many individuals of the Church at the rapture. Since there is no indication that a change has taken place, it seems best for the interpretation of the man-child to remain the same.

    3. The symbol omits several key details of the rapture event (i.e. the meeting with Christ in the clouds, etc.). If this passage were intended to represent the rapture, it seems that there would be a representation of at least some details of the rapture (1 Thess. 4:16-17; 1 Cor. 15:52) which distinguish this event from the birth, ascension, and exaltation of Jesus Christ to the throne of God.

    4. The “remnant of the seed” (Rev. 12:17) are clearly those who “bear testimony to Jesus” and “keep the commandments of God.” They would be expected to be part of the Church and raptured at this time, if this were the rapture of the Church. Since they were not raptured, this also indicates that the event was not the rapture.

Schilling’s first argument is upset by the following, all of which have been discussed in some detail above: 1) ἁρπάζω is inappropriate for the ascension of Christ; 2) the symbols in Revelation 12:1-4 are corporate entities, suggesting a similar dimension to the male child; 3) the male child appears to be “rescued” from the jowls of the dragon by the snatching away; not so with the ascension of Christ; 4) the death and resurrection are nowhere hinted at. Thus, Schilling’s suggestion that “the representation of the man-child clearly fits Jesus Christ” is overstated and inaccurate on several points.

His second argument ignores the allusion in Revelation 12:5 to the birthing of the new nation to Zion in Isaiah 66:7-8, where the corporate individual, Zion, travails and gives birth to the corporate individual, her “child,” the male, who is described as “a nation” and “sons” in the plural. The present writer does not see a substantial counter-argument in Schilling’s second point.

Schilling’s third argument appears to both ignore the genre and also appears to actually be self-defeating. First, he forgets that the context is a symbolic vision of reality, not reality itself. While 1 Thessalonians 1:4-17 describes the rapture in normal, literal language, Revelation 12:5 is a symbolic representation of the event. Secondly, Schilling points out the lack of certain rapture details, but neglects to point out that the life, death, and resurrection of Christ are entirely absent in his own interpretation.

Finally, Schilling’s assertion that the “rest of the seed” indicates a contradiction in identifying the male child as the Church misses the chronological indicators in the passage. It appears that the “rest of the seed” of the woman are on the earth in a period of time after the catching up of the male child. Including the “rest of the seed” in the Church simply betrays Schilling’s bias towards a post-tribulational rapture position. It does not, however, disprove the identification of the male child as the Church.

Conclusion. In examining the arguments set forth by various commentators and scholars which oppose the view that the male child represents the body of Christ, the present writer has found the following: 1) there is no good reason to reject the view that the male child represents the Church; 2) the identification of the male child as Jesus Christ alone does not account for all of the evidence; and 3) the identification of the male child as the Church incorporates all of the evidence. Therefore, it seems to the present writer that the best explanation for the identification of the male child in Revelation 12:5 is the body of Christ, the Church.

Implications And Conclusion

    The Apocalypse Of John And The Rapture Of The Church

If the male child represents not simply the individual, Jesus Christ, but the unio mystica, the believers of every generation of the Church who are ἐν Χριστῷ, then Revelation 12:5 is the only explicit mention of the rapture of the Church in the Book of Revelation. While other passages may, in fact, imply a rapture (i.e. Rev 3:10) the event itself is not described. Revelation 12:5, which stands at the heart of the Apocalypse and which brings together the two allusions to Psalm 2:9 found at the extremes of the Book, seems an appropriate place for the rapture of the Church in a book that was written to “show his servants what must happen very soon.”


Diagram 1: “The Two Witnesses and the Two Beasts”

Diagram 2: “ ᾿Αρπάζω in the LXX, Apocrypha, and NT”

1 A version of this paper was first presented at the Southwest Regional Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Friday, April 7, 2000. Michael J. Svigel can be contacted with questions or comments at [email protected].

2 Except in direct quotations from other writers, this paper will employ the upper-case “Church” throughout to identify both living and dead believers in Christ of the New Covenant community. This is to be distinguished from the visible church or local churches, wherein may be found both believers and unbelievers.

3 One writer expresses the matter this way: “[T]he main problem with the Book of Revelation is that there is no clear mention of the rapture of the church from Revelation 4 through Revelation 18. Here again, the massive fact that a book presenting great detail concerning the events leading up to the second coming of Christ should omit completely any hope of the rapture of the church for the tribulation saints must be faced” (John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question, rev. and exp. ed. [Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1979], 260).

4 New English Translation (NET).

5 Some of the most common and enduring proposals have been Revelation 3:10; 4:1-2; 7:9-17; 11:11-19; 14:14-16; and 19:11-20:6. It often appears that exegetes drift towards portions of Revelation that correspond to their pre-established rapture views. Those who hold to a pre-tribulation rapture position most naturally gravitate towards the opening chapters of Revelation to find the rapture, all but ignoring other parts of the book. Mid-tribulationists and pre-wrath advocates will find the rapture somewhere in the heart of the book or near the end before the bowls of wrath in chapter 16. Certainly, post-tribulationists will find the rapture in a latter passage such as Revelation 20:4-6. However, most scholars would concur that this approach, whether intentionally or unconsciously employed, is inverted. To afford myself a play-on-words, one must allow the rapture to rise up out of the text. The rules of genre-sensitive interpretation must not be stretched. One must ask where the rapture is found in the Revelation before one asks the question of when the rapture is said to take place, if, indeed, the timing of the event is even asserted by the context.

6 Cf. Rom 6:5; 8; 1 Cor 15; Phil 3:10-11; 1 Thes 4:14-17, etc.

7 Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1998), 119. This brings up the question of whether we should even expect to find the doctrine of the rapture in the Book of Revelation. Since it appears that the doctrine was uniquely Pauline and given to him through special revelation by the Lord (1 Cor 15:51, 1 Thes 4:15), it seems likely that the rapture/resurrection event was either unexpressed or veiled in the teachings of Christ. Thus, Matthew 24:30-31; Mark 13:24-27; Luke 17:22-37; and John 14:1-4, etc. would not be references to the rapture of the Church or, in the alternative, the rapture is veiled, leaving the possibility for further clear revelation. By the time 1 Corinthians was composed, the doctrine was clearly held and taught by Paul. Is it, then, necessary that the rapture should even appear in the book of Revelation? If we approach the Apocalypse as a strictly (or even primarily) human composition (that is, if we understand it to be composed by and large from the author’s own imagination) one might very well expect the rapture to be portrayed in the book, providing the author was aware of the Pauline doctrine. Yet if John were unaware of Paul’s doctrine of the rapture, he would have no reason to include it. However, if we comprehend the book as being John’s accurate reporting of revelatory visions from heaven, the issue of whether John was aware of the doctrine of the rapture or not is insignificant. While acknowledging the divine prerogative to the contrary, one cannot help but expect God to reveal something of the rapture in his last great apocalyptic message to the Church. In sum, one cannot excuse the rapture from the Apocalypse simply because it is a Pauline and not a Johannine doctrine if the book is a presentation of revelatory visions from heaven. The issue then is not whether it is Pauline or Johannine, but whether it is true.

8 Although examples of supporters of each option could easily be multiplied, for the purposes of this present work only a few major commentators will be cited as support.

9 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 4 (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948), 369-371.

10 See, for example, Paul D. Feinberg, “The Case for the Pretribulation Rapture Position,” in Three Views on the Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, or Post-Tribulational? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996); Charles C. Ryrie, The Final Countdown, rev. and exp., (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1982), 87; Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1949), 478-79. J. Ramsey Michaels presents an interesting argument that the promise of Revelation 3:10 answers to the promise of the open door in 3:8, which is understood not as an open door to the gospel but to entrance into heaven, as in Revelation 4:1 (J. Ramsey Michaels, Revelation, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, Grand Osborne, ed. [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997], 83-85).

11 Feinberg, “Pretribulation Rapture,” 63.

12 Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7, An Exegetical Commentary, Kenneth Barker, ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 283-290. See normative arguments in Thomas R. Edgar, “An Exegesis of Rapture Passages,” in Issues in Dispensationalism, Charles C. Ryrie, John R. Master, and Wesley R. Willis, eds. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 211-217; Feinberg, “Pretribulation Rapture,” 63-72.

13 Cf. Robert Gundry, The Church and the Tribulation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973), 54-61.

14 Much of the debate over Revelation 3:10 revolves not around the phrase as a whole, but around that poor little preposition, ἐκ. Probably no two-letter word has taken more of a beating in theological debate.

15 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 359.

16 Mounce, Revelation, 103. Similarly, Ladd writes, “Although the church will be on earth in these final terrible days and will suffer fierce persecution and martyrdom at the hands of the beast, she will be kept from the hour of trial which is coming upon the pagan world. God’s wrath, poured out on the kingdom of Antichrist, will not affect his people” (George E. Ladd, A Commentary on the Book of the Revelation of John [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972], 62).

17 G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary, ed. I. Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 291. However, I do not share Beale’s semi-futurist (“eclectic” or “modified idealist,” ibid., 48-49) approach to Revelation and thus I see the “hour of trial” as referring not merely to a promise to the Philadelphian church, nor to the Church throughout the present age, but also to the Church of the consummation.

18 Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 288.

19 George Eldon Ladd, The Blessed Hope: A Biblical Study of the Second Advent and the Rapture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 85-86.

20 Beale, Revelation, 290-292; Robert H. Gundry, The Church and the Tribulation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973), 58-59; William R. Kimball, The Rapture: A Question of Timing (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), 83-85.

21 See, for examples, Thomas R. Edgar, “Robert H. Gundry and Revelation 3:10,” Grace Theological Journal 3 (Spring 1982): 19-49; David G. Winfrey, “The Great Tribulation: Kept ‘Out Of’ or ‘Through’?” Grace Theological Journal 3: (Spring, 1982): 3-18; Jeffrey L. Townsend, “The Rapture in Revelation 3:10,” Bibliotheca Sacra 137 (1980): 252-266.

22 Allen Beechick, The Pre-Tribulation Rapture (Denver: Accent Books, 1980), 173; H. A. Ironside, Revelation, Ironside Commentaries, rev. ed. (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1996), 61; William R. Newell, Revelation: Chapter-by-Chapter (Chicago: Grace Publications, 1935; rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications: 1994), 90-91; C. I. Scofield, The New Scofield Study Bible: NASB (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 1776; J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: A Series of Special Lecture on the Revelation of Jesus Christ with Revised Text, 14th ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Approved-Books Store, 1900), 1: 229; John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), 103.

23 Seiss, Apocalypse, I: 229.

24 See Renald Showers, Maranatha: Our Lord, Come! (Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Inc., 1995), 74, for a contemporary representative of this view.

25 See, for example, F. W. Grant, The Prophetic History of the Church: Revelation 2 and 3 (Neptune: NJ: Loizeaux Brother, 1902).

26 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), 207-209.

27 Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 336-337. Cf. Ladd, Blessed Hope, 76-77.

28 Jacob B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ: A Commentary on the Book of Revelation, ed. J. Otis Toder (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1961), 101. Note also Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 333, where he writes, “The former occurrence of the phrase μετὰ ταῦτα . . . in v. 1 denotes the sequence in John's receipt of the revelation. It marks the beginning of a new vision as it does a number of times in the book. . . . It is true that the sequence of visions given to John may coincide with the sequence of events they predict . . . , but whenever meta tauta is followed by εἶδον . . . John's primary reference is to the beginning of a new vision.”

29 Walvoord, Rapture Question, 259.

30 Thiessen, Theology, 482.

31 Chafer, Systematic Theology, 4:371-372. Also see Seiss, Apocalypse, I: 250.

32 This question lies at the heart of interpretational approaches to the Book of Revelation generally (cf. the fine discussion on the interpretation of symbols in Beale, Revelation, 50-69). Although a detailed survey of this issue is out of the scope of this paper, the issue as it pertains to the twenty-four elders may be worth a brief excursus. Identifying the twenty-four elders as representing (either symbolically or federally) the Church rather than actual heavenly beings at the time of John's vision produces many problems. First, one of these beings interacts with John in Revelation 7:13-17. This conversation forces us to make some preliminary decisions regarding the nature of the visions/scenes John is witnessing in Revelation. Either 1) he was actually transported spiritually into the future so that he can carry on a conversation with an already translated saint (maybe he's talking to himself!); 2) heaven and all those in it (either mortal or immortal) are in a timeless state so John is able to visit heaven in his own time and converse with people who, by earth's reckoning of time, are not there yet, but will be, so are; 3) John has been transported to heaven as it was in his day and in conversing with a real being who has nothing at all to do with the translated Church since in John's day the Church has not yet been translated; 4) John is translated into a spiritual “world of make-believe,” unreal visions that appear real, but are actually simply spiritual “slide shows,” “film clips,” “skits,” etcetera that symbolically portray future events; thus, he is speaking not with a real being, but with a complex, interactive spiritual multi-media presentation. The least far-fetched and most consistent with the rest of the Revelation seems to be a combination of 3 and 4. John, like Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4, was actually transported into Paradise where he witnessed, as in Isaiah 6:1-13, a theophanes as well as other elements of the heavenly scene previously not reported. Thus, Revelation 4 and 5 is a description of what the throne room of heaven is like, at least in its presentation to John. Since it is the abode of finite beings (four creatures, twenty-four elders, angels, etc.), it is probably to be regarded as a place of linear time. After Revelation 4 and 5, a series of visions and symbolic scenes are presented, as if a large scale, high-budget film is being staged. John does not see the actual events themselves, nor does he see a chronological, real-time unfolding of symbolic representations. Rather, like Old Testament apocalyptic literature (Zechariah, Daniel, etc.) he sees episodes, one after another, arranged in a heaven-designed order, with interludes, parentheses, reviews, and previews, through various forms of media. Thus, a strict chronological approach to Revelation is not easily maintained; neither is the notion that John is seeing the future as it will actually be, but rather he is viewing a symbolic representation of that future.

33 Cf. Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2d ed. (New York: American Bible Society, 1994), 666-667.

34 Mounce, Revelation, 121, takes the third person plural in Revelation 5:9-10 as proof that the twenty-four elders are not the Church, since the saints would not sing about others if they meant themselves. However, the object of worship is God, and the singing of praises to God with the objects of his mercies in the third person is not unheard of in ancient hymnody (cf. Ps 112; 114; 127).

35 Irondside, Revelation, 61; Showers, Maranatha!, 245; Walvoord, Rapture Question, 260.

36 Showers, Maranatha!, 247-248.

37 Most commentators on the Revelation hold to some sort of recapitulation of the visions of the Apocalypse rather than a strict chronological scheme. Since most take Revelation 12:5 as the birth and ascension of Christ (which will be discussed later), those same commentators can not hold to a strict futuristic and chronological unfolding of the visions of Revelation 4 through 22 without contradiction. It seems to be more faithful to the textual data and to the nature of Apocalyptic genre in general that the visions of Revelation are recorded in the chronological order they were received, but the events they portray are sometimes chronological while at other times merely generalizations or recapitulations.

38 Robert Van Kampen, The Sign, exp. ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993), 308.

39 The intent here is not to set up a “straw man” argument, but to examine the merits of a bold assertion.

40 Van Kampen, Sign, 308-9.

41 Ibid., 309. Note: the phrase “emphasis added” is that of Van Kampen.

42 See Showers, Maranatha!, 248-249, where he demonstrates that non-resurrected spirit beings can, indeed, perform all of the activities mentioned here.

43 Cf. Ladd, Revelation, 117-120.

44 James O. Buswell, A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1963), 2: 456.

45 Norman B. Harrison, The End: Re-Thinking the Revelation (Minneapolis, MN: The Harrison Service, 1948), 114-121; Mounce, Revelation, 217; Henry Barclay Swete, Commentary on Revelation, reprint (Grand Rapids: Kregal Publications, 1977), 134-140.

46 Mounce, Revelation, 217. Cf. Swete, Revelation, 134, 140.

47 It is rather interesting to note that the context of two witnesses in Revelation 11 is the measuring of the temple, apparently the temple on earth in Jerusalem (cf. 11:1, 2). In the context of Zechariah 4, we find reference to the completion of the project to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem in the midst of adversity (Zech 4:7-10). It is possible that the images of Revelation 11:1-6 imply a future rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem during the first three and a half years of Daniel’s 70th week (Dan 9:27), rendering possible the literal fulfillment of passages such as Daniel 9:27 and 2 Thessalonians 2:4, in which an earthly temple seems to be implied.

48 The symbol of the “fire” coming out of their mouths is perhaps best explained by the description of 11:6, where it is said that they have authority to call plagues down to the earth at will.

49 Buswell, Theology, 2: 456; also see David V. Schilling, “The Rapture According to the Book of Revelation,” (Th.M. thesis, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1990), 65-66, who concludes that the resurrection/ascension of the two witnesses is not the rapture of the Church per se, but that “it seems possible that this event [of the two witnesses] may coincide with the rapture of the Church.”

50 George Bradford Caird, The Revelation of Saint John, Black’s New Testament Commentary, Henry Chadwick, ed., reprint ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993), 107. Cf. Schilling, “Rapture,” 132ff.;

51 Schilling, “Rapture,” 132.

52 This present writer sees the trumpets of Revelation (as well as the opening of the seals) as events that took place strictly in John’s heavenly experience and announced the visions of future events. They are not to be equated with the future events themselves as if during the tribulation Jesus Christ will take a literal scroll and breaks open the seals one by one. Nor do I expect seven angels to line up and blast their trumpets while events unfold on the earth. John, I believe, is not looking into the future and seeing events that will take place during the tribulation; he is in his own day looking at a series of visions that point to the events of the tribulation in a symbolic fashion. The seventh trumpet is a part of the vision, not a part of the future events. However, the interpretations presented here do not depend on this understanding.

53 Interestingly, the trumpet is mentioned only in Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse. Both Mark and Luke omit any mention of a trumpet blast at the return of Christ. Given Matthew’s penchant for Old Testament allusions and quotation, he is likely making a reference to Isaiah 27:12-13, where the gathering of God’s people, Israel, is announced by the “great trumpet.” The LXX reads καὶ ἐσται ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ συμφράξει κύριος ἀπὸ τῆ? διώρυγος τοῦ ποταμοῦ ἕως ρίοκορούρων ὑμεῖς δὲ συναγάγετε τοὺς υἱοὺς Ισραηλ κατὰ ἕνα ἕνα καὶ ἔσται ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ σαλπιοῦσιν τῇ σάλπιγγι τῇ μεγάλῃ καὶ ἥξουσιν οἱ ἀπολόμενοι ἐν τῇ χώρᾳ τῶν ᾿Ασσυρίων καὶ οἱ ἀπολόμενοι ἐν Αἱγύπτῳ καὶ προσκυνήσουσιν τῷ κρυίῳ ἐπὶ τὸ ὄρος τὸ ἅγιον ἐν Ιερουσαλημ. Matthew 24:31 reads καὶ ἀποστελεῖ τοὺς ἀγγέλους αὐτοῦ μεγὰ σάλπιγγος μεγάλης, καὶ ἐπισυνάξουσιν τοὺς ἐκλεκτοὺς αὐτους ἐκ τῶν τεσσάρων ἀνέμων ἀπ ᾿ ἄκρων οὐρανῶν ἕως [τῶν] ἄκρῶν aujtw'n. In this light, Matthew’s account appears to anchor the event to the restoration of the scattered Israelites to their land in the future reign of Christ.

54 For a discussion of the arguments for and against a Neronic dating of Revelation, see Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 4th rev. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 957-961.

55 See discussion in Guthrie, NT Introduction, 457-459.

56 Buswell, Theology, 2: 458-459.

57 Ibid. 2: 459.

58 The opening of the fifth seal reveals the following: “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been violently killed because of the word of God and because of the testimony they had given. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Master, holy and true, before you judge those who live on the earth and avenge our blood?’ Each of them was given a long white robe and they were told to rest for a little longer, until the full number was reached of both their fellow servants and their brothers who were going to be killed just as they had been.” A theme throughout Revelation is the vengeance of God upon the enemies of his people for their unjust suffering and death. Revelation 8:1-5 portrays the prayers of the saints coming from the altar (where the souls had been requesting vengeance) with the result that an angel throws fire from the altar and causes cataclysmic disturbances. Then, in Revelation 10:6-7, the angel swears “by the one who lives forever and ever,” the creator of the heavens, earth, and sea, that “there will be no delay any longer!” but that “in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God is completed, just as he has proclaimed to his servants the prophets.” In Revelation 11:18-19, after the sounding of the seventh trumpet, the twenty-four elders praise God that “the nations were enraged, but your wrath has come, and the time has come for the dead to be judged, and the time has come to give to your servants, the prophets, their reward, as well as to the saints and to those who revere your name, both small and great; and the time has come to destroy those who destroy the earth.” The servants, the prophets, and the saints are being rewarded by the judgment of wrath against those who persecuted and killed them. Revelation 18:4-24 outlines the judgment of Babylon as retribution for the murder of the saints. A voice from heaven calls God’s people to come out of Babylon so they do not receive her plagues (18:4). Then he says that “her sins have piled up all the way to heaven and God has remembered her crimes. Repay her the same way she repaid others; pay her back double corresponding to her deeds. In the cup she mixed, mix double the amount for her” (18:5-6). In 18:20 the voice interjects: “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has pronounced judgment against her on your behalf!” In 18:24 it is said, “The blood of the saints and prophets was found in her, along with the blood of all those who had been killed on the earth” (cf. Rev 19:1-10). All of this demonstrates that the song of the seventh trumpet is the announcement of judgment on Babylon, the empire of the Beast, and the time when God fulfills His promise to the martyrs of the tribulation to exact revenge on those who killed them. In my view, this rewarding does not occur at the seventh trumpet, but it is thereby announced. In the following visions, especially in Revelation 14—19, John portrays the judgment of the wicked. Therefore, I believe a wedding of the actual resurrection/rewarding of the Church with the moment of the seventh trumpet is untenable for two main reasons: 1) those dead who are mentioned seem to be the tribulation martyrs mentioned throughout Revelation as awaiting revenge on their killers; and 2) these events are not confined to the precise moment of the trumpet blast, but the blast merely announces them in John's vision. The events actually take place with the bowls of wrath, destruction of Babylon, and the battle of Armageddon.

59 Schilling, “Rapture,” 207-208. Space does not permit an in-depth presentation of all of Schilling’s arguments. The reader is strongly encouraged to consult Schilling’s thesis for a full expression and defense of his position.

60 Caird, Revelation, 190.

61 Ibid., 188-195.

62 G. H. Lang, The Revelation of Jesus Christ: Select Studies, 2d ed. (London: The Paternoster Press, 1948), 236-243; Schilling, “Rapture,” 207-208.

63 Ladd, Revelation, 198; Swete, Revelation, 188-193.

64 G. R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation, New Century Bible, Matthew Black, gen. ed. (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1974), 228; Mounce, Revelation, 278; Thomas, Revelation 8-22, An Exegetical Commentary, Kenneth Barker, ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 219-220.

65 Jeremiah 51:33 reads, “For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘The daughter of Babylon is like a threshing floor at the time it is stamped firm; Yet in a little while the time of harvest will come for her.’”

66 Seiss, Apocalypse, III: 38-40

67 Ruth 2:3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 14.

68 Matthew 13:41-43, NET Bible. Italics in the original translation are meant to reflect allusions to the Old Testament passages Daniel 3:6 and 12:3, respectively. While I view the former allusion to be questionable, the latter is almost certain.

69 But see Caird, Revelation, 188-195.

70 See brief discussion in footnote 53 above.

71 J. Massyngberde Ford argues that Revelation shows “little evidence of being a truly Christian work” and suggests that it is a redacted Jewish apocalypse of the first century. The main arguments for this are the vast differences between Christian Apocalypses and Revelation, especially the utter lack of New Testament references and the plethora of Old Testament allusions and quotations (J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, The Anchor Bible, W.F. Albright and David Noel Freedman, eds. [Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1975], 3-26).

72 Walvoord, Revelation, 268.

73 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 says, ὅτι αὐτὸς ὁ κύριος ἐν κελεύσματι, ἐν φωνῇ ἀρχαγγέλου καὶ ἐν σάλπιγγι θεοῦ, καταβήσεται ἀπ ᾿ οὐρανοῦ καὶ οἱ νεκροὶ ἐν Χριστῷ ἀναστὴσονται πρῶτον, ἔπειτα ἡμεις οἱ ζῶντες οἱ περιλειπόμενοι ἅμα σὺν αὐτοῖς ἁρπαγησόμεθα ἐν νεφέλαις εἰς ἀπάντησιν τοῦ κυρίου εἰς ἀέρα· καὶ οὕτως πάντοτε σὺν κυρίῳ ἐσόμεθα. 1 Corinthians 15:52 reads ἐν ἀτόμῳ, ἐν ῥιπῇ ὀφθαλμοῦ, ἐν τῇ ἐσχάρῃ σάλπιγγι· σαλπίσει γὰρ καὶ οἱ νεκροὶ ἐγερθήσονται ἄφθαρτοι καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀλλαγησόμεθα. 1 Thessalonians ties the descent of Christ to the “shout,” the “voice of the archangel” and the “trumpet of God” while 1 Corinthians 15:52 ties the “last trumpet” to the resurrection and translation of the living. Thus, all of these simultaneous events occur “in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye.”

74 Ladd, Revelation, 255.

75 Once the term ἐκλεκτός is used to modify “angels” (1 Tim 5:21). However, angels are not described as “called” or “faithful.”

76 The NET Bible translates it thus: “Then I saw thrones and seated on them were those who had been given authority to judge.” Similarly, the NIV has “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge.”

77 Ladd, Revelation, 263. However, Ladd believes that both of these groups, though distinguished in the passage, are nevertheless resurrected at the same time after the return of Christ. He writes, “Both groups come to life at the same time in the first resurrection. . . . The identity of the second group is clear. But who are contained in the first, undefined group? Only one possibility commends itself. They are the righteous who have died naturally, who have not been martyred. . . . this passage locates the resurrection both of saints and martyrs at the Revelation of Christ” (Ladd, Blessed Hope, 83, emphasis his). However, Ladd’s interpretation overlooks the identification of the armies accompanying Christ at his return in Revelation 17:14 and the presence of the armies in Revelation 19:14 (both the same group); this group of saints is glorified before the battle of Armageddon and the resurrection of the martyrs in Revelation 20:4-6. Yet in spite of this evidence, Ladd says, “After the battle of Armageddon occurs the resurrection. . . . Both groups come to life at the same time in the first resurrection” (ibid., 83). Therefore, if my understanding of Revelation 17:14; 19:14; and 20:4 is correct, Ladd’s assertion cannot be maintained.

78 Mounce, Revelation, 119. See footnote 7 above.

79 Mounce (Revelation, 231-234), in his discussion of the male child, makes absolutely no mention of the interpretation presented here. He apparently does not feel the view merits any discussion whatsoever. Beale (Revelation, 641-642) simply mentions the view, but does not adequately present its positive arguments nor make any attempt at refuting them. Such treatments (or non-treatments) by such commentators as Mounce and Beale amount to cavalier dismissals rather than a reckoning with the data.

80 “Apocalyptic” is used here in a general sense and does not preclude the presence of other elements (epistle, prophecy). However, Beale, Revelation, 37 suggests that “it is best to understand apocalyptic as an intensification of prophecy.” One New Testament Introduction describes Revelation as “a prophecy cast in an apocalyptic mold and written down in a letter form” (D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992], 39). Cf. Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (Wheaton: BridgePoint Books, 1993), 90-96; James Moffatt, “Revelation of St. John the Divine,” in The Expositor’s Greek Testament, vol 5, ed. W. Robertson Nicoll (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), 295-305.

81 See the discussion on Revelation’s alleged use of sources in Guthrie, NT Introduction, 965-968, where he writes, “The most obvious source of ideas and mental images is the Old Testament. . . . [A]lthough the writer was acquainted with the [intertestamental] Jewish [apocalyptic] works, he is independent of them and cannot be considered as a continuation of them” (965-967). Cf. George E. Ladd, “The Revelation and Jewish Apocalyptic,” Evangelical Quarterly 29 (1957):94-100.

82 A brief synopsis of this debate is most easily accessed in Beale, Revelation, 39-43.

83 See Beale, Revelation, 37-39.

84 Cf. Millard J. Erickson, A Basic Guide to Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 183-184; Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 231-232. The dogmatic and often divisive positions on interpretations of eschatology of the past have, for the most part, fallen out of favor among present-day Evangelical students of eschatology.

85 Darrell Bock has an excellent discussion of the hermeneutical issues related to apocalyptic literature. He writes: “Interpretation of apocalyptic is not a matter of literal versus figurative/allegorical approaches, but of how to identify and understand the reference of the figure in question” (Blaising and Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism, 93).

86 These principles are borrowed from Osborne, Hermeneutical Spiral, 230-232, wherein he discusses a number of basic “Hermeneutical Principles” for approaching apocalyptic literature.

87 See Diagram 1 in Appendix.

88 See E. S. Fiorenza, “Composition and Structure of the Book of Revelation,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 39 (1977): 344-366. She views the structure of the whole of Revelation to be concentric (not exactly chiastic) in nature, with the corresponding sections as follows: 1:1-8 || 22:10-21; 1:9-3:22|| 19:11-22:9; 4:1-9:21 and 11:15-19 || 15:5-19:10; with the focal point at 10:1-15:4. Other attempts at identifying a chiastic structure have produced varying results (cf. Michelle V. Lee, “A Call to Martyrdom: Function as method and Message in Revelation,” Novum Testamentum XL, 2 [1998]: 174-194). It seems to the present writer that attempts at identifying a chiastic structure in Revelation, though provocative, are likely ultimately un-provable.

89 Lang, Revelation, 198-201.

90 Walvoord, Revelation, 188.

91 Ladd, Revelation, 167; Mounce, Revelation, 23.

92 G. K. Beale writes, “Though the mother of Jesus may be secondarily in mind, the primary focus here is not on an individual but on the community of faith” (Revelation, 628).

93 See Smith, Revelation, 181.

94 Cf. Ford, Revelation, 195: “Although the woman may be an individual, a study of the OT background suggests that she is a collective figure. . . . In the OT the image of a woman is a classical symbol for Zion, Jerusalem, and Israel, e.g. Zion whose husband is Yahweh (Isa. 54:1, 5, Jer 3:20, Ezek 16:8-14, Hosea 2:19-20), who is a mother (Isa 49:21, 50:1, 66:7-11, Hosea 4:5, Bar 4:8-23), and who is in the throes of birth (Micah 4:9-10, cf. Isa 26:16-18, Jer 4:31, 13:21, Sir 48:19[21]).” See also Mounce, Revelation, 231;

95 Cf. Isaiah 66:7; Micah 5:3.

96 Cf. Revelation 1:8.

97 The reader is directed to the full discussion in G. K. Beale, John's Use of the Old Testament in Revelation, Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 166, ed. Stanley E. Porter (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998), 341-343.

98 Mounce, Revelation, 232; Swete, Revelation, 148.

99 In Daniel 7, the first beast representing Babylon (7:4) has one head; the second beast, Medo-Persia (7:5) has one head; the third beast symbolizing Greece (7:6) has four heads; and the fourth beast, Rome (7:7) has one head and ten horns. If we were to symbolize all of the national enemies of God’s people throughout history in one great monster, it would then have seven heads and ten horns. Thus, the symbol of the dragon in Revelation 12 is Satan working through the means of world empires. In the eschaton, the beast from the sea looks like the dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and also sharing the same features of the lion, bear, and leopard, as the four world powers of Daniel 7:1-7 (cf. Revelation 13:1-2).

100 Mounce, Revelation, 231-234; Newell, Revelation, 175-76; Ford C. Ottman, The Unfolding of the Ages in the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1967), 284-85; Pentecost, Things to Come, 215; Smith, Revelation, 183-184; Swete, Revelation, 151; Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 125-26; Walvoord, Revelation, 189-90.

101 Arthur E. Bloomfield, All Things New: The Prophecies of Revelation Explained (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1959), 215.

102 Ironside, Revelation, 140.

103 Lang, Revelation, 198.

104 Beale, Use of OT in Revelation, 341-343.

105 MT: rk*z* hf*yl!m=h!w+ Hl* lb#j@ aoby` <r#f#B= (66:7)…. h*yn#B*-ta# /oYx! hd*l=y*-<G^ hl*j*-yK! (66:8). LXX: ἔτεκεν ἄρσεν καὶ ἔτεκε Σιὼν τὰ παιδία αὐτῆς.

106 Bloomfield, All Things New, 217.

107 BAGD defines the word in the following ways: “snatch, seize, i.e., take suddenly and vehemently, or take away in the sense of 1. steal, carry off, drag away . . . . 2. snatch or take awaya. forcefully . . . . b. in such a way that no resistance is offered” (BAGD, 109). Thus Ford writes, “The verb harpazo, ‘snatch,’ is never used of the ascension of Christ, although anabaino, ‘ascend,’ used of the two witnesses in 11:12, does have this connotation, and is used in relationship to the ascension of Jesus. But in our present text there seems to be no Christological reference. In the LXX and the NT harpazo means to take away by force, usually with the implication that resistance is impossible.” (Ford, Revelation, 200).

108 Some have tried to avoid this problem by suggesting the snatching away is unto death, and that the entire scene in Revelation 12:1-6 is a midrash of Psalm 2. Caird thus writes: “By the birth of the Messiah John means not the Nativity but the Cross. The reason for this is that he is continuing his exposition of the second psalm, begun in the vision of the seventh trumpet. In the psalm it is not at his birth but as his enthronement on mount Zion that the anointed king is addressed by God, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you’, and is given authority to smash all the nations with an iron bar (Ps. ii. 7-9). A king's birthday is the day of his accession. For the Christian exegesis of this psalm John had as guide the preaching tradition of the primitive church that Jesus ‘was appointed Son of God with power after he rose from the dead’ (Rom. i. 4). Sonship and enthronement belong inseparably together, and therefore the male child is no sooner born than he is snatched away to God and to his throne. But for John as the fourth evangelist, the Cross is the point at which Jesus entered upon his kingly glory. ‘I conquered and sat down beside my Father on his throne’ (iii. 21). . . . The prince is snatched from the dragon’s clutches not by magic but by death; and his place of safety is not some secluded island but the throne of God, whence he will return to kill the dragon” (Caird, Revelation, 149-59). The problem with such a view is that the destination of the snatching away is “to God and to his throne,” an event which took place, according to the gospel account, some forty days after the resurrection. Also, the grand midrash of Psalm 2 is in doubt, since in Psalm 2 the father of the son is God; in Revelation 12:5 the mother of the son is Israel. In what way, then, would the “birth” of the son in a regal sense through death, resurrection, and ascension be related to the birthing from the nation of Israel? Caird’s conclusions do not appear to consider these factors.

109 The phrase in Acts 1:10 strongly suggests a gradual ascension, not a sudden snatching away. The Greek reads: καὶ ὡς ἀτενίζοντες ἦσαν εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν πορευομένου αὐτοῦ “As they were staring into the sky while he was going . . .” The combination of the imperfect of εἰμι in with the present parenthetical participle ἀτενίζοντες and the present participle πορευομένου makes best sense if the ascension of Christ was an event that was gradual. Both the language and the grammar leave little room for a sudden and vehement snatching away form their sight, since according to this passage they were watching while he was going up.

110 At the time of the original reading of this article at the Southwest Regional Evangelical Theological Society Meeting on Friday, April 7, 2000, the NET Bible’s translation of this verse read “Her child was taken up to God and to his throne.” In response to my original criticism of that translation in this footnote, the editors of the NET Bible changed the translation to one which goes far beyond my suggestion of “caught up” or “snatched up.” Now, the NET Bible reads “Her child was suddenly caught up.” The NET Bible must be commended for their readiness to change in light of new evidence.

111 Lang, Revelation, 198.

112 Ladd, Revelation, 170. It must be pointed out that Ladd does not conclude that the male child is the Church, but “John's vivid way of asserting the victory of God’s anointed over every satanic effort to destroy him.”

113 Buswell, Theology, 2: 462; Ironside, Revelation, 140.

114 Pentecost, Things to Come, 215.

115 The use of Psalm 2:9 in Revelation also argues to some degree for an identification of the “armies of heaven” in Revelation 19:14 with over-coming believers of the Church (Rev 2:26-28). It is the armies who actually break to pieces the nations. This would suggest then, that the Church, the body of Christ, is raptured, resurrected, and glorified before the return of Christ to earth described in Revelation 19:11-21.

116 Cf. Michaels, Revelation, 149. He explains the difficulty by suggesting that 1) John consistently uses other symbols (such as a Lamb) for the death of Christ; and 2) that the emphasis in Revelation 12:5 is on Jesus’ identification with the “seed” of Genesis 3:15.

117 Nothing pejorative is intended by identifying this approach as “spiritualizing,” for a close examination of Ladd’s interpretation will demonstrate that this is exactly what it is.

118 Ladd, Revelation, 166-167.

119 Smith, Revelation, 183.

120 Ibid., 183-184.

121 Ibid., 184.

122 Cf. D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 87-123; for a discussion of logical fallacies. Smith appears to succumb to appeals to selective evidence, unwarranted associative jumps, false statements, cavalier dismissal, and abuse of words such as “obviously” and “clearly.”

123 Smith, Revelation, 184.

124 Walvoord, Revelation, 190-191.

125 Smith, Revelation, 184; Walvoord, Revelation, 191.

126 Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 126.

127 The period of Christ's appearances on earth during the forty-days after His resurrection are not characterized in any sense of His being sought after by Satan. To say that a by-product of the ascension was the escape of Satan's hostility denies the full import of the resurrection. Jesus was no longer in conflict with Satan, but completely victorious over him in His death and resurrection. Thomas is right in seeing in the context of Revelation 12:5 an impending danger from and hostility by the Dragon towards the male child and thus a "rescue" context for the use of ἁρπάζω in 12:5, but his application of this to Christ's ascension does not follow theologically. If this were so, then Christ must have been threatened by Satan's attacks even after His resurrection!

128 Pentecost, Things to Come, 215.

129 Ibid., 286.

130 Thomas’ parenthetical reference to Seiss is somewhat unclear here. Actually, Seiss believes the male child to be all believers of the First Resurrection (Seiss, Apocalypse II: 335-338).

131 Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 125-126.

132 Revelation 19:19 says that the beast and his armies “assembled to do battle with the one who rode the horse and with his army” (emphasis mine).

133 Caird, Revelation, 149-150; Beale, Revelation, 639-642. Also see footnote 108, above.

134 Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 125.

135 While ἁρπάζω πρὸς τὸν θρόνον could possibly be understood as merely metaphorical for the “enthronement” of Christ by resurrection, the phrase ἁρπάζω πρὸς τὸν θεόν does not readily lend itself to a metaphorical interpretation. Although enthronement certainly seems to be in the picture, such enthronement is one which seems to take place literally in the presence of God and his throne in heaven, not spiritually by way of resurrection.

136 Cf. also the comments of Michaels, Revelation, 149.

137 Schilling, “Rapture,” 54.

Related Topics: Dispensational / Covenantal Theology, Eschatology (Things to Come)

A Note to the Reader

My family and I came to Dallas in June of 1967 to attend Dallas Seminary. We immediately were led of God to fellowship at Believers Chapel. This church had a profound impact on my life and ministry. During my seminary years I taught at the Chapel on various occasions, and after graduation I was involved full time in the ministry of this church, along with others. It was with the encouragement and assistance of the elders of Believers Chapel that I and other men from the Chapel set out to establish a church plant. Just before we left Believers Chapel, the elders encouraged me to teach a series on the New Testament church which highlighted some of the distinctives of what we then called “the new work.” These manuscripts contain the series which I taught in 1976 while at Believers Chapel, and they still describe (with minor changes over the years) the principles which guide and govern Community Bible Chapel (“the new work”) some 22 years later.