By John L. Bray
Revelation 20:11-15 gives us the picture of a time when ALL are seen as resurrected and standing before the "great white throne." Jesus Christ Himself is seated upon that throne (Acts 17:31; John 5:22, 27). Where that throne is supposed to be located we are not told, but we are told that heaven and earth flee away from the awful sight.
The old heaven and new earth were Judaism, which now has fled away. (We shall deal with this in detail in Section 8.) John's prophecy now advances to the time when the final destinies of all who have ever lived are pronounced by the One on the throne.
James Stuart Russell, in his book The Parousia (1887), gives allowance for the millennial period not being in the scope of John's statement that these things would all happen "shortly." He said:
"...we are disposed to regard the whole parenthesis as relating to matters still future and unfulfilled" (p. 523).
This is obvious, as the thousand years period evidently extends for a long indefinite period of time, only the beginning of which could be said to "shortly come to pass" (Revelation 1:1).
But Russell takes the resurrection and great white throne judgment scene and brings it back to fit into the "things which must shortly come to pass" (Revelation 1:1). I prefer to leave this scene at the end of the millennial period. The reason I do this is because Revelation 20:5 says that "the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished." this puts the resurrection and the great white throne judgment scene at the conclusion of the thousand years period. (This thousand years period represents the time the martyred saints are reigning with Christ in Heaven - actually Christ's reign during this gospel age).
It is not said that Jesus actually physically steps His feet onto the earth for that judgment. But He is present for that judgment. The throne no doubt symbolizes the authority and rule of Jesus in front of a literal chair-like throne all at one time. This mystery is not explained to us in this passage. John uses this beautiful symbolic language to picture these things for us. But we do know that when Jesus Christ judges the whole world, He will be present and will be the judge.
One of the earlier preterist writers (Henry Hammond, 1681) who held to the preterist interpretation of Matthew 24, and taught that the second coming of Christ took place in fulfillment thereof in A.D. 70, termed the final day of judgment a third coming of Christ. He wrote the "coming of Christ...at the day of doom to judge the world" was "his final third coming at the great day of doom" (p.119).
But even so, if Jesus Christ being present on the great white throne be called a "coming of Christ," yet it still does not say that this judgment will take place on earth. He comes to judge, but not in a materialistic, physical, fleshly, manner. At least, we do not read this in this passage of Scripture in Revelation 20:11-15.
Many teach that Christ will some day in our future come to this earth, and then reign on the earth a thousand years. The Bible does not teach this. Neither does it teach that Christ will come to this earth, and reign on earth, at all; not at anytime in our future does it say He will do this. The "comings" of Christ in the New Testament do not refer to any such event.
As mystical and even contradictory as it may seem, Jesus Christ is here right now in the lives and hearts of His believers, in the person of the Holy Spirit; and He is also in Heaven, seated at the right hand of God the Father, ruling over the affairs of this world.
When Jesus Christ "comes" and sits upon the great white throne of judgment, this will not be a "coming" to this earth, nor in any naturalistic, materialistic and physical manner. This judgment will be accomplished in the spiritual world, in another dimension than this materialistic natural world of ours made up of earthly thrones and judicial councils. His reign and His rule and his judgment are spiritual matters. The great summation of the final judgment of all mankind is pictured in symbolic language in Revelation 20:11-15. Those who are lost are "cast into the lake of fire." Death and Hell, both intangible and abstract subjects, are pictured as also being cast into the lake of fire. In these words we are being told that Death and Hell will be no more. Death will ultimately be banished. And hell which has captured the souls of men after bodies have died, will be no more. This "second death" will have no power over God's people forever; and God will be all in all!
But it is important that we recognize the fact that most all of the passages in the New Testament which are generally used to picture a coming of Christ in our future to judge the world, are actually passages referring to the coming of Christ which the disciples expected in their generation (Matthew 24:34) and which Jesus had promised would take place before all of them were dead (Matthew 16:28).
The comings of Christ are not one single solitary event. But His first coming in human form as a sin-offering, and His apocalyptic coming in judgment on Israel in that generation (apart from a sin offering), were spoken of in the New Testament as His first and second appearances. "...now once in the end of the world [age] hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself...and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation" (Hebrews 9:26-28). The "day approaching" of Hebrews 10:25, which they saw, was the soon-coming judgment on Israel and the release of His people from the bondage of the Jewish age: "...and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching" (Hebrews 10:25).
The view of various comings of Christ has been held by different theologians, as for example, Dr. John Owen who preached and wrote in the 17th century (see The Works of John Owen, vol. 9, pp. 138-139). Another later theologian was Dr. E.Y. Mullins, former president and professor of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky (see E.Y. Mullins, The Christian Religion in its Doctrinal Expression, p. 459) One more recent one was well-known writer and theologian Loraine Boettner (see Loraine Boettner, The Millennium, pp. 252-262). There are others, of course, which we could mention if we took the time to look them up and list them.
Dr. John Owen
On the 'New Heavens
and Earth.' (2 Peter 3. 13)
The apostle makes a distribution of the world into heaven and earth, and saith they were destroyed with water, and perished. We know that neither the fabric nor substance of the one or other was destroyed, but only men that liveth on the earth; and the apostle tells us (ver. 7) of the heaven and earth that were then, and were destroyed by water, distinct from the heavens and the earth that were now, and were to be consumed by fire; and yet as to the visible fabric of heaven and earth they were the same both before the flood and in the apostle's time, and continue so to this day; when yet it is certain that the heavens and earth, whereof he spake, were to be destroyed and consumed by fire in that generation. We must, then, for the clearing of our foundation a little, consider what the apostle intends by the heavens and the earth in these two places.
1. It is certain that what the apostle intends by the world, with its heaven, and earth (vers. 5, 6), which was destroyed ; the same, or some-what of that kind, he intends by the heavens and the earth that were to be consumed and destroyed by fire (ver. 7) ; otherwise there would be no coherence in the apostle's discourse, nor any kind of argument, but a mere fallacy of words.
2. It is certain that by the flood, the world, or the fabric of heaven and earth, was not destroyed, but only the inhabitants of the world; and therefore the destruction intimated to succeed by fire is not of the substance of the heavens and the earth, which shall not be consumed until the last day, but of person or men living in the world.
3. Then we must consider in what sense men living in the world are said to be the world, and the heavens and earth of it. I shall only insist on one instance to this purpose among many that may be produced: Isa. li. 15, 16. The time when the work here mentioned, of planting the heavens and laying the foundation of the earth, was performed by God was when He divided the sea (ver. 15) and gave the law (ver. 16), and said to Zion, Thou art my people; that is, when He took the children of Israel out of Egypt, and formed them in the wilderness into a church and state; then He planted the heavens and laid the foundation of the earth: that is, brought forth order, and government, and beauty from the confusion wherein before they were. This is the planting of the heavens and laying the foundation of the earth in the world. And since it is that when mention is made of the destruction of a state and government, it is in that language which seems to set forth the end of the world. So Isa. xxxiv. 4, which is yet but the destruction of the state of Edom. The like also is affirmed of the Roman Empire (Rev. vi. 14), which the Jews constantly affirm to be intended by Edom in the prophets. And in our Saviour Christ's prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt. xxiv.) He sets it out by expressions of the same importance. It is evident, then, that in the prophetical idiom and manner of speech, by heavens and earth, the civil and religious state and combination of men in the world, and the men of them, were often understood. So were the heavens and earth that world which then was destroyed by the flood.
4. On this foundation I affirm that the heavens and earth here intended in this prophecy of Peter, the coming of the Lord, the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, mentioned in the destruction of that heaven and earth, do all of them relate, not to the last and final judgment of the world, but to that utter desolation and destruction that was to be made of the Judaical church and state; for which I shall offer these two reasons, of many that might be insisted on from the text:-
(1.) Because whatever is here mentioned was to have its peculiar influence on the men of that generation. He speaks of that wherein both the profane scoffers and those scoffed at were concerned, and that as Jews, some of them believing, others opposing, the faith. Now there was no particular concernment of that generation, nor in that sin, nor in that scoffing, as to the day of judgment in general ; but there was a peculiar relief for the one and a peculiar dread for the other at hand, in the destruction of the Jewish nation ; and, besides, an ample testimony both to the one and the other of the power and dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ, which was the thing in question between them.
(2.) Peter tells them, that after the destruction and judgment that he speaks of (vers. 7-13), " We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth,' etc. They had this expectation. But what is that promise? Where may we find it? Why, we have it in the very words and letter, Isa. lxv. 17. Now, when shall this be that God shall create these new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness? Saith Peter, " It shall be after the coming of the Lord, after that judgment and destruction of ungodly men, who obey not the gospel, that I foretell." But now it is evident from this place of Isaiah, with chap. lxvi. 21, 22, that this is a prophecy of Gospel times only; and that the planting of these new heavens is nothing but the creation of Gospel ordinances to endure for ever. The same thing is so expressed Heb. xii. 26-28.
This being the design of the place, I shall not insist longer on the context, but briefly open the words proposed, and fix upon the truth continued in them.
First, There is the foundation of the apostle's inference and exhortation, seeing that all these things, however precious they seem, or what value soever any put upon them, shall be dissolved, that is, destroyed; and that in that dreadful and fearful manner before mentioned, in a day of judgment, wrath, and vengeance, by fire and sword; let others mock at the threats of Christ's coming: He will come- He will not tarry; and then the heavens and earth that God Himself planted, -the sun, moon, and stars of the Judaical polity and church, -the whole old world of worship and worshippers, that stand out in their obstinancy against the Lord Christ, shall be sensibly dissolved and destroyed: this we know shall be the end of these things, and that shortly.
There is no outward constitution nor frame of things in government or nations, but it is subject to a dissolution, and may receive it, and that in a way of judgment. If any might plead exemption, that, on many accounts, of which the apostle was discoursing in prophetical terms (for it was not yet time to speak it openly to all) might interpose for its share.'*
* Dr. Owen's Sermon on 2 Peter 3:11. Works, folio, Reprinted 1721.
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