THE ETERNAL STATE
Prophecy Studies - No. 12
The Eternal State involves the destiny of all human beings born since the beginning of time. With this lesson we come to the conclusion of our brief look at the subject of Bible prophecy. Perhaps it will be worthwhile to do a brief review of the subjects covered.
Lesson 1. JESUS IS COMING. Reminded us of who Christ is, and established the certainty of His return, based upon many passages of Scripture.
Lesson 2. THE CHOSEN PEOPLE. Dealt with Israel and God’s covenants guaranteeing the Jews a future in their own land, during Messiah’s reign.
Lesson 3. THE TIMES OF THE GENTILES. Detailed the Gentile oppression of Israel from the Babylonian Captivity to the end of the Antichrist’s rule.
Lesson 4. THE RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH. Described the next event on God’s prophetic calendar, the catching away of the living church to be with Christ.
THE RAPTURE BEFORE THE TRIBULATION
These studies present the author’s conviction that the Bible teaches the pre-Tribulation rapture of the church. However, there are some who believe the church will be left on earth to go through that terrible time and be raptured at the end of it. The evidence against such a view is too extensive to list here. (In The Rapture Question, John Walvoord offers 50 proofs of his pre-Tribulation position!) Other excellent books on this subject are: Kept from the Hour, by Gerald B. Stanton, The Rapture: Truth or Consequences, by Hal Lindsey, and No Fear of the Storm, by Tim LaHaye. Space does not permit a thorough examination of this subject, but here are a few facts to be considered, defending a pre-tribulation rapture.
1) The nature and purpose of the Tribulation--it has to do with God’s judgment of the unbelieving nations of the world, and with His renewed program for Israel in preparation for her Messiah’s reign. The church is not directly related to either objective.
2) New Testament Christians looked for the rapture to occur at any time. The imminence of the rapture argues against Christians having to endure the events of Revelation 6-18 and years of unparalleled earthly judgment first.
3) Not one single Bible passage describes a rapture that takes place at the end of the Tribulation. This is strange indeed if God should have prepared us to live through the seven years on earth! On the contrary, First Thessalonians 4 and 5 presents events in the order followed in these studies. First, there is the rapture of the church (Chapter 4). Then the judgment of the “Day of the Lord” follows, with a significant switch in pronouns from “we” and “us” (believers, 4:15, 17) to “they” and “them” (unbelievers, 5:3). This pattern is at least suggested in Revelation, as well, since John, a member of the body of Christ, is caught up into heaven (Rev. 4:1) and observes the earthly judgments from there.
4) We are told to “comfort” one another concerning the future. This makes sense if we expect to be caught up into the presence of Christ. But it is difficult to see how we can find comfort in the unparalleled earthly judgments described in Revelation.
5) If the rapture were to occur at the end of the Tribulation, no one would be left to populate the Millennium! All the unsaved will be destroyed at Christ’s coming, and consigned to “everlasting fire.” Only believers will enter the kingdom. And if they are to be raptured just before, they all would receive glorified, resurrection bodies. But it is clear from many Scriptures that those who enter the kingdom are still in their mortal bodies. Many children will be born to the citizens of the earthly kingdom. And some will actually die during the thousand years. (Neither of these is true of glorified saints.)
Lesson 5. THE SIGNS OF THE END. Listed the many signs given to Israel that will precede the second coming of Christ to the earth. (Logically, Lessons 5 and 6 would be better in reverse order.)
Lesson 6. THE CHURCH IN GLORY. Talked about how Christians will be rewarded for their life and service for Christ at His judgment seat.
Lesson 7. THE ANTICHRIST. Depicted the rise and fall of Satan’s counterfeit Christ and his false prophet, during the Tribulation.
Lesson 8. THE GREAT TRIBULATION. Outlined God’s wrath upon the unsaved and the terrible judgments of the Tribulation, ending at Armageddon.
Lesson 9. ISRAEL IN THE TRIBULATION. Showed how God will return to His plan for Israel, and how He will protect a believing remnant saved during the Tribulation.
Lesson 10. THE SECOND COMING. Dealt with Christ’s return to the earth, His destruction of His enemies at Armageddon, and His judgment of the nations.
Lesson 11. THE MILLENNIAL KINGDOM. Described the earthly thousand-year reign of Christ, its great blessing and its key purposes.
Lesson 12. Now, we turn our attention to “THE ETERNAL STATE.”
1) What two kinds of resurrection does Jesus describe (Jn. 5:29)?
INSIGHT: The division between “those who have done good” and “those who have done evil” is not suggesting a salvation by works. It is simply a way of describing the righteous and the unrighteous. The righteousness by which we are saved is credited to our account through faith, on the basis of what Christ has done for us (II Cor. 5:21).
2) What does the Bible call this “resurrection of life” in Revelation 20:5-6?
INSIGHT: This “first” resurrection has several phases. Christ is the “firstfruits” of it (I Cor. 15:20). Then the dead in Christ rise at the time of the rapture, with Christians who are alive at the time receiving their resurrection bodies without passing through death (I Cor. 15:23; I Thess. 4:16-17). The resurrection of Old Testament saints, and the martyrs of the Tribulation, takes place at the beginning of the Millennium (Cf. Dan. 12:1-2). All of this is included in “the first resurrection,” Leaving only the unsaved of all the ages to be dealt with. Read Revelation 20:11-15, concerning the unbelieving dead.
3) To what place is this vast group summoned (Rev. 20:11)?
INSIGHT: This is God’s eternal throne. Its location seems to be somehow outside the material universe, since the present earth and heaven flee away from it. God will supernaturally shelter and preserve us through this, and the creation of the new heaven and earth (21:1).
4) Where will the unsaved dead be sent after they are judged (Rev. 20:15)?
5) On what basis will they be condemned to this destiny (Rev. 20:15)?
INSIGHT: This is elsewhere called “the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27). There are also other “books” involved in this judgment, perhaps a record of the earthly life of each unsaved person. Even their inner thoughts and motives will be exposed (I Cor. 4:5). Possibly there will be degrees of punishment according to how each has lived, but all will be lost, without exception. This is what Jesus calls “the resurrection of condemnation” (Jn. 5:29) and Daniel describes as awaking “to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2).
6) According to Revelation 20:14 what else will be consigned to the lake of fire, in addition to the unsaved?
INSIGHT: The significance of this is first that there will be no more death. The unsaved who are condemned to eternal punishment will not die. Theirs will be an endless torment. And “Hades” (a better translation than “hell” in this case) is the present temporary abode of the unsaved dead. (In the sense that it is a place of burning torment, it is similar to their final destiny, cf. Lk. 16:23-24.) They are already being punished, but they still await their final judgment at the Great White Throne. The point here is that there will be no more temporary place for them after this. Where they are sent they will be forever.
7) What else is the lake of fire called (Rev. 21:14)?
INSIGHT: Death involves a separation of some kind. The first death involves a temporary separation of the spirit from the body. All of us will experience this, unless we are “alive and remain” at the time of the rapture. Then our spirits will be tabernacled in new, resurrection bodies. The second death, however, is for all of the unsaved. It will involve the eternal separation of the person from God’s revealed presence and from fellowship with Him.
INSIGHT: It is vitally important to realize that when the Bible talks about individuals “perishing” or being “destroyed” in hell, it does not mean they will be annihilated and cease to exist. When Jesus says we should “fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28), He uses the Greek word apollumi (the same word is translated “perish” in John 3:16). It means to bring to ruin, and cast aside as worthless. Appropriately, the Greek word translated “hell” in the above verse is gehenna which originally referred to the Valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem. It was the city garbage dump, where all the dead animals, and the filth and refuse of the city was cast. What a symbol of the wasted eternity hell will be for countless lost souls!
8) Demonstrating that people are not annihilated in hell: who are sent there before the Millennium (Rev. 19:20) and still there a thousand years later (Rev. 20:10)?
INSIGHT: Nor is there any room for repentance in hell, or any second chance to be saved (Jn. 3:36). When God has consigned the unsaved to a lost eternity He declares, “He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still.” In other words, the condition is permanent. So is the state of the righteous, because the verse goes on, “He who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still” (Rev. 22:11).
9) How does the number of the lost (sadly) compare with the number who will be saved (Matt. 7:13-14)?
10) What are two characteristics of hell described in the following verses (things that will be felt and seen) (Matt. 25:41; or see Mk. 9:43; Rev. 14:11)?
¤ Also Matt. 8:12; 25:41 (or see Mk. 9:43; Jude 1:13; Rev. 14:11)
INSIGHT: A fire that burns but does not consume--such as Moses saw at the burning bush (Exod. 3:2), and a fire that provides no cheering light (perhaps like nuclear energy or radio activity?). What a dreadful scene!
11) What will God do, after the judgment of the Great White Throne (Rev. 21:1)?
INSIGHT: The destruction of the old universe is described graphically in Second Peter. “The heavens will pass away with a great noise....both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up....The heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat” (II Pet. 3:10, 12). We could not understand such massive destruction until the discovery of nuclear fission. We now know that the atoms (elements) of which the material universe is made contain inconceivably great amounts of energy, waiting to be released.
INSIGHT: It seems that Satan has not only polluted earth with his wickedness. In some way the heavens have been affected as well (cf. Job 15:15). He is ”the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), and we know he still has some limited access to God (Job 1:6; Rev. 12:10). So God will destroy the entire old creation, with any vestiges of sin’s corruption, and make all things new, from which Satan and his evil host are banished forever.
12) What is one unusual characteristic about the new earth (Rev. 21:1)?
13) According to Peter, what will the spiritual character of this new creation be (II Pet. 3:13)?
INSIGHT: Until very recently (with the invention of weapons such as intercontinental missiles) the seas and oceans formed a natural barrier between populated areas--a barrier that could only be crossed with some difficulty. This may have been a further provision of the Lord to keep people apart (as the diversity of languages at Babel has done), and thus less likely to unite in more wickedness and destroy one another. But on the new earth “where [only] righteousness dwells” such barriers will be unnecessary.
14) What will become a prominent feature on the new earth (Rev. 21:2-3)?
INSIGHT: This city is what we commonly know as “heaven”--the place where God’s throne is. With the new creation, and sin’s very presence totally banished, God’s dwelling place will descend to the earth and be permanently located there. The size of the city is given as twelve thousand furlongs square (Rev. 21:16), roughly equivalent to 1500 miles square--an area equal to about half the size of the United States. It is also 1500 miles high! (Some believe it will be a pyramid shape, with the throne of God situated at the topmost point.) This city is the location of the “many mansions” prepared for us by Christ (Jn. 14:2-3).
15) What two features of the heavenly city are mentioned (Rev. 22:1-2)?
INSIGHT: The leaves “for the healing of the nations” have puzzled commentators, since heaven will surely have no diseases to be cured (cf. Rev. 21:4). However, the Greek word therapeia (which gives us our English word “therapeutic”) may simply indicate that the leaves give refreshment and added vitality to all who partake of them. The Bible explains no further.
INSIGHT: Several times heaven is called a “paradise”--a word meaning a beautiful well-watered park (Lk. 23:43; II Cor. 12:2; Rev. 2:7). It suggests that the new creation will involve a return to the loveliness of Eden, only it will be more glorious still. Will there also be animals in the new creation? We cannot say for certain. The Bible does speak of angelic horsemen (II Kgs. 2:11-12), and of Christ coming to earth riding upon a horse (Rev. 19:11). And we are told that God is going to make “all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Perhaps this will include animals as well.
16) What two kinds of things will be absent from the new creation?
¤ Rev. 21:4
¤ Rev. 21:27
17) What is another unique characteristic of the heavenly city (Rev. 22:5)?
INSIGHT: Note that this says nothing of the role of the sun, moon and stars in other places on the new earth. It refers to the glory light of God that fills the city itself. The Bible does not say the sun ceases to exist, only that its light is not needed in the New Jerusalem. Perhaps there will be a regular movement of planets and stars that can be observed elsewhere.
18) Though the New Jerusalem will be a city of gold, it will be gold with what peculiar characteristic (Rev. 21:18, 21)?
INSIGHT: Before God’s throne there will be an open area John describes as “a sea of glass” (Rev. 4:6). All of this gives a picture of total transparency, a city in which light shines freely throughout. It will also mean that the glory of God can be seen from anywhere. One commentator adds an interesting thought that the city can be transparent because no one has anything to hide.
INSIGHT: The city will be populated by angels, by the church, and by the saints of other ages (called “just men made perfect” in Heb. 12:22-23). Twelve foundation stones of the city are inscribed with the names of the twelve apostles (Rev. 21:14). Twelve gates give access to the city from all sides. The gates bear the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (Rev. 21:12). Thus both Israel and the church are represented in the decor, indicating both are at home there.
19) What is said to be waiting for believers in heaven (I Pet. 1:3-4)?
20) What is said about our activities in the new creation (Rev. 22:3)?
INSIGHT: Worship, praise, and heavenly music will be a part of our service (Rev. 5:13, etc.). And it would seem there will be countless opportunities for fellowship, and a discussion of God’s many blessings with saints of all the ages (perhaps as Jesus talked with Moses and Elijah, Matt. 17:3). More than this, God has not seen fit to tell us. However, it is bound to be an eternally joyful and fulfilling existence, with “pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11).
21) What will be the most blessed feature of eternity (Rev. 22:4; compare I Cor. 13:12, or I Jn. 3:2)?
INSIGHT: In Revelation 10:6 an angel says, according to the old King James Version, “Time shall be no longer.” This has led some to conclude that the eternal state will be timeless--that time will cease to exist. However, a better translation of the words is “There shall be delay no longer.” That is, no more time will pass before the completion of God’s plan (vs. 7). In fact, eternity is not timeless, but rather time without end, an infinity of time. Only God exists in an eternal now, outside of time (Isa. 57:15). For us, His creatures, time is a necessary part of the physical creation, just as space is. Events will still take place in space and time.
INSIGHT: The Bible declares that all are sinners who fall short of God’s righteous standard (Rom. 3:23). Those sins must be paid for. There is only one way to escape having to pay that debt ourselves. To spend an eternity of blessing in the heavenly kingdom and not an eternity of torment in the lake of fire, each individual must personally trust in God’s provision for sin.
22) What is that one and only provision (I Cor. 15:3; I Pet. 3:18; Acts 4:12; Jn. 1:12)?