Chapter 7 - A General Resurrection and Judgment at the End of the World, Not Taught in Scripture

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Conclusive as the passages quoted in our last chapter may appear as to the doctrine of a separate resurrection of believers before the end of the world, it would be a source of confusion to many, so long as there are various other portions of the Word of God which they have always understood as teaching the doctrine which these scriptures seem to overthrow. There are certain passages which have been commonly received as proving the fact of a general resurrection and judgment at the close of the world, and should the ordinary interpretation of these passages be correct, it manifestly clashes with the doctrine we have deduced in our last chapters with reference to an exclusive resurrection of the “dead in Christ.” I propose, then, to examine these portions in detail. For there can be no real contradiction in Scripture, and if guided by the Spirit, we shall see either that the passages already quoted have been misunderstood, or that the texts taken to establish the opposite doctrine are in perfect harmony with them.
I. One of these cited as proving a general resurrection is in the prophecies of Daniel. “At that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever” (Dan. 12:1-3). We need not here discuss the meaning of this passage. It is sufficient to point out that, if it refers to a resurrection of the dead at all, it cannot be a general resurrection. The verses quoted are the conclusion of a communication made to Daniel, explaining the events which must happen before the restoration and glory of Daniel's people, that is, the the Jews (Dan. 10:19—12:4). It relates simply to the Jews, and the time named is not the end of the world, but the deliverance of the nation. The resurrection spoken of, therefore, whether literal or figurative, is not at the end of the world, but long before it; is not general, but confined to Daniel's people; and is not applied even to the whole of Daniel's people, but only to many of them. Anything more unlike a general resurrection at the end of the world, it would be impossible to conceive. Indeed, if accepted as meaning a literal resurrection of the dead at all, it would be one of the most conclusive proofs that the resurrection was partial and previous to the end of the world, instead of universal and at the end of the world.
II. Another passage thought to teach a general resurrection and judgment is the parable of the wheat and the tares. The text supposed to contain this doctrine is as follows: — “Let both (wheat and tares) grow together until the harvest; and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn” (Matt. 13:30). The explanation follows. “He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; the enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age (not world), and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be in the end of this age. The Son of man shall send, forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (ver. 37-43).
That this passage has been supposed to describe a general judgment at the end of the world, is partly the cause and partly the consequence of the unfortunate mistranslation of the word signifying “age,” as if it meant “world.” The completion of the age is, however, a totally different event from the end of the world, and nothing but error can arise from confounding things so entirely opposed in character. It was a phrase well understood by the Jews, as describing the termination of their own subjection to the Gentiles and disowning of God-the time concerning which Daniel's inquiries had been made and his prophecies uttered. It is always so used by the disciples, as when they inquire, “What shall be the sign of Thy coming and of the end of the age?” Nor is there a single instance where it can be properly understood as referring to the end of the world. On the contrary, it is the beginning of another epoch, by far the most blessed and glorious in the world's history.
But it is not merely the phrase used which forbids us to interpret the event here described as happening at the end of the world. If this is the general resurrection, why is nothing whatever said about anybody rising? Surely the omission of this most striking portion of the picture is proof enough that the scene here presented is not the final resurrection and judgment, but some altogether different event.
What, then, is this event? If we look at what we have seen to be the effect of the Lord's coming, we shall have no difficulty in recognizing the exact correspondence between this parable and the things which will happen at that time. The moment had not yet arrived for making known the secret of His coming for His saints before His manifestation to the world. Moreover, the question here is one of outward display to the world, not of dwelling with Christ in the Father's house. Looked at in this light what have we learned about the Lord's coming? That as far as the wicked are concerned, Christ will come in flaming fire, taking vengeance, and accompanied by the angels of His power; that, as far as believers are concerned, they will be publicly manifested with Him in glory, that He may be “glorified in His saints” and “admired in all them that believe.” In the parable, the angels are the ministers of judgment, the righteous shine forth as the sun, and the wicked are cast into a furnace of fire. Can any one fail to perceive the resemblance between the parable and the doctrinal statement?
III. Another passage supposed to contain a description of a general resurrection and judgment at the end of the world, is the last two sections of our Lord's discourse with His disciples in Matt. 24 and 25. The former (25:14-30), shows Jesus as the master who returns after being absent, and demands an account from his servants of certain talents entrusted to them. The second (ver. 31-46) represents Him seated on the throne of His glory, and judging the nations. The question is whether either or both of these scenes are figures of a general judgment on those raised from their graves at the end of the world.
The first remark that occurs is, that the two scenes are so different in their character that it is not easy to regard them as representations of the same event. In the first parable, the persons spoken of are dealt with individually; in the second, in two great masses. In the first, the question tried is faithfulness to a certain trust; in the second, it is the conduct pursued towards a set of persons called “these my brethren.”
But another remark speedily suggests itself. Why should these events be supposed to happen at a general resurrection and at the end of the world, when not so much as a passing allusion is made either to the dead, or to a resurrection, or to the world having come to its closing hour? The only answer that can be given to this question is, that the ordinary interpretation of Scripture left the interpreters no choice. Assuming that Christ only comes at the end of the world, and that all will then be raised and judged, these scenes must happen at that period, for there is no other time at which they could happen. But those who have already learned that Christ will come before the end of the world, will hesitate to add so enormous a fact as a general resurrection to a narrative in which Scripture has remained wholly silent about it, and will seek some other explanation demanding no such outrage on the Word of God.
The parable of the talents follows those of the steward and of the virgins. The parable of the steward shows the results of carefulness or carelessness in watching for the Lord's return; that of the virgins the necessity of having oil in the lamp, that is, true spiritual life. The parable of the talents shows the responsibility of those called by the name of Christ to be diligent in His service. As the unwatchful steward is cut off, and the careless virgins are shut out, so here the unprofitable servant is cast into outer darkness, while the diligent ones enter into the joy of their lord. All three parables are fulfilled at the coming of Christ, looked at in both its aspects. The watchful steward, the virgins with oil, and the diligent servants, all receive their reward, while false professors are detected and left behind, or consigned to the dreadful judgments that overtake the world when Christ appears in His glory. While, then, this parable entirely fails as a description of a general resurrection, it perfectly agrees with the rest of Scripture as a picture of what takes place at Christ's second coming.
There is another point of agreement that deserves notice. In Luke the same parable is related, but a difference is shown in the rewards. The servant who has made ten talents becomes ruler over ten cities; he who has made five, over five (Luke 19:12-26). Do we ever hear of saints being made rulers over cities in heaven? No, but we do hear of saints reigning with Christ over the earth, and to such a state of things the reward in the parable is exactly suited. The picture, then, agrees with other portions of the Word in describing what will happen at the Lord's second coming, believers being first caught up, and afterward manifested with Christ in power, each rewarded according to the measure of his faithfulness, and unbelievers being cast out and brought to judgment.
It may be asked whether, if this is the case, such a dialog could occur as that related in the parable? But a parable is not a history-only a fictitious narrative meant to illustrate a principle. The dialog is part of the figure, bringing out man's natural reasoning on one side and God's thoughts on the other. Who would understand literally the entreaty of the foolish virgins, or the reply of the bridegroom? Who supposes it to be a real conversation between the Judge and those on His right hand or those on His left, in the parable immediately following? Who ever imagined that the words put into the mouth of the rich man in torment or of Abraham, were actually spoken? In the parable before us, as in those to which we have just alluded, the thoughts and desires of the heart are clothed in words, and the scene is not a description of anything that really takes place, but a story illustrating the principles on which God and man are respectively acting.
The last section of the twenty-fifth chapter relates the judgment which Christ will execute on the nations of the earth, when He comes in His kingdom glory, to “break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces, like a potter's vessel.” It represents Jesus coming as the minister of judgment. But this judgment is divided into various acts. In the Revelation, we have nothing described but the judgment executed on the beast and false prophet and the armies that followed them. Other acts of judgment are, however, related elsewhere. We read in the prophecies of Joel that the Lord will “bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem,” and that He will then “gather all nations, and will bring them down unto the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for My people and for My heritage, Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations” (Joel 3:1,2). Without discussing how far this is to be literally or figuratively understood, let us compare it with the scene described in Matthew. “When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory; and before Him shall be gathered all THE nations” (Matt. 25:31,32). The article here is important, because it helps materially to determine the real character of the scene enacted. The translators, believing the event to be a general and final judgment, dropped it in order to give a more universal character to the gathering. It is, however, in the original, and the question is who are meant by “all the nations? “
The word “nations” means “Gentiles,” and is ordinarily used to describe them as distinguished from the Jews. Now in this scene there are not two classes as generally supposed, but three,—the sheep, the goats, and “these my brethren.” These persons called Christ's brethren are neither sheep nor goats, nor are they themselves brought into the judgment. It is for their conduct to these “brethren,” who have been hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, and in prison —a persecuted, despised, forsaken people, that the Gentiles are judged. How exactly this agrees, then, with the prediction of Joel, and indeed, with the general current of Old Testament prophecy All Scripture concurs in representing the Jews as forsaken of God for an indefinite period. When this period has elapsed, the Lord “will bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem,” and will judge the nations for the cruel oppression with which they have, especially towards the close of this epoch, treated His people. It is true that in this scene described in Matthew, the saints are not mentioned as accompanying Jesus, but, as I have already shown, our Lord purposely left this subject obscure throughout His whole teaching. On the other hand, the angels are named, thus bringing the account into close accordance with the description of Christ's return in judgment given in 2 Thess. 1:7,8. This judgment of the nations, then, foretold in Old Testament Scriptures, is the very judgment, represented figuratively, no doubt, but with striking vividness, in the passage before us. “These my brethren” are the saved remnant of Israel, who, having received at the Lord's hands double for all their sins, are now delivered from their enemies, and owned by Christ as His people. “All the nations” are the Gentiles, who are now dealt with according to the favor or hostility they have shown to God's chosen race.
The passage shows the simplicity of Scripture when its light is directly received, instead of being refracted through the distorting medium of man's theological systems. As a judgment of the nations on Christ's return for Israel's restoration, the narrative is free from difficulty, but describes a striking fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. As a picture of the traditional resurrection and judgment, it is full of contradictions and absurdities, being an account of a universal judgment in which some are not judged, and of a universal resurrection in which nobody is raised!
IV. But there is another passage which will occur to the minds of some readers. “We must all appear” (or be manifested), says Paul, “before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). And again, “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10). These are deeply solemn words, which our hearts would do well to ponder. The same Savior who makes Himself known as the loving friend gone to prepare a place for us, and waiting to come again and receive us unto Himself, also reveals Himself as the Judge walking among the candlesticks, with “His eyes as a flame of fire, and His feet like unto fine brass.” “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12)—the lost, when He comes to judge the dead out of the things written in the books—and the saved also, when He reckons with His servants, and dispenses rewards.
But there is not a word about the two classes standing together, or for the same purpose. In the parable of the talents, recorded in Luke, besides the difference between the diligent and slothful servants, there is also a difference between the diligent servants proportioned to their merit. This shows that the saved are variously rewarded according to the measure of their faithfulness. The same principle, of the manifestation of the saved according to their works, is taught by Paul. “Now if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, every man's work shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward; if any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire” (1 Cor. 3:12-15). This is the manifestation of believers according to their works, a solemn thing most assuredly, and a deep reality, as true as the judgment of the lost, but at the same time altogether distinct from it, both as to the time and the circumstances of its occurrence.
The word translated “judgment seat” means only a step or raised platform, such as a person exercising any authority, or pronouncing a speech, might occupy. It will include “the great white throne,” before which the dead are summoned for their final sentence, but it is a word of much wider import, and by no means necessarily, or indeed primarily, signifies the seat occupied by a judge on a criminal trial. It is used of the dais on which Herod sat, when he received the embassy from Tire and Sidon (Acts 12:21), and is there rendered by our translators, “throne.” The word would be just as applicable to the seat occupied by a judge in a civil suit, or by an assessor awarding compensation, as to the seat of a judge trying a case of life and death. And these are really the two different actions described The lost will appear before the tribunal to be tried on the question of life and death, “out of those things which were written in the books” (Rev. 20:12). How is this possible with the believer? Can the penitent thief be taken out of paradise to be put on his trial as to whether he shall be saved or lost? Can Paul, after being with Jesus more than eighteen centuries, be summoned before His bar to be tried for his life? Impossible! No, the appearance before the judgment seat in the case of believers is of a different kind, for a different purpose, and at a different season. It is before the reign of Christ, instead of at the end of the world; and it is for the purpose of determining, not whether they shall be saved or lost-a question which can never be raised again for those whom God has justified, but to what reward they are entitled by the measure of their faithfulness here below, whether they have built the “gold, silver, and precious stones,” which can endure the searching fire of the Divine scrutiny, or the “wood, hay, and stubble,” which shall perish before the judicial test, and leave them to be saved “so as by fire,”—or again, whether in the apportionment of dominion among the “fellow-heirs,” they should be made ruler over ten cities or over five.
And here we would note, in confirmation of what has been already said, the perfect and Divine accuracy of the language used by the Spirit of God. It is said that all shall “appear” before the judgment seat [or throne] of Christ, the real meaning being that all shall be manifested. In this all are included, saved and lost. The word used, therefore, is merely that they shall “stand” or “be manifested” — not that they shall be “judged.” On the other hand, where it speaks only of the unbelieving dead, raised before the great white throne, the expression employed is that they shall be “judged.” This is no fanciful or refined distinction. Our Lord Himself, while here on earth, says- “He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment” (John 5:24). Almost immediately afterward He speaks of two resurrections, a “resurrection of life” and a “resurrection of judgment” (ver. 29). Surely two passages standing in such close juxtaposition show that judgment, so far as the question of salvation is concerned, is a thing from which the believer has already escaped. Being justified, it is impossible that he shall be judged. Hence the very fact that all those raised in the last scene, after the end of the world, are judged, is conclusive evidence, that the believers in Jesus Christ are not there. When their deeds are inquired into, it is not for the purpose of judging them, but that they may be manifested, and rewarded according to the measure of their faithfulness on earth.
V. It is possible that some persons may be disposed to found an argument in favor of a general resurrection at the end of the world upon the expression, “I will raise him up at the last day” (1 John 6: 40, 44, 54), and from the phrase, “at the last trump” (1 Cor. 15:52). But “the last” need not mean the very last thing in the world's history, merely the last event in the process under consideration. In John 6 Jesus is speaking of His care of those given Him by the Father, and says that He will lose nothing, but will raise it up at the last day. The work of guarding the charge committed to Him will then be at an end, the task entrusted to Him by the Father will be fully performed, the last day of this class of responsibility will have arrived, and the believer whom He has tended will be perfected. So “the last trump” is the last event of the kind in the scene described. This chapter, as already pointed out, has nothing to do with the resurrection of the lost. It simply relates what will become of the saved. For a time some of them are in the grave, but this ends, and “the last trump” calls them forth to life and glory. The expressions used, as above understood, are familiar in daily talk. A barrister speaks of the last day, meaning the last day of term or assizes—a soldier of the last bugle, meaning the last call in the exercise lie is going through. Nobody imagines they mean the last day that will ever dawn or the last bugle that will ever sound.
We have now examined the passages commonly cited to prove a general resurrection and judgment at the end of the world, and have found that none of them sustain this theological dogma. Most of them have nothing to do with a resurrection at all. None of them describe events happening to believers at the end of the world. On the other hand, Scripture speaks of two resurrections. One of these is when Christ comes for His saints, and is an event for which believers, whether in the first or third watch, are bidden diligently to wait. The other is at the end of the world. In “the first resurrection” all “those who are Christ's,” whether living or dead, will be changed into His likeness, and caught up to be “forever with the Lord.” They will come forth with Him when He appears to break the nations with a rod of iron, and as His fellow-heirs will “reign with Him a thousand years.”
But now a very important question arises—a question already often alluded to—How is it that a hope, for which believers have from the first been instructed to wait, should have been so long delayed? Is not a promise which has been withheld for so many generations either altogether delusive, or at least so unlikely to receive its fulfillment in our time, that it would be idle still to cherish it as a present hope?
We have already said much on this subject which need not now be repeated. But in addition to what has been previously urged, we would reply,—First, that since the Word of God has set the Lord's return before us as a present hope, it is not for us to question His truth because we cannot understand the principle of His acting; secondly, that the hope is given to the heart, not to the head, and where the heart is really true to Jesus and longs for His return, it will not cease from its waiting attitude because of the delay which comes between it and the object of its desire; thirdly, that Jesus expressly warns His disciples, a warning which extends to all ages, against saying in their hearts, “My lord delayeth his coming,” and while intimating that several watches might pass before the hour arrived, still declares that “blessed are those servants, whom the lord, when he cometh, shall find” so waiting; fourthly, that the Holy Ghost solemnly predicts and warns us against the spirit which asks, “Where is the promise of His coming, for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation?” and reminds us that the word which man disregarded when it foretold the deluge, has spoken of the more fearful judgments yet to come (2 Peter 3:4-7); and fifthly, that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day,” so that, notwithstanding the apparently long tarrying,” the Lord is not slack concerning His promise as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (ver. 8, 9). Is it not a deeply solemn thought that men are found, now as ever, to contemn the riches of God's goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering, and to make the very grace in which He is acting, the ground for mocking at His promises and despising His commandments? Yet how many even of the Lord's own children can look into their hearts, and say—I am guiltless in this matter?