Understanding Theology - Lesson 10

Last Things

In this final lesson, Dr. Ware gives a rationale for studying eschatology or last things. He discusses what happens to people just after they die and before the return of Christ. He also gives an overview of the various beliefs about the timing and events of the last days. He completes the lesson with a discussion of final judgment, heaven, and hell.

Bruce Ware
Understanding Theology
Lesson 10
Watching Now
Last Things

I. Introduction

A. The Meaning of “Eschatology”

B. Value of Studying Eschatology

1. It helps us understand God’s cosmic purposes.

2. It gives us hope.

3. It gives us endurance.

4. It encourages us to reassess our values.

5. It motivates us for holiness.

6. It motivates us for witness.

7. It motivates us for worship.

II. Intermediate State

A. Unbelievers

B. Believers

III. Views of the Millennium

A. Postmillennialism

B. Amillennialism

C. Historic Premillennialism

1. Revelation teaches a literal millennial reign of Christ.

2. Satan is not “bound” in this age.

3. The two resurrections indicate a millennial reign.

D. Dispensational Premillennialism

IV. Views of the Tribulation

A. Mid-tribulation Rapture

B. Post-tribulation Rapture

C. Pre-tribulation Rapture

V. Final Judgment and the Eternal State

A. Final Judgment

1. There is a final judgment for all people.

2. There is judgment for believers.

B. Hell

C. Heaven

  • Studying systematic theology in this 10-hour course will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the doctrines of the Christian faith, from God and Christ to sin, salvation, the church, and the last things. By exploring these doctrines, you will strengthen your faith, gain hope and courage, and deepen your knowledge of God's character, work, and purposes. This course is liberating and will provide you with the truth that sets you free to live in the light of God's promises.
  • This is the first of ten lectures on Systematic Theology, a survey of the whole corpus of theology, and each lecture will be one hour long and each covering a separate doctrine or series of doctrines together. In this lesson Dr. Ware introduces the what and why of theology and discusses the foundational doctrines of Revelation and Scripture.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Ware discusses the Doctrine of God proper: why we need to know God, his incommunicable attributes, and those attributes that in some sense are communicable to humans.

  • Dr. Ware discusses the biblical basis for monotheism and trinitarianism. He also gives a brief overview of the history of the doctrine and the heresies that arose concerning the Trinity.

  • This lesson is an overview of the doctrines of humanity and sin, including a discussion of the origin of humanity, what it means to be created in the image of God, the nature and effects of sin, and original sin.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Ware discusses the doctrine of the Person of Christ, which includes his pre-incarnate existence, his incarnation, his deity and his humanity. He also discusses the important Christological passage of Philippians 2:6-8 and what does it mean that Christ “emptied” himself. Dr. Ware concludes this lesson with a discussion of the Council of Chalcedon.

  • Dr. Ware discusses the past (Atoning Savior), present (Mediator and Lord) and future (Coming Judge and Reigning King) work of Christ.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Ware discusses the person of the Holy Spirit, both his personhood and his deity. He also covers the work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, in the life of Jesus, and in the church.

  • This lesson is an overview of the doctrine and process of salvation, beginning with election and then discussing calling, regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and, finally, the glorification of the believer.

  • Dr. Ware talks about the church universal and the local church. He discusses the offices of the local church, including the roles of elders and deacons. Dr. Ware also looks at how the church can be organized and what ordinances should be celebrated by a local body of believers.

  • In this final lesson, Dr. Ware gives a rationale for studying eschatology or last things. He discusses what happens to people just after they die and before the return of Christ. He also gives an overview of the various beliefs about the timing and events of the last days. He completes the lesson with a discussion of final judgment, heaven, and hell.

We all have a theology, a set of beliefs, but many are not able to articulate it or really understand it. This class will walk you through a basic evangelical understanding of God and his Word.

Recommended Books

Understanding Theology - Student Guide

Understanding Theology - Student Guide

We all have a theology, a set of beliefs, but many are not able to articulate them or really understand them. This class will walk you through a basic evangelical...

Understanding Theology - Student Guide

Dr. Bruce Ware
Understanding Theology
Last Things
Lesson Transcript

We turn now to the last of these 10 lectures to the doctrine of last things or eschatology. First of all, just a bit of introduction, the meaning of the term eschatology, it literally means words concerning what is last or the study of what is last. And what this has in mind is the Bible's teaching of what God has planned that has yet to take place in the future. So that hasn't happened by this point in human history. There still is much to come that God has planned and prepared, and the Bible talks about a fair bit of that. 

Now, the Bible doesn't give detail in everything that's going to take place, but the Bible does give the big picture and some of the detail of some of the things that take place that are really exciting. And you just want to stop a minute and thank the Lord that he gave this to us instead of us just wondering what might happen in the future. Is God going to win in the end? Does he control things? Instead, he gave this to us so we know his plans and purposes and what will take place, at least in the broad scope of what will occur. So eschatology then referring to things that are yet to happen that the Bible has prophesied, the Bible, has taught are going to take place in the future.

What's the value of studying eschatology? Well, let me just walk you through these seven things real quickly. First of all, it helps us understand God's cosmic purposes. So we realize that it's not the case that God is kind of playing this by ear, kind of like a jazz piece and improvising along the way. He has made a plan in eternity past that he is unfolding, fulfilling as things develop in human history and things are going according to that plan. And he has allowed us to have a glimpse of what that is, how gracious of God to do this for us. And so we know that those purposes are good. We know that God will win in the end and we know that if we are in Christ, we are with him in the good that God will bring to pass at the end of human history and for all of eternity. So understanding God's cosmic purposes.

Secondly, it gives us hope. I mean, goodness, we live in a world and it always has been this way to some degree because of sin, but we live in a world where it's very troubled. There are so many distresses, so many things taking place that you wish were not. You just think this is so terrible for people and their well-being and for the future of peoples and nations and so on. And you might despair were it not for the fact that you realize number one, God is in control of these things. And number two, they're all leading to the ultimate ends that he has designed. So we do not despair as Christian people. We have hope knowing that God's purposes are good and God's purposes will be fulfilled. 

And this in turn, number three, gives us endurance so we can make it through the years of this life. Really, as I get older, I realize how short life is. The years go by so quickly and we can endure this life realizing that the life to come is going to be a life of unending joy, of complete fulfillment and satisfaction forever and ever. So in this life, we endure the difficulties, the hardships, the inconveniences, the suffering that we go through, knowing that in the end we will enter into a time and a place of joy and celebration forever and ever.

Fourth, it helps us reassess our values. We realize that things that we love on this earth may be things that perish in the end. I mean, they really are not things that endure. And so we realign our values to focus our attention on what really does last. And for a lot of that it's people. Investing your lives in people. That's what will last forever. Seeing someone come to Christ, oh my goodness, that makes all the difference for that person. So why not take the risk of losing a friendship to gain a brother or sister in Christ and helping people grow in ways that they will then benefit from for all of eternity. So reassessing our values to put our finances toward things that really do make a difference for the kingdom. Putting our time and efforts in those ways. At my age, I'm thinking of retirement. How can I use my retirement that may come in a few years in ways that would bring honor and glory to Christ and benefit to the kingdom? Reassessing our values is another very important aspect of the benefit of studying eschatology.

Number five, motivation for holiness. Let me just remind you of this passage in 2 Peter where he talks about the end of all things. This is in 2 Peter, chapter three, at verse 10. He says, "Since the day of the Lord, this is the coming day of judgment. The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat and the earth and its works be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness? Looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning and the elements will melt with intense heat. But according to his promise, we are looking for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells."

Now, I think the connection or the answer to the question in verse 11, why does he say that knowing these things are going to be destroyed, this ought to move us toward holiness in conduct and godliness? Now, what is it about knowing the future of what God is preparing for the future, what is it about that that should impact us now so that we're the sort of people who seek to be holy in our conduct and godly? Well, I think the answer is, remember where we're going. What's the place like that we are heading? And you see it there in verse 13, "According to his promise, we are looking for new heavens in a new earth in which righteousness dwells." So we realize that's the place of our ultimate home. Our ultimate belonging is this kingdom of righteousness. 

So pursue that righteousness now, pursue that godliness now, pursue that obedience now because that's what we're made for, this is what we're redeemed for, is to be those kinds of people and realize all the things on this earth will burn up and be destroyed and only our lives with God will endure forever.

Sixth, motivation for witness. I mean, it's just a fact that the day is going to come when the spread of the gospel will not be possible any longer, when there will be no gospel message any longer that can be given to anybody because the day of salvation will be over. We are in that day of salvation now and what people decide in this life will make all the difference in terms of where they live and what their lives will be like forever and ever. It is appointed unto man once to die and then comes the judgment. So indeed, in this life, that decision must be made. 

So given the fact that we realize there is a heaven and a hell, that's something we'll talk about at the end of the lecture. There is a heaven and a hell and whether you go to heaven or you go to hell, depends upon your reaction to the gospel here. Ought we not then be people who share with others the good news of Christ and to help people know that there a way to be confident that you will be with your creator God, this God of love and joy and peace and beauty. You will be with him forever and ever. Witness is motivated as we realize the end is coming. So let's tell people the good news of Christ.

And then finally, motivation for worship. I mean certainly you see this in Revelation five where things are climaxing. That is, it's a picture of how Christ is bringing things to an ultimate end, bringing judgment upon the earth and so on. And there is worship of these teams of people who bow before him and the one who is on the throne, the Father, the Spirit is upon the Son and they worship together before God. So this awareness of God's greatness and glory and his majesty in the unfolding of consummating history motivates us, moves us to want to worship God in greater ways.

So these are at least some of the benefits that come from studying eschatology. Notice I didn't have on the list anything about giving us every detail about what's going to take place and satisfying our curiosity on everything. No, I mean, we have to settle with the fact that God told us what he wanted us to know and he kept a lot of the details of the future to himself. He knows it, we don't. But what he did tell us is enormously encouraging and does these things for us, gives us hope and endures and helps us to live life now in a way that's reflective of the age to come. 

Okay, let's move on now to Roman numeral two. And this is the intermediate state. The intermediate state. This is the name given to the time period between when a person dies, physically dies in this life, and when they will then be resurrected and come before God on the day of judgment. So this happens for both believers and unbelievers. We die. And what happens to an unbeliever when he or she dies? What happens to a believer when they die? Let's think about this together. So this is really the first part of the future, that is the future for you and me who are living right now. The future for us that the Bible speaks about is what happens when an unbeliever or a believer dies. 

So first of all, for an unbeliever in the intermediate state, I think there is help that comes to us in Luke chapter 16 that gives us an idea of what it's like in the intermediate state. This is the story that Jesus told. I don't think it's a parable per se. I think it's more likely, because it doesn't have the same marks of a parable that you find with some of the other parables of Christ. I think it's more likely to be a true to life story, something like that. So here's the story that Jesus tells beginning at Luke 16, verse 19. 

Now there was a rich man and he habitually dressed in purple and in fine linen joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table besides even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now, the poor man died and was carried away with the angels to Abraham's bosom. And the rich man died and was buried. In Hades, Hades is the place of the dead, in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and in torment he saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom and he cried out and he said, "Father Abraham, have mercy upon me and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue for I am an agony in this flame."

But Abraham said, "Child, remember that during your life you received good things and likewise Lazarus bad things, but now he is being comforted here and you are in agony. And besides this..." This is a very important verse, "Besides this, between us and you, there is a great chasm fixed so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able and that none may cross over from there to us." And he said, "Then I beg you, Father, that you send him to my father's house for I have five brothers in order that he may warn them so that they will not also come to this place of torment." But Abraham said, "They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them." But he said, "No, Father, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent." But he said to him, "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead."

So I do think this is an account of the intermediate state, not of ultimate Hell, which is another possibility, this is the rich person in Hell, the final place of torment. I don't think so, because the main clue is that he asks for Lazarus to go and speak to his brothers so that they won't come here too. Well, that can't be the case if we're talking about the time period where everyone has died and everyone is standing before God in a day of judgment and have gone into Hell, there's no one left here on earth that he could ask Lazarus to go and talk to.

So I think this is the intermediate state. And if so, I'm taking that as a pretty clear understanding, just notice some of the features of what is here. Probably one of the most forceful statements is in verse 24 where he says, "Have someone come and dip his finger into water and cool off my tongue for I am in agony in these flames." So evidently the intermediate state for an unbeliever is a place of agony awaiting the eternal destruction that they will have yet to come. So they die and immediately experience the torment of their rejection of God, their rejection of Christ. It happens right away. It's a very sobering thing. I think of that when I hear of some people who I'm pretty confident are not believers from everything I know about them, they're not, and they die. And I think, just like that they know that they were wrong, that they rejected Christ wrongly, that they were arrogant and prideful and thought they knew so much and now they know how wrong they were and are suffering the consequences of that.

Notice another thing in verse 26 he says, "Between us and you, there is this great chasm fixed." So the permanency of it. So it's not the case that you can live your life as you want and you're in this place of torment and then decide you're going to repent. No, it's appointed unto man once to die. This is Hebrews 9:27, "It's appointed unto man once to die and then comes the judgment." So that decision that will affect the whole future of your life, whether you live in joy and bliss or whether you live in agony is made in this life. And so indeed he has made that choice and this is his lot then. 

So for the unbeliever, there is this agony and it cannot be changed once you have been sent there by the Lord at the point of your physical death. Here's another passage that helps us see this, it's 2 Peter 2:9, 2 Peter 2:9, which reads, "The Lord knows how to rescue the Godly from temptation and to keep the unrighteous under punishment awaiting the day of judgment."

So there is another indication that they are in a place where they experience punishment right away, "To keep the unrighteous under punishment, awaiting the day of judgment." So that they have judgment is yet to come. But right now in this intermediate state between their physical death and that resurrection where they stand before Christ in a day of judgment, in this intermediate state they experience then his punishment, the agony that they will endure. 

Well what about for believers? Well, believers, it's a very different experience in that believers are with the Lord from the moment of their death that takes place. So for example, in Philippians chapter one, Paul says that to depart and be with Christ is very much better. Isn't that amazing that he has that much of an idea of how good it will be that those are the words that he chooses, "To depart and be with Christ is very much better yet to remain on in the flesh..." That means he means in the body, "To continue living on this earth is necessary for your sake." So he said, "I don't know which to choose." But he realizes that the Lord may want him to continue here for some time longer, but to leave the body and go and be with Christ is very much better.

So there is this sense that this is a place of joy and fulfillment, a place where you escape the difficulties of this life, which is just a very comforting thing to think of when you're at the funeral of a Christian, whether it's one of your relatives or friend, and to realize if they're a believer, they are with the Lord in a place of joy, in a place of comfort, away from the struggles and the difficulties and the pains and suffering of this life. Indeed that will be the case.

Think of Jesus' statement to the thief on the cross, Luke 23, verses 42 and 43, "Truly I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise." Jesus says. Indicating then that both Jesus whose body goes to a grave and the thief whose body goes to a different grave, yet they will be with him in paradise. So this intermediate state then is a body-less existence. Now it's not the ultimate design that God has for us to flee the body, but it is for this time period until the resurrection of the body which takes place when Christ comes again. So for this brief period of time, compared to all of eternity, it's a very brief period of time between one's physical death and the resurrection, it is a body-less existence where we are with the Lord and enjoying the pleasures of his company.

And then also 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 where Paul says, "Absent from the body, present with the Lord." There is this reality of a time when we die and we as Christians know that we will be with Christ immediately. 

Okay, let's move on then to these areas where the most dispute is within the Christian Church and among evangelicals is over the question of the Millennium and the tribulation. So I want to just give you some summary comments on these different positions that are taken in regard to these understandings of the Millennium and the tribulation.

So first of all, the Millennium. Let me read to you Revelation 20 one to 10, just so you can have this passage in mind because it is the only passage in the Bible that speaks directly literally of a 1,000-year time period, which is what Millennium refers to, a 1,000-year time period. And so this passage really is at the heart of the discussion that takes place on how to understand the nature of this Millennium. Here's what we read. It's after Christ comes again in Revelation chapter 19 on his white horse, king of kings and Lord of lords and brings judgment on the nations.

Then we pick up in Revelation chapter 20 at verse one and read this, "Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven holding the key of the abyss in a great chain in his hand and he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for 1,000 years and threw him into the abyss and shut it and sealed it over him so that he would not deceive the nations any longer until the 1,000 years were completed. After these things, he must be released for a short time. Then I saw thrones and those who sat upon them and judgment was given to them, and I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, they had not received the mark of the beast on their foreheads or on their hand, and they came to life and reigned with Christ for 1,000 years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the 1,000 years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has part in the first resurrection. Over these, the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for 1,000 years."

Verse seven, "When the thousand years were completed, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for war. The number of them is like the sand of the seashore and they come up on the broad plane of the earth, surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and false prophet are also and they will be tormented day and night for and ever."

Okay, that is the key passage that is in dispute in this discussion on views of the Millennium. I do hold a particular view, I'll make that known to you as we talk about this. But my main purpose in this is just to give you a sketch even not with all the argumentation, because we don't have time to do that, but just a sketch of what these different views are. 

So first of all, the post-millennial position, this was a position that was very prominent during the days of the Puritans, and before that, the Reformers. So you have in the Reformation tradition from the time of the Reformation in the 16th century up until really until the beginning of the 20th century post-millennialism was a dominant view. The post-millennial view holds this, that the Millennium takes place in the church age now after the church has suffered tribulation. So it actually reads the Book of Revelation in a way that the tribulation of chapters six to 19 takes place first and then the Millennium follows. But all of it happens in this church age. 

So tribulation happens to the church for who knows how long. Actually, there's a view I’ll mention in a moment that says specifically how long, we'll come back to that. But for most post-millennialists historically tribulation happens for who knows how long. But then at some point God will do a work where he begins converting people to the Christian faith. There will be massive Christianization of cultures and nations and of the whole world, so that Christ will come again at the end of this millennial reign of Christ on earth. This Millennium is not a literal 1,000-year period, but it's a period where more and more people have come to Christ and the world is largely Christianized. He will come again then to a world that welcomes him, that invites him, and that is happy to have him return. After which then will come the judgment followed by the creation of the new heavens and the new earth. Tribulation and Millennium both happen in this age in that order. 

Now there is a more recent version of post-millennialism that really does define specifically when the tribulation ends and when the Millennium begins, and that is a view called preterism. And a soft preterist is one who holds that we're still waiting for the return of Christ, we're still waiting for the new age to come and so on. But in this age right now, the church age, the tribulation took place just for the first 70 years and it's 70 AD when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, that at that point what is described in the Book of Revelation, what is described in the Olivet discourse by Christ in Matthew 24 and 25 was fulfilled. And then from 70 AD on, we've been in the Millennium, which is a time period of gradual growth of the kingdom. 

One of the arguments that postmillennialists have given for their view of the Millennium is the parables that Jesus gives of the mustard seed that grows into this giant bush. And so they take that to indicate that even though the church starts small, that in time it will grow and will consume this large area, basically take over all of the earth. Or the leaven that leavens the whole lump of dough. So even though the church starts in a small beginning, it will have its growth period, so much so that when Christ comes again, the world will be largely Christian and will welcome his return.

Now, the postmillennial view suffered significant losses as it were when the first World War took place. Up until that time in the late 19th century going into the 20th century, there was really, in Western culture, a pervasive kind of utopianism. You think of the Amana community for example, and other utopian communities really thought the Millennium had come. Goodness, science had developed medicines and there was travel and communication and all kinds of developments, and for the most part, freedom from any major wars and so on. So many people, not just Christians, were thinking that the world is getting better and better day by day.

And then came World War I, where technology was used in horrific ways to bring destruction to people and great pain and agony and harm and permanent damage to soldiers who fought in those wars. So all of a sudden these hopes of being in the Millennium were dashed by World War I. So many postmillennialists, I would say most of them, shifted over from postmillennialism to amillennialism. So let's turn there next. 

Amillennialism is again a dominant view in reformed circles from the Reformation tradition. And it likewise holds that both the tribulation and the Millennium happen in this age in the church age. So the term amillennial really means amillennial like atheist, no God, amillennial or amillennial, no Millennium. What they really mean by that is no literal future Millennium, no Millennium that comes after Christ returns. That's really what the term means. So some of them prefer the term realized Millennium instead of amillennial, because what they want to say is the Millennium is happening now in this age that we who are Christians reign in Christ now. As we give our lives to Christ, as we trust in him, as we follow him, we are in his kingdom and that kingdom is here on earth and we are citizens of that kingdom in the millennial reign of Christ.

But at the very same time in this age, not only is the Millennium happening all through church history from the time of Christ's ascension, the beginning of the church, all the way till when he comes again, but also all through church history, the tribulation is happening simultaneously. So both the tribulation of the church, the persecution of the church, the ascendancy of nations who are hostile to God and to his ways, all that is happening in the world at the very same time that the church is experiencing the millennial reign of Christ, the peace and the joy we know of belonging to Christ and being his people under his rule. 

So the amillennial view then understands the Book of Revelation that describes first the tribulation, chapters six to 19, then the Millennium, chapter 20, to be interpreted in a way that when you get to chapter 20, you really come back and start the story over again. Tell the story of the church age again. But this way, at this time it's through the lense of the Millennium rather than the lense of the tribulation. In fact, they thought of the Book of Revelation as really having cycles, because you have the seal judgments that are there first when Christ takes the scroll and breaks the seals that begin in chapter six, and then you move to the trumpet judgments, and then to the bowl judgments.

And the amillennials interprets each one of those as a cycle indicating what happens in the church age during the seal judgments and during the trumpet judgments and during the bowls of wrath judgments, that all those judgments indicate different perspectives on the same reality of the church age. So then when you come to chapter 20, you're doing the same thing again, another perspective on the church age, but now as you see the church age through the lens of the Millennium. So they see tribulation and Millennium going together as you interpret the Book of Revelation.

And when you read in Revelation 20 of Satan being bound, so he can't deceive the nations, that happens when Christ dies on the cross and conquers Satan, he defeats him. And Satan is no longer the one in charge, Christ is the one who has taken over. So Satan is bound and cannot deceive the nations from coming to Christ as the spirit goes out and brings people to Christ. 

So what's common between the postmillennial and amillennial view is that both of them see both the tribulation and the Millennium in the church age. And that stands in sharp contrast with the other two views, the historic premillennial and dispensational premillennial. What they have in common is that they both see the Millennium happening after the tribulation and the tribulation and Millennium both happen at the end of the church age. 

So when the church age is over, then the tribulation will take place, at the end of which, Christ comes again, and then the Millennium takes place. So both the dispensational and historic premillennial understand the church age happening now, then the tribulation will take place, the return of Christ will take place, and then the Millennium will occur. And it's in that order that these things take place. It's not the case that the tribulation and Millennium are in this age now, those are rather future events. 

Now the historic premillennial typically argues that really the only passage that clearly describes the Millennium is Revelation 20. And they argue that this has to be an event that happens after the tribulation and after the return of Christ. 

Let me give you just a couple reasons why they see it that way. Really, if you understand the narrative of Revelation 19 to 20 to indicate progression, that is the storyline continues from 19 to 20, you're going to end up being a premillennialist. And the reason is this, because at the end of 19, notice at verse 20, "The beast was seized within the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence by which they deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. And these two, the beast in the false prophet were thrown into the lake of fire, which burns with brimstone, the rest were killed."

So you have all of the rest of the earth killed, the beast and the false prophet thrown into the lake of fire. Now, if you've been reading through the Book of Revelation, you applauded that, this is great news that the beast in the false prophet are done away with now, thrown into the lake of fire. But it's not completely satisfying. Why? Because the other leading figure in the Book of Revelation is Satan himself. I mean, Satan, the big dog, the one who really is the one who empowers the beast and the false prophet. He's not mentioned here. 

Well, move on to chapter 20, "Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the abyss, and he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent, the devil, Satan, bound him for 1,000 years." So it seems as though the most natural reading of this is we go right from 19 into 20, that the narrative continues and deals now with the demise of Satan, he's bound, put into the abyss. He cannot deceive the nations until the 1,000 years are completed. But then at the end of the 1,000 years he's released. Verse seven, "Satan is released from prison. He amasses all these people on the earth to join him in rebellion against Christ." At the end of which, verse 10, "The devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire in brimstone." Now look at the next phrase, "Where the beast and false prophet are also."

So doesn't that indicate that what happened in the end of chapter 19 precedes what happens in 20? So you flow from 19 to 20, the narrative continues, the storyline continues. And if that's the case, what happens in 19? Second coming of Christ. What happens in 20? Millennium. And what happens before the second coming of Christ in 19? The tribulation. So you have this order of the church age. Tribulation for seven years, Revelation chapters six to 19, second coming of Christ, the second half of chapter 19, and then the Millennium that takes place in chapter 20. Then following that, of course, the new heavens and the new earth. 

So premillennials would argue that this reading really is the most natural reading of Revelation in seeing the Millennium come after the tribulation that takes place. Another reason for the premillennial position is the binding of Satan, because really both post and amillennials want to do is to say that Satan is bound when Christ conquers Satan, which of course Christ does conquer Satan so that he cannot deceive the nations because Christ has won the victory over Satan.

But here's the problem with that is that the New Testament, which of course is written after Christ has died, been raised, ascended to the right hand of the Father, is reigning over all things. New Testament writers still speak of Satan very active in the world. I mean, think for example, two Corinthians 4:4, “concerning all who are perishing, the God of this world, Satan has blinded the minds of every unbeliever. So he cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” Well, if that isn't deception, I don't know what is. But Revelation 20 says he's thrown into the abyss, locked up, sealed over him so he cannot deceive the nations. And yet this is precisely what he's doing. He's the prince of the power of the air in Ephesians chapter two, I take it that means that as pervasive as is air is the presence of Satan who is at work in this world, he is the one who is controlling the lives of unbelievers in terms of how they think and what they say.

According to two Timothy 2:26, he is according to one John 5:19, the one who has control over the whole world. The whole world lies in the power of the evil one. So it's very hard to conclude for Revelation 20 that when it says that Satan is bound locked up so he cannot deceive the nations that that isn't happening right now. He is doing that right now. So isn't it far more likely this is referring to a future time when Satan is bound in ways he's not bound now?

Furthermore, here's the other problem with that view, that Satan's binding of Revelation 20 is tied to Christ's defeat of him on the cross, and that is Satan is then released at the end of the 1,000-year period. What's that? Goodness, you mean the defeat of Christ is undone? Is that how you would understand this? But Satan is released at the end of the 1,000-year period and he deceives these nations and all these people stand up against Christ and only then is he thrown into the lake of fire.

So really I don't see any way you can tie the binding of Satan with the defeat of Christ because the defeat of Christ is permanent. You can't say Satan is released from that, that all of a sudden that is undone for him. And there are more reasons, but it does look as though the premillennial view that has the benefit of the most natural reading of what we see here in the Book of Revelation.

Now, the difference between historic and dispensational is this, that historic really does want to see only the Millennium dealt with in Revelation 20. They really don't see it larger than that. So they put all their eggs in that basket. And of course that basket is an important one. I mean, this is also part of the Bible and we need to account for what's there in Revelation 19 and 20 and they do that. But they don't see the Millennium as necessarily spoken of in regard to the fulfillment of promises to Israel.

That's the big difference with the dispensational view is the Dispensationalists understand the Millennium as a necessary time in human history to fulfill promises that are yet unfulfilled to Israel. So for example, let me give you just one example. In Ezekiel, chapter 37, we read here an astonishing promise of what God will do to restore the people of Israel. Let me read for you, beginning at verse 21, "Say to them..." That is to the people of Israel, "Thus says the Lord God, 'Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land and I will make them one nation in the land. On the mountains of Israel, one king will be king for all of them. They will no longer be two nations, no longer divided into two kingdoms.'"

Of course, that happened with Jeroboam and Rehoboam as the nation was divided after the reign of Solomon, right? So northern kingdom and southern kingdom. So no longer two nations, divided nations, but they'll be brought together. Verse 23, "They will no longer defile themselves with idols or with detestable things or with any transgressions, but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned and will cleanse them. And they will be my people and I will be their God." So what it says here is, "I will bring them back from the nations of the world where they are now. I will bring them back together as one nation no longer divided, and I will make them a righteous people." 

Question, has that happened in human history? Has God done this with his people? And the answer is clearly no, it hasn't happened. I mean, goodness, yes, they did come back to the land of Israel under Ezra-Nehemiah, and rebuilt the temple, rebuilt the Wall of Jerusalem. But goodness, they didn't have a king, right? Nehemiah, for as godly of a man as he was, he wasn't from the right tribe, the tribe of Judah. He couldn't have been king of Israel. The people weren't righteous. The books of Malachi and Nehemiah did describe the last glimpse of the history of Israel in the Old Testament both describe the sin that they're committing. I mean, Nehemiah in the last chapter of Nehemiah is so distressed with the idolatry of the men in Israel, he's pulling out their hair to help them get this. You can't marry foreign wives and you can't do these wicked things. 

So you read this and go, "Has this happened? No, it hasn't." In fact, the return of Israel to the land at the end of the Old Testament brings more of a sigh than a cheer, right? It is not the sort of thing you go, "All right, they're back." No, they need support from the king of Persia. They're weak, they are sinful. They're prone to the same kind of idolatry they were before. So when is this going to be fulfilled? Let me keep reading. Let me just read a tiny bit more. 

Verse 24, "My servant David will be king over them." Oh, so we have to have the Messiah. So it won't work to look back at the time when Zerubbabel and Ezra and Nehemiah were there. "My servant David will be king over them." This is obviously Jesus, "And they will have one shepherd and they will walk in my ordinances and keep my statutes and observe them and they will live on the land that I gave to Jacob my servant in which your fathers lived. And they will live on it. They and their sons and their sons' sons. And David, my servant will be their prince forever and I will make a covenant of peace with them and it will be an everlasting covenant with them and I will place and multiply them and set my sanctuary in their midst forever. My dwelling place will be with them and I will be their God and they will be my people and the nations will know that I am Yahweh the God of Israel who sanctifies Israel when my sanctuary is in their midst forever."

So again, has this prophecy been fulfilled in human history? And the answer is no. So the day has to come when Messiah will reign as their king, when they're brought back into their land, they're no longer divided as two peoples, but one, and the nations can see this. And so the dispensational argues these promises require a future fulfillment. So it's not just Revelation 20, it's other passages that require a future time when God will bring an end to all of the Gentile rulership on the earth. Christ will reign his king over all of the earth, but his reign will be from Jerusalem where he reigns over his own people fulfilling everything that he promised to them.

Some people want to spiritualize this and say this is fulfilled in the church. Dispensationalists are not inclined to go that way, but to understand that these really have to do with the ethnic national Israel. And really Paul himself confirms that this is the case when he says that when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, that is the full number of Gentile elect are saved, then all Israel will be saved. So he understands the future salvation of ethnic national Israel as part of what God has promised to them. There you have it, a sketch anyway of those millennial views. Let's move on now to views of the tribulation. 

If you hold a postmillennial or amillennial view, you don't really have to worry about this next section, because the tribulation happens during the church age, even though it's conceived differently in the post and amillennial views, it happens during the church age. But if you hold a premillennial view, then the question is that arises here is, when is the rapture of the church in relation to the tribulation that takes place? Does the rapture of the church happen at the beginning of the tribulation? That's the pretribulational rapture view. Does the rapture happen in the middle of the tribulation? Does it happen at the end of the tribulation? So the tribulation is understood by all parties here to indicate this seven-year period of time described in Revelation six to 19, chapter six to 19, the seven-year period of time where God is bringing judgment upon the Gentile nations of the world and saving his own people, Israel, during this time.

Really, the tribulation for all these positions, we would agree on this, is an incredibly amazing time when there never has been more devastation on the face of the earth than during this time period and never more conversions that have taken place as huge numbers of Jews are saved throughout the world and brought to faith in Christ. 

Here's the difference in the views. The mid-tribulational view, you could tell by the name, would argue that the rapture of the church happens at the midpoint of the tribulation. So that's where Christ comes again for the church, not with the church all the way to earth, but rather meets the church in the air and then is with the church with him in heaven during the rest of the tribulation. But they argue it happens during the midpoint of the tribulation. Part of their argument for this is that the church is raptured before the wrath of God comes upon the world.

So they believe the church is promised to be spared from the wrath of God. But when they read the Book of Revelation, you remember the different judgments that are there, the seal judgments, the trumpet judgments, and then the bowls of wrath judgments. So they understand that the rapture of the church takes place when the last trumpet sounds of the trumpet judgments that is then followed by the bowls of wrath judgment, that only then do you enter into the time of God's wrath upon the earth. Until that time, it's a time of tribulation that the church endures but not a time of the wrath of God on the world. That's only in the second half of the tribulation. 

The difficulty I have with that is that it does seem like the first seal judgments are manifestations of the wrath of God. So listen to these words. This is in Revelation six when Christ takes the book and opens its seals, so it goes through the different seals that are opened and we read in verse 15, "Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks in the mountains, and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the presence of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the lamb.' For the great day of their wrath has come. Who is able to stand?"

So it looks to me like from the get-go, this is in Revelation six, right from the very beginning you have all the way through the Book of Revelation, the wrath of God on the earth. So I don't think the argument works to say that the wrath only starts at the midpoint. That's where the church is raptured. 

The postmillennial view argues that the rapture of the church happens at the end of the tribulation, that the church endures all through the tribulation, and it does so because the church has always been called to endure. 

One of the points that many post-tribulationists make is that the church has always been told and was told by Christ to expect persecutions. "If they persecute you, be comforted for the persecuted me first." Jesus will say, "And great is your reward for being persecuted for my name's sake." "So why should the church expect to be spared persecution?" Says the post-trib rapture people. So rather the rapture will take place at the end of the tribulation. And you wonder what is the point of meeting Christ in the air at the endpoint of the tribulation since Christ is coming to earth. And they say it's like a Jewish wedding where the party of the bride would go out and meet the groom as he comes to the wedding ceremony and then come with him to be involved with that. So they like that analogy and the like. 

Now, one problem with this, the post-tribulational view, in my judgment, is that it doesn't account for a couple of things that you need to account for that take place during the Millennium. In the Millennium, we realize from Isaiah 65 and from Revelation 20, during the Millennium, there is ongoing birth and death, and rebellion that takes place against Christ. We saw that just earlier when we looked at Revelation 20. Satan is released and all these people join him in rebellion. How does natural birth and death take place? How are there rebels during the millennial period? And if you hold the post-trib view, it's problematic because at the end of the tribulation, all unbelievers are killed, end of Revelation 19, all believers are raptured and raised, and so everyone who goes into the Millennium are in glorified bodies. And we do not marry or given marriage in our glorified bodies. This is what Jesus indicated. 

So how can their people be born and die? But Isaiah 65 seems to indicate so. How could there be rebellion? We're all believers. So it really looks like there needs to be the rapture of the church prior to the end of the tribulation to account for these things. If the mid-trib position has problems, and maybe that's not the way to go, perhaps the pre-trib position is the one.

So pre-trib, the pre-trib, the third of these, again, it is the one I hold, and so I'm giving a bit of the argumentation for it, is able to account for these realities of birth and death that take place in the Millennium and for rebellion that takes place at the end of the Millennium. And it's because of this that the pre-trib rapture understands that Christ comes for the church. At the beginning of the tribulation, they go with them in the air. In fact, let me read, I should have read earlier 1 Thessalonians four, which describes the rapture. 

Sometimes people will say to me, kind of snidely, "You believe in the rapture?" And I look at them and say, "Oh, I'm sorry. I guess 1 Thessalonians four is missing from your Bible, because there it is. Sure enough." So it says in verse 13, "We do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep." That is those who have passed away, "That you not grieve as the rest who have no hope, for we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this, we say to you by the word of the Lord that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will not precede those who have fallen asleep." Those who have died, "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout with the voice of the archangel, with the trumpet of God and the dead in Christ will rise first and then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds."

That's rapture. So we who are alive, if it were to happen right now, we in this room somehow, we don't know how, but would be lifted up into the heavens to meet Christ in the air, to be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord, therefore comfort one another with these words. So the pre-tribulational view argues that this rapture takes place at the beginning of the tribulation, in part because the whole point of the tribulation is not just persecution and sort of normal kinds of difficulties and trials that Christians are to endure, but it is a specific kind of judgment that is meant to come on Gentiles and for Jews to be saved during this time period really has those two main purposes.

And so the church is taken out through that. And so the church is with Christ for this seven-year period, with him in heaven. And during that time period in heaven, two things take place. One is that the church undergoes the judgment seat of Christ, two Corinthians 5:10, "We will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account of what each has done in the body, whether good or bad." So that will happen where you think of the millions of people there will be, everyone resurrected. And those who are alive, who are Christians, raptured and then in glorified bodies are with Christ and undergo the judgment seat there. That takes time to do it. This is something that requires that time period for it to take place. 

The other thing that happens while we are with Christ is the marriage supper of the Lamb. Just before Christ returns in Revelation 19, the event that precedes that in Revelation 19 is the marriage supper of the lamb where everyone is clothed in white garments. In other words, the judgment has been completed. And we're purified. We are glorified, and with Christ at that moment. So you have to have a model of the rapture of the church that can accommodate time needed for the judgment of believers and time needed for this glorious marriage supper of the Lamb that will take place before Christ comes again in Revelation 19. The post-trib view simply can't do that. The mid-trib can, but it has other problems. The pre-trib view I think has the most going for it to account for that. 

Okay, back though to the question of, what about birth and death in the Millennium? And as Isaiah 65 indicates, and also the rebellion that Revelation 20 indicates. Well, here's how the pre-trib position can account for this. What when everyone is raptured, that means there are no Christians left on earth at the moment that the rapture takes place and the resurrection of all unbelievers takes place. No believers at all. But God puts witnesses there. The Book of Revelation describes this, who will begin the process of bringing people to faith in Christ.

I think this is the time when massive numbers of Jews will be saved. And they'll be saved, many of them persecuted. So we know in Revelation 20 it speaks of those who died because of their testimony of Jesus. They were martyred. And they come to life and reign with Christ for 1,000 years. Well, obviously they're glorified at that point. But others who become Christians and are persecuted but not killed make it through the tribulation period and go into the Millennium as believers in natural bodies. And they live with the vast majority of people who are in glorified bodies, but they live together there. I mean, it's not unlike Jesus in his glorified body after the resurrection, meeting with the disciples and having fish together, right? Having a meal together. It's not unlike that. It's still a body. I mean it's a glorified body, but they're still bodies and we're still humans. 

And so these people in non-glorified bodies are there in the Millennium also. They marry, they have children. Now, here's the amazing thing, then there's birth and death. Many of those children, even during the Millennium when Christ is reigning as king, do not put their faith in Christ. It's an amazing thought. So you realize, boy, sin is powerful. The deception of sin is just horrid to keep people from seeing the truth that even now in the Millennium would be more obvious than ever to see, and they reject it. And so there are so many in the end who have rejected Christ that they join Satan in league against him for that last stand in which then Satan is defeated and thrown into the lake of fire.

So in any case, I think the pre-tribulational view accounts for more things easier, better than the other views. But it is difficult to know. This is an area where we should agree to disagree agreeably with other believers who hold different views of the Millennium and of the tribulation, the timing of the rapture. 

Okay, then finally, let me move on to these last areas of final judgment and eternal state. Final judgment. We have already talked about this somewhat, that there will come a time when both unbelievers and believers are judged. Revelation 20 describes this time when this resurrection of unbelievers takes place and books of works are open and people are judged according to their works. And I take it that the books of works open indicate then that the judgment indicates a different severity of judgment that will come to different people depending upon the works that they have done. So greater judgment to some than to others. 

And of course this was indicated even by Jesus, the passage I know we thought about at some point earlier where he says in Matthew 11, "Woe to you Chorazin and Bethsaida, if the miracles performed among you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon..." Another place, he says in Sodom and Gomorrah, "... They would've repented in dust, cloth, and ashes. So it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for them than it will be for you." Variable degrees of punishment in hell that is indicated by that judgment according to works. But nonetheless, the judgment will be horrible for all people. When you think of Jesus teaching on the nature of hell, you hear these words from him that are just so very sobering. So for example, Jesus speaks of doing evil and being thrown into fiery hell into the place where the worm will not die and the fire is not quenched. This place of unquenchable fire.

In Matthew 25, "Of eternal punishment." Matthew 13, "A furnace of fire, weeping and gnashing of teeth." Matthew 25, "Outer darkness." These statements by Jesus, and by the way, this is Jesus. Yes, gentle lowly Jesus is the one who talked more about the reality of hell, the severity of hell than anyone else in the New Testament. It's really quite astonishing. He wants people to know the horror of hell so they will escape it, so they will turn now and be saved by what Christ has come and done for us in his death on the cross. It will be horrible for everyone, and yet there will be variable punishment that takes place for unbelievers. For believers, the judgment will take place when we are with the Lord caught up in the air and meet him, and all of us will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, give an account of what we have done in the body, whether good or bad.

And I know I mentioned this to you once before, that I think one of the purposes of that is that we will see for first time all of the sin we have committed, because all of it will be brought out into the open. Not for the purpose of judging us, but for the purpose of humbling us, to help us realize how much sin we committed in our lifetimes. All of which, all of which was paid by Christ. Amazing. 

And then also variable just as there is variable punishment, variable rewards. Remember Jesus said that when you pray, don't pray in public where people hear you, you have your reward in full. But go in your closet and pray, your Father who sees in secret will what? Will reward you. So indeed, rewards will take place. We're not sure exactly what forms those might be. We have some guesses about that.

I know Jonathan Edwards talked about different capacities for experiencing the fullness of God, and he used the analogy of three different sized containers being plunged into the vast ocean. All three of those containers may be 10 ounce, 20 ounce, 30 ounce. All three of those containers experience fullness. They are full of the ocean water, right? But different capacities in terms of what they can experience. I thought some years ago of an analogy that is a musical analogy. Imagine three people listening to a beautiful symphony like done by the London Philharmonic Symphony. And as they listened together, these three people, the first one is a musical novice. He loves listening to music, but he really doesn't know much about it. Can't read a lick of music. The second one is a pretty proficient musician can play an instrument and can read it and knows a bit about it. The third one is a musical professional who can play every instrument on the stage and has composed music and is just a brilliant musician.

All three listen to the very same symphony. And at the end they all exclaim, "Wasn't that beautiful?" But if you could get into the minds of the three of them, they all were just thrilled with it. But the first one, the musical novice knows very little about the dimensions of what was taking place. The second one a bit more. The third one, so much more, the richness of texture and the kinds of things that were done in composition. He could get all of that. So perhaps in heaven there will be this then extension of the extent to which we pursued God, we sought after him, we sought to be obedient, we sacrificed in service to him. And that will have the result in different experiences of the fullness of knowing God. We will all know him. We will all experience joy, unending joy, but maybe different capacities through that. We'll wait and see, but it does stand to reason. 

And then finally, the reality of heaven and hell, as I've talked about already. I just think we need to hold in our hearts this truth, that heaven and hell are real. They're not fables, it's not myths. These are not fairy tales, you know, that we can just discard with. They're real and we need to bring them to mind regularly, that heaven will be a place for us believers of enormous joy.

It is a physical environment. Heaven in Revelation 21, the new Jerusalem comes down to earth and we live in this new Jerusalem, this glorious city, beautiful location, but it's a physical environment, and we're in physical bodies. So don't think of heaven as this ethereal place that's kind of mystical. It's rather a physical environment where we live on the new earth and enjoy all that God has for us in this new location. It's a place where we will experience the greatest joy we could possibly ever know, and it will never end. A place of fulfillment and work. God wants us to be people fulfilled with our lives, and so we will be people of work and productivity, and this will give us a great sense of fulfillment in the work of the Lord.

Hell, on the other hand, is a place where those in hell experience no joy, no satisfaction, no fulfillment. It's a place where everything that God is, is the opposite for them. So no beauty. Beauty is in God, but they don't have God. It is just a place where ugliness and fear and worry pervade in that place away from God, and torment and pain and suffering forever and ever.

So as we consider our lives now, we realize we need to be reminded, like Lewis, C.S. Lewis reminded us, there are no ordinary people. We meet people that if we could see them now in the way they will be, they're either people of such beauty, such glory, we would be tempted to worship them. He's talking about believers who in their glorified state in heaven will be the source. Or they're so hideous, so deformed that we're repulsed by them. He's talking about an unbeliever and what will be the case in the end. "There are no ordinary people." Lewis says. So help us, Lord God, to remember that, and to take to heart that we have the tremendous privilege in this life of sharing with others the only good news there is that may transfer people from what otherwise would've been eternity in hell instead to eternity in heaven where we will experience the joy of God's presence for and ever.


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