EDITOR’S NOTE: This groundbreaking series is being offered in celebration of a previously top-secret project and now unprecedented new 3-Volume book series (over 10-years in the making) from best-selling scholar Dr. Thomas Horn and acclaimed biblical history and theology majors Donna Howell and Allie Anderson: THE MYSTERY OF JESUS FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION—YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
We don’t know the precise location where the Battle of Armageddon will take place, but we do have a clue hidden in Hebrew.
The Hebrew word for “hill” (sometimes “mountain”) is har. Therefore, “Armageddon” is actually “the hill of Megiddo” or “Mt. Megiddo.” There is a plain known as the “Plain of Megiddo” about sixty miles north of Jerusalem. Right now, there is no mountain on the plain (though that could easily not be the case in the end times, after all the massive cosmic and geographical events described in Revelation shift the shape of the very earth). There are, however, a few hills where many historical battles have been fought on that soil (including two from the Bible: Barak defeated the Canaanites there (Judges 4:15) and Gideon was victor over the Midianites there (Judges 7), with some as recently as World War I (such as the “Battle of Megiddo” between September 19–25 in 1918). That said, Zechariah 14:1–2 identifies the conflict as being centered in Jerusalem, so we know it will be widespread and cover much ground.
John sees an angel standing in the sun, and he shouts to all the vultures and swarming, predatory birds of the sky, to come and gather themselves together for the supper of God so they can feast upon the flesh of kings, captains, mighty men, horses, and those who sit upon them: the flesh of all men, freedmen and bondsmen, small and great. John observes as the Beast, his kings, and their armies come together as one to wage war against the White Horseman and His army. But the Beast is captured alongside the false prophet who carried out miracles before him, deceiving everyone who had taken the mark of the Beast and worshipped his idol, and both of them are thrown, alive, into a lake of fire and brimstone. Those who remain are killed with the sword from the mouth of the White Horseman, and all the vultures and predatory birds feed on their flesh (19:17–21).
…And when it does, you will not want to be on the wrong side. Jesus’ victory in the Battle of Armageddon is not just foretold in Revelation. It’s been prophesied since far, far longer ago than the first century. The Warrior in blood-stained clothing treading the winepress of the wrath of God, was predicted by the prophets (Isaiah 13:4; 31:4; 63:1–6; Ezekiel 38–39; Joel 3; Zechariah 14:3; and Paul in 2 Thessalonians 1:7–10). Since so many of the prophets’ words have come true, it would be wise to heed the warnings of this dreadful day, and prepare ourselves as the Bride, now, so we can attend the Marriage Supper of the Lamb…not be the supper of the vultures.
Millennial Reign (Revelation 20:1–6)
With the Battle of Armageddon over, Satan must be dealt with quickly. The overview of that event is described in a mere three verses:
An angel comes down from heaven with a key to the bottomless pit. In his hand is a heavy chain. He seizes that old serpent, that red Dragon, Satan, and binds him with a power that will last a thousand years. Satan is then thrown to his torment in the bottomless pit. The angel shuts and locks the pit, preventing the devil from being able to deceive the nations for that time. After a thousand years, he will be released for a short (and futile) time (Revelation 20:1–3).
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW VIDEOS:
WOW! WATCH DR. THOMAS HORN and DONNA HOWELL INTRODUCE “THE MYSTERY OF JESUS FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION!”
BEHOLD HIDDEN MYSTERIES CONNECTING THE OLD TESTAMENT “OPENING MIND” WITH THE SCROLL “SEALED WITH SEVEN SEALS”
We will address the end of the thousand years and the release of Satan in a moment. For now, let’s focus on the glory of the Kingdom of God on earth! With Satan’s influence upon the earth rendered inactive, there will be no dark forces to wage spiritual warfare. There will be only peace, always!
John sees thrones, and the people sitting upon them are given heavenly authority to judge. All those who had been put to death during the Tribulation for following Christ—those who refused, even at the threat of death, to worship the Beast, or his idol, or take the mark of the number of his name on their hands or foreheads—were there, in the “first resurrection”! Each one of them had come back to life and would reign alongside Jesus for a thousand years! The rest of those who had died (unbelievers) would not come back to life on earth until the end of that period of years, while those who are involved in the first resurrection are blessed, because the second death will hold no power over them as they reign with Christ for a thousand years as priests of God and Christ (20:4–6).
At first glance, it appears that only the Tribulation martyrs will be participants in the “first resurrection,” while other believers will not. However, because of the context of the “second death” being clearly identified as the lake of fire (20:14) that will have no power over the saints (20:6), we think it’s best to let the Bible interpret itself here: the “first resurrection” is for the righteous, while the “second death” is for the wicked who are resurrected for the Great White Throne Judgment. The rest of the believers can easily be assigned to those on thrones who are here called judges. Revelation 20:4 is referring to two groups of the saved: “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them [group 1]: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus…[group 2].” All Christians will be present in this moment, participating in the reign of Christ (also see Revelation 5:9–10; Daniel 7:27; and 1 Corinthians 6:2). There are other interpretational issues, like the idea that this resurrection is a “spiritual” one and not physical, but we have adopted a primarily literal interpretation in this work, so we will not labor over nonliteral issues (but note that a physical, bodily resurrection is in mind in many other verses that include the same Greek word that’s used this passage, such as John 11:25, Romans 14:9, Revelation 1:18, 2:8, and 13:14). (As a quick note, some post-tribbers believe the statement about this “resurrection” being the first proves that there will be no Rapture until after the Battle of Armageddon, proving that the Church will be on the earth through the Tribulation. Though we respect this opinion, it seems to overlook the fact that the two witnesses were caught up to heaven in 11:11–12, and that a “resurrection” and “Rapture” are two different things.) The last group in this bunch are those unbelievers who will not come back to life until the final judgment, where their destiny is defined by the “second death.”
Though, again, we are at peace with fellow believers who interpret the Millennial Reign of Christ to be metaphorical, there are valid biblical reasons to view the coming Kingdom as literally on the physical planet. First, regarding the duration, God’s Word mentions this thousand-year era six times in Revelation 20:2–7. Unlike some numbers that have a symbolic meaning—such as “twelve” representing the fullness or completion of God’s plans, modeled after the twelve tribes and later twelve apostles—“one thousand” doesn’t have quite the same record, and it therefore seems more appropriate to view it in literal terms. One might point out that, in God’s timing, a thousand years is like a day and a day is like a thousand years (Psalm 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8). This is why we are not so dogmatic about how long the Millennium (Latin mille [“thousand”]; annum [“year”]) is going to be when it comes up in conversation with other believers who think it refers to “a really long time.” However, if “one thousand years” is tied to a literal reign of Christ on earth, then the principle of consistent application of Scripture would indicate that “thousand” is exactly what it appears to be.
How do we know the reign is a literal one, though, and not a spiritual one?
We believe that’s clear based on the fact that the Millennium is covenantal. There are a ton of symbols in Revelation, which is why there is a lot of allowance for metaphor in this book, but not all are linked to the New Contract in Christ.
If you look at the Old Covenant, remembering that it was a Contract between God and man, we are reminded that Abraham was promised that he would have an uncountable number of descendants (Genesis 12:1–3). When this was fulfilled, it was not done through “spiritual children.” The covenantal promise of God was given in literal terms, and fulfilled in a literal way, when Abraham’s son, Isaac, had Jacob, who was named “Israel” by God, and fathered twelve sons, who bore many sons after that. The same could be true for what Bible readers call the “Palestinian Covenant” regarding the habitation of God’s people in the Promised Land of blessing (Deuteronomy 29:1–29; 30:1–10), which they did inherit (again, literally). And when we get to the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:10–13) that viewed Christ as a King who would rule on David’s throne, it would be inconsistent application to suddenly decide that the Contract has shifted toward a metaphor.
With that in mind, we can look a little deeper at what the Millennium describes as a future reality. Recall that back in the Prophets section, we listed a number of “Kingdom”-related prophecies that had yet to be fulfilled in Israel’s history. Some of those were in reference to the Messiah who will lead that Kingdom, and therefore were fulfilled (as noted) in His First Advent back in the Gospels. (For instance, the Spirit’s actions on the Day of Pentecost, prophesied in Joel 2:28 and fulfilled in Acts 2.) Recall the words of the Prophets, Major and Minor, as you read the following, and watch as this still-future event will bring to fruition every last item on their lists regarding the Kingdom of God that have yet to be brought into light. Most definitely, the “rock” that was thrown from out of nowhere and destroyed the many earthly kingdoms in Daniel 2:34, 44 is dominating in this moment of John’s vision.
If the bulk of premillennial scholars are correct, then there will be believers and followers of Christ who survive the Tribulation (both Jews and Gentiles), and these folks will not yet be in their glorified bodies like those who were raptured (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18; 1 Corinthians 15:21–23, 51–53), or those who are resurrected in the passages we just read from (Revelation 20:4–6). During the Tribulation, over half the people on earth will perish (6:8; 9:18), leaving a remainder of less than half who, scholars say, will be “regular humans.” However, the life span of regular humans will be greatly increased (Isaiah 65:20–22). No wicked men or women will be on the earth during this time, as Christ has defeated them, separating the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31–46). (Not all scholars agree with this recap. Some, like Barton, say: “The unbelievers still on the earth after the Battle of Armageddon will have lived through the thousand-year reign of Christ, but as soon as Satan is set free, they will be deceived and ready to gather…for battle.”[i] This appears to be a minority opinion. Most interpreters we’ve seen in our research believe that Christ will completely wipe out those who opposed Him at the Battle of Armageddon, and those who oppose Him after the release of Satan are the offspring of Millennium-believers.) The scattered remnant of Israel who made it through the Tribulation will be gathered together, converted, and no rebels will be left within them (Ezekiel 20:33–38; Matthew 24:31; Zechariah 12:10–14). This points to the very real possibility that those who have survived and are in their unglorified, physical bodies will still marry and be given in marriage, producing offspring as humans always have. Tribulation survivors of Israel will come to know Christ, having accepted Him as their Savior once and for all when they see Him in His glory (Zechariah 12:10).
Though the saints with glorified bodies will not marry and have children, as they have already crossed over into the system of heaven (which does not follow that of earth; Matthew 22:30), there will be a new generation of offspring born from those who are still in the bodies they were in when they lived through the Tribulation. They will have free will, just as the rest of us have, and they must come to know Christ on their own. It is believed that some of these children will turn from Him near the end of the Millennium, and it is those who will be called together to war against Christ when Satan is set free for his short, fruitless insurrection against Jesus (Revelation 20:7–10). (It’s hard to even imagine this future event when, after all these events in Revelation have come to pass, anyone would still think themselves powerful enough to go against Christ. Not only will Jesus be personally present, but so will the saints, and the faithful men and women from the Old Testament will be there as well, if the scholars are correct in interpreting Daniel 12:2. Nevertheless, the portion of Revelation we’re about to get into does seem to teach this very kind of theology. Some academics who have made it their life work to study the Millennial Reign say the following verses describe the Millennium and the uprising that comes at or near its end; according to them, these passages involve the offspring who were born during the Millennium: Isaiah 2:2–4; Zechariah 14:8–21; Ezekiel 34:17–24; Daniel 7:13–14; Micah 4:1–5.)
Christ will be the Ruler over all governments of the world in the way the prophets all foretold. That list, scholars say, involves these facts: Jesus’ throne will be on Mt. Zion (Psalm 2:6); He will be King (Luke 1:32–33; Matthew 1:1; 21:1–11; Revelation 19:16); He will reign as the Son of David (2 Samuel 7:16; Psalm 89:20–37; Isaiah 11:1–9; Jeremiah 23:5–6; 33:14–26); the saints will reign alongside Him (Isaiah 55:3–4; Jeremiah 30:9; 33:15–17; Ezekiel 34:23–24; 37:24–25; Hosea 3:5; Amos 9:11; 1 Corinthians 6:2; Revelation 20:4–6); His iron-rod rulings will be, uncharacteristically to this earth now, perfectly fair, but swift in the face of opposition (Psalm 2:9; 72:9–11; Isaiah 11:4; Revelation 19:15); He will not favor any person above another, and even the meek and poor will be rulers (Isaiah 11:3–5); animals will not be a danger (Isaiah 11:6–9; 65:25); people will no longer need to teach others about Christ, because all of the world will know Him (Jeremiah 31:34); the economy will be more prosperous, joyful, and peaceful than any kingdom in history (Jeremiah 31:12; Ezekiel 34:25–27; Joel 2:21–27; Amos 9:13–14; Micah 4:2–4; Isaiah 32:17–18; 61:7–10); illness and disease will cease (Isaiah 29:18; 33:24; 35:5–6; 61:1–3; 65:20); there will be obedience to God, as well as an ultimate standard of truth and holiness throughout (Jeremiah 31:33; Isaiah 35:8; 65:16); and, as our favorite part, we will have the full knowledge of God (Isaiah 11:9, Habakkuk 2:14).
Boy! Does this bring unbelievable fulfillment to the Lord’s prophet in Isaiah 9:6–7 or what?! We read there that “the government shall be upon his shoulder.” There is no greater way that could be emphasized than in this breakdown! So many of the eschatological prophecies we looked at during our study of the Prophets in the Old Testament are fulfilled in this one-thousand-year reign of Jesus, the Son of David, the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Isaiah 11:1–5; 40:9–10; Jeremiah 23:5–8; Daniel 7:13–14; Malachi 3:1–2).
The Final Defeat of Satan and the Final Judgment (Revelation 20:7–15)
As absolutely wonderful and beautiful as the Millennial Reign does sound, believe it or not, it’s still not the best part. The last couple of chapters of Revelation ramp up to an unfathomable climax!
…But first, there’s an old liar who needs to be dealt with, once and for all.
John writes that after one thousand years with Christ on the throne, Satan will be loosed. He will go out and deceive the nations and gather them together for battle. The number of those who participate in the devil’s madness are as many as the granules of sand by the sea. They will flank the saints and the beloved city, but fire will come down from heaven and devour them. The very same Satan who deceived them will then be thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the Beast and his false prophet will be, and they will all be tormented day and night forever (Revelation 20:7–10).
This is the absolute final time Satan will ever have influence upon the earth. From this day forward, he will remain in the lake of fire with only his evil failures for companions. For us, however, the most awesome, yet possibly frightening, event within humanity is next:
John observes a Great White Throne and the One sitting upon it. Even the earth and sky try to flee from Him, but there is no escaping. All the dead, small and great, now stand in front of God. Even the sea, as well as death and the grave, give up their dead. The books of deeds are opened, along with the Book of Life, and the dead are judged according to their works—what they did, and didn’t, do for the Name of God. Death and hell are cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death. Whoever’s name was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire (20:11–15).
The nearly unanimous teaching from this group of Scriptures is that the judgment of the “dead” will be for both believers and unbelievers, as supported by 1 Peter 4:5: “Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick [meaning “the living”] and the dead.” Another verse that offers helpful (yet chilling) insight related to judgment and the intermediate state between death and resurrection is John 5:25–29:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming…when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the 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.
By this time in this three-volume work, there may be readers who are curious about this mysterious “intermediate state” where the soul or spirit of a person resides between physical death, the Day of Judgment, and eventual resurrection. There are so many words in the Bible to describe this place (“Sheol,” “Hades,” “heaven,” “hell,” “abyss,” “bottomless pit,” “the deep,” “Abraham’s bosom,” “paradise,” and even “tartarus” in some translations) that it’s hard to understand God’s plans and interactions with this location due to the various treatment the terms are given by various biblical authors. Frequently, the question also arises as to whether we’re reading about only one place or several.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW VIDEOS:
DOES “THE MYSTERY OF JESUS” INCLUDE THE WORLD PREPARING FOR ANTICHRIST?
GOD BROKE THE POWER OF “THE CHRISTMAS MAGI”? BUT IS SUCH “MAGI-CALISM” RETURNING NOW FOR THE RISE OF A DIFFERENT “CHRIST CHILD”?
One may wonder why we have waited until this moment to discuss this subject…instead of addressing it in, say, the material on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The reason is simple: Revelation takes the whole of the Bible’s teaching on heaven and hell and brings it to a paramount and descriptive climax right about here when the Day of Judgment is in focus.
To shed a little light on this, note that “Sheol” is the Old-Testament form of the New-Testament “Hades” (the two most important and frequently used words in this subject), and generally these are viewed as identical references to the realm where the soul and spirit of the deceased go for a period of awaiting judgment and the resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked (like John states in the quote we just considered).[ii] But that is not to suggest the saved and unsaved alike will have the same experience in this seemingly “single” or “one” location represented by numerous terms. Scholars almost unanimously separate this “waiting room” realm into two opposites, or, “two compartments within Sheol-Hades” that are split by a “great gulf” concept.[iii] In Luke 16:22–26, we see these segregated domains described as an upper and lower territory—the upper is “Abraham’s bosom” or “paradise,” while the lower is a terrible place of torment (“abyss,” “deep,” “bottomless pit,” and “tartarus” in the New Testament, also referred to as the “lowest Sheol” in the Old Testament passages of Deuteronomy 32:22 and Psalms 86:13).
From here, scholars also explain that Sheol-Hades is not the “final” place for any human soul, wicked or otherwise (a misconception perpetuated by the treatment of terms in certain translations, such as the Authorized Version, which turns the “hell” throughout all of Scripture into an always-eternal Sheol-Hades). For believers, we look forward to the New Heavens, New Earth, and New Jerusalem (discussed in the next section) in our eternality. For unbelievers, the “lowest Sheol” or “Hades” becomes, or at some point “merges with,” the lake of fire (which is the final place for the wicked). Most scholars see this merger occurring in Revelation 20:14–15, when “death and Hades” are “cast into the lake of fire.” If this “merger” theology is correct, then Christ did not go “down into hell” between His death and Resurrection (an event captured by the phrase “the harrowing of hell,” based on Ephesians 4:9, 1 Peter 4:6, Acts 2:27–31, Romans 10:7, Psalm 16:10, and the Apostles’ Creed). Instead, He would have gone “down into Hades” (a far more reliable translation from the Greek), which, at that time, would have been “the temporary abode of the spirits,”[iv] making more sense of why the verse in 1 Peter says He preached the Gospel “to them that are dead.” (For why would He preach the Gospel to those who are already damned?) It also illuminates how God can be present in this temporary abode up to the point of the merger if it is not hell (cf. 1 Samuel 2:6; Job 26:6; Psalm 86:13; 139:8; Isaiah 28:15, 18; Proverbs 15:11; Amos 9:2). Revelation 20:13 explains that the wicked will be brought out of Hades to the Great White Throne Judgment and, like we read in John’s vision paragraphs ago, sent back there after they’ve answered for their deeds (a teaching supported by Psalm 9:17, which states that the wicked will be sent back to the lowest Sheol). It is about that point we see that Sheol-Hades and the lake of fire become one for unbelievers.
At the time that Christ descended into Hades, a sort of “reorganization” of Sheol-Hades provided a “Good News” message regarding the “release [of] the captives” (Luke 4:18; ASV). This means that the righteous dead in that moment were, scholars believe, told through the sermonic announcement of Jesus, personally, that the work which paved their way to an even better fate than “Abraham’s bosom” or the “temporary paradise” was completed on the cross just prior. (Most Christians believe—based on a comparison of Ephesians 4:8 and Psalm 68:18 with Proverbs 15:24, Matthew 16:18, and 1 Peter 3:19; 4:6—that the righteous dead were transferred to a heavenly Jerusalem out of the upper Sheol. We have researched this argument from a number of sources and find it to be the most likely. Either way, a Christian who dies today would go to the current heaven, which is not Sheol, according to Matthew 16:18 and Revelation 1:18. These verses collectively teach that Jesus, who holds the keys to Hades, defeated it through the cross, and the gates of Hades will never again prevail over the saved. Just as Stephen saw, when we die now, believers go to be with Jesus directly, while He stands at the right hand of the Father, and our spirits are “received” by Him [Acts 7:55, 59].) One day, these souls will join the post-Gospel righteous in the New Heavens/Earth/Jerusalem, experiencing something completely different than what their Abraham’s bosom was at a prior point (discussed by biblical characters in such verses as Genesis 25:8–9; 37:35; Job 14:13; Isaiah 38:10; Psalm 16:10; 49:15; Hosea 13:14; Proverbs 15:24—all of which acknowledge upper Sheol to be a temporary place for the righteous).
All of humanity, regardless of their destiny in “upper” or “lower” Sheol-Hades, will experience consciousness of the soul. This is shown by the fact that Moses, who died and went to “upper” Sheol in the Old Testament, was a participant in the Transfiguration epic of the New Testament (Matthew 17:3). During God’s conversation with Moses at the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:1–17), God said He was “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Later, Jesus personally interpreted this to mean that God is “the God of the living,” despite the fact that these souls had passed into their own afterlife thousands of years prior (Matthew 22:32). So, once we die, whichever place we go, we will be completely aware of either a wonderful, or frightening, constant reality on the other side, like these patriarchs.[v] (See similar language regarding the rich man’s experience of consciousness in Luke 16:23–25 and the king of Babylon’s in Isaiah 14:9–11, 15–16. All this conversation about a place of torment and punishment makes the idea of the “abyss” opening up and releasing the locust-demons in Revelation 9:1–3 especially terrifying. In fact, this place is so terrible that even the demons pleaded with Jesus not to be sent there in Luke 8:31, because they hoped not to face such horrors before their appointed time, Matthew 8:29 says. And whereas some interpret the realm of the dead to be a literal place at the center of the earth [imagery drawn from colorful Scriptures; see: Matthew 12:40, Jonah 2:2, 6; Ephesians 4:9], we don’t feel particularly dogmatic about this theory, as the Bible makes much use of figurative language. Whether it is in or at the earth’s core or not, the experience of those who are sent there will be literally felt, as a responsible reading of all Scriptures supports, and as opposed to the contemporary “state-of-mind-misery hell” that a minority of Bible interpreters claim.)
After the souls have reached the end of this “waiting-room” era, we already know the Judgment-Day outcome for those who have ultimately rejected God is not a good one. However, it is fascinating to note that some scholars have questioned whether the Bible truly teaches eternal torment for the unsaved versus a sort of permanent-destruction theory. Some assistance with this idea, as well as visiting the popular question of “how a loving God could send people to hell in the first place,” comes from our book Afterlife:
Damnation, according to Scripture, is defined as existence after physical death wherein the soul is separated from the presence of God. But would this be eternal torment (burning in Hell forever) or annihilation (soul and body destroyed in the Lake of Fire and therefore ceasing to exist entirely)? Some scholars assert that the second death, spoken of in Revelation, refers to the concept that once all human souls have reached their final destination, those who are in Hell will be annihilated, citing God’s compassion as a motivation for destruction over eternal, irreconcilable torment. God “is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).…
Some contend that…beyond separation from God for eternity, [the second death] is the final termination of the existence of the soul. Reinforcing this concept is that while the Bible speaks of eternal life, the Bible does not use the term “eternal death”: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). According to this thought, the suffering in Hell of those who die without Christ is forever terminated when they are cast into the Lake of Fire.… [Further down the line of this theory is the interpretation of the smoke rising up from Gehenna (hell) forever, not that the souls of the unsaved are conscious forever.]
Both concepts [eternal torment and annihilation] are terrifying, as each represents permanent and eternal separation from God [and all that is holy and good].…
The English word “hell” is used fifty-four times in the King James Version. Adding the references to Tartarus, Hades, Gehenna, and Sheol, and other terms that translate into the modern English word “hell,” we find that there are more than 150 references in the New Testament alone that warn of this place. Furthermore, many of these references were uttered by the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself. There are many who object to the concept of Hell by saying, “A loving God would not send billions of people to a horrible hell; a compassionate God would be more tolerant.” However, recall that 2 Peter 3:9 states that God doesn’t want people to perish. Jesus paid a high price to offer us the opportunity of salvation, and He makes this precious prospect available to everyone in the world.…
[T]he question of why God would send people to Hell if He is indeed a loving and compassionate being is ever-recurring. The answer usually goes like this: “God doesn’t choose to send people to Hell; they choose it for themselves by rejecting Him.” While this may deescalate the general argument, many individuals walk away from such a conversation with lingering questions: questions which, if left unanswered, often call an individual to steer away from a God they feel waives a stick of wrath and judgment.
However, understanding the nature of salvation, why it was necessary, and how it was purchased helps us understand this matter with greater depth, and alleviates frustration left by information gaps that the aforementioned statements do not fill. Some people find the answers to these questions in Scriptures such as Psalm 5:4, which states that no evil can dwell with God, thus, people who haven’t accepted Him can’t dwell in Heaven with Him, because they have evil that hasn’t been [cleansed away] by the blood of Jesus. Others refer to 1 Timothy 2:4, which reminds us [along with the aforementioned 2 Peter 3:9] that God does not want any to perish; if this is true, then why wouldn’t God force all people to accept His forgiveness—or even forgive them despite their refusal of the gift? If He did this, everyone could go to Heaven, which would be wonderful! Surely a loving God could conduct forgiveness this way if He wanted to, couldn’t He?
A vital, yet commonly misunderstood point in all of this is the fact that salvation is a transaction: one that Jesus made while on the cross. Anselm, a renowned Christian philosopher of the eleventh century…clarified this convoluted topic for upcoming generations of churches during a time when such doctrine was under debate, by presenting his work on the nature of atonement, Cur Dos Homo (“Why God Became a Human Person”). In this thoughtful, pragmatic work, Anselm explained that sin committed by humans is an insult to God’s superiority. Because God is the Supreme Being, His standard for justice must be immaculate and unwavering. Anything less than the utmost would likewise be indicative of an inferior being. Thus, the ultimate price must be paid for an insult against the character of the ultimate being. However, because mankind is an inferior being, created by God and for God, we already owe Him everything that we have, meaning that even in a state of perfection—were it possible to achieve—we would only reach the “expected” status in the eyes of the Most High God. Once sin entered the scene, the lowliness of humanity stooped even farther into the regions of inadequacy. Since our very best would only render us barely acceptable in the first place, adding sin to this dilemma placed us in a deeper state of debt that our very best could never elevate us out of.
The quandary then becomes this: In order for retribution to be made at a standard high enough to appease the justice necessitated by and due to the Most High God, a being of higher rank than a human had to pay the price. In fact, any being inferior to God Himself who attempted to pay such a price would not be able to offer adequate retribution on our behalf, because God’s criteria can only accept God-standard levels of payment. However, in order for the transaction to be valid for creatures as lowly as human beings, the penalty had to reach the depraved depths of the realm from which that sin originated: the human, physical realm. For the payment to be applicable to humans, it had to descend to the state wherein human sin dwells.
The existence within the physical realm of a perfect God/man Being—Jesus—manifested in a life without sin, and was followed by a sacrificial death, paying the price needed to recreate the pathway between humans and God. In His sacrificial death, Jesus paid the price for our evil deeds. But where does this payment go? Anselm explains that “since God needs nothing, the reward is transferred to sinful humanity; thus God’s honor is restored, sin is forgiven, and atonement is achieved.”
Many people who ponder a God who “sends people to Hell” often wonder why, if He doesn’t want “anyone to perish” (1 Timothy 2:4), He doesn’t throw some all-covering “blanket of forgiveness” across all the individuals who would otherwise be condemned to suffer for eternity, inviting them to Heaven (despite their rejection of Him) out of his vast love for all of humanity. The problem with this thinking is this: God has already done this very thing—because of His love for humanity—when Jesus (a Being of superior enough rank to pay a price meeting the standard of retribution that God must require) descended to earth and took on human, fleshly form (thus adopting commonality with the lowly, depraved state of humanity, where sin dwells) and then lived a perfect life and gave Himself as a sacrifice, taking on punishment for our sins (thus providing payment and atonement that could reconnect sinful, humankind with the ultimate Most High). Salvation obtained or offered by anything other than a perfect blend of God and man would neither be worthy of offering to God nor applicable to man.
While many might initially view God’s forgiveness of man as an emotional connection, the transaction Jesus completed on our behalf was actually technical. Thus, there are rules involved. Because the Most High God had to descend to the lowest low (the human, physical realm) in order to purchase salvation for mankind, humans must likewise choose God while they are in the lowest realm (human) in order to join Him at the highest realm (Heaven).…
Once we leave the corporeal jurisdiction (once we are deceased), it is too late to change our position regarding this transaction, because it must be initiated within the corporeal division, just as Jesus’ payment was.
Imagine visiting a store to shop the momentous sales offered on the Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. On the way in, you see a store employee handing out coupons saying you can “buy one get one free” of certain popular items. The store’s layout is structured so that once you are inside, you can’t go back out to revisit the woman. In other words, if you don’t accept the coupon on the way in, you won’t have another chance to get one. Those who turned down the offer will find themselves in line for the purchase, responsible for the full cost of the items with no discount. This is similar to the situation for those who have refused Jesus’ offer of atonement. Contrary to what some may claim, the situation isn’t that God sends those He loves to Hell, it is that despite His sacrifice of love, many choose not to accept His gift. Worse, once we’ve left the physical realm, we’ll never be able to pay for our own atonement, but become permanently ineligible to receive assistance for our salvation. We lock ourselves outside of the transaction by not accepting the “coupon” while we were eligible for it. God will not usurp our will by forcing this salvation on us, because the payment is a gift. This is why, despite the fact that God isn’t willing for anyone to perish, still some do. He wants us to accept this coverage as a bestowment of His love and generosity while we are living. However, it is no longer a gift if it is forced upon us, meaning that unless we accept freely what has been given freely, the forgiveness cannot be attached, negating the gift. Unfortunately, this is why if we deny Him in this life, He must deny us in the next (Matthew 10:33).[vi]
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When it comes to judgment, many Christians—both inside and outside academic circles—tend to have a quick and sometimes well-rounded answer for what fate awaits those who do not accept Christ in this life. However, what is not unanimously interpreted is how the believers will be judged during this portion of Revelation. Some believe that the righteous will be made to face what they had done wrong so that the mercy of God in forgiveness will be glorified. Most of our sources disagree with this idea, stating that the “judgment” of the “righteous” will be to see how they will be rewarded, not punished or shamed. This is the opinion of: Barton, who says, “Believers will be judged…for rewards”[vii]; the writers of Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown, who say, “The godly…shall also be present, not indeed to have their portion assigned as if for the first time (for that shall have been fixed long before, Jn 5:24), but to have it confirmed for ever”[viii]; Beale, who says the “unbelieving dead” are the focus of judgment, but because “all fall short of the divine standard,” the righteous may be included in this event, though they will “find refuge” from the fact that their names are in the Book of Life[ix]; and many others.
UP NEXT: New Jerusalem; New Heavens; New Earth (Revelation 21:1–22)
[i] Barton, B. B., Revelation, 243.
[ii] Hoyt, Herman A., The End Times, 36–37.
[iv] Ibid., 40.
[v] Ibid., 41–42.
[vi] Howell, Donna, Josh Peck, and Allie Anderson, Afterlife: Near Death Experiences, Neuroscience, Quantum Physics, and the Increasing Evidence for Life After Death (Crane, MO: Defender Publishing; 2019), 265–273.
[vii] Barton, B. B., Revelation, 249.
[viii] Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, 600.
[ix] Beale, G. K., The Book of Revelation… 1,034.
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