03 July 2019

The Finality of Christ’s Advent

John's vision of New Jerusalem
In popular reaching the second coming of Jesus is followed by an interim period during which sin and death still occur, the so-called “Millennium,” a term never found in the Bible. Apparently, sin, death, and Satan are not completely defeated by Christ’s return; judgment and final victory must be delayed until the end of the thousand years.
This scenario is dependent on a single passage, Revelation 20:1-10, without which the doctrine would not exist. It stands in tension with the rest of the New Testament in which the coming of Jesus results in the final judgment, the destruction of the wicked, the resurrection of the dead, the New Creation, an everlasting reign of righteousness, and the cessation of death.
     For example, in his parable of the wheat and tares Jesus portrayed both being gathered at the “harvest,” with the former gathered into the “barn” and the latter into bundles to be burned (Matthew 13:24-30). The wheat represents the “sons of the kingdom,” the tares the “sons of the evil one,” and the one who sowed the tares the Devil. The “harvest” occurs at the end of the age when the “Son of Man will send forth his angels to gather out of his kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.”
    His parable of the sheep and goats portrays all nations gathered for judgment before Jesus, “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.” The “sheep” will inherit “the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” but to the “goats” he will declare, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” The first group will receive everlasting life, the latter “everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:31-46). In both parables, the separation of the righteous and the wicked occur when the “Son of Man” arrives accompanied by angels.


     The parable of the sheep and goats was given as part of Christ’s final recorded block of teaching, the so-called “Olivet Discourse” (Matthew 24:1-25:46). In it, Jesus stated explicitly that when the Son of Man comes, he will be accompanied by his angels. At that time, all the nations of the earth will mourn at the sight of him arriving in power and he will send his angels to “gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:29-31).
    In his first letter to the church at Thessalonica the Apostle Paul described how at the arrival of Jesus, the Parousia, dead Christians are resurrected and along with believers still alive are gathered to meet Jesus in the air as he descends to the earth. His arrival will be heralded by “the voice of an archangel and the trumpet of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). From that point, believers will be with the Lord “evermore.” 

God has not appointed believers to “wrath” but to attain salvation through Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:1-7). In contrast, the “day of the Lord will arrive with sudden destruction” upon the unprepared and “they shall not escape.” Thus, in Paul’s theology the “day of the Lord” brings both salvation and destruction, the former for believers and the latter to unbelievers. 
    In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul describes how when Jesus is “revealed from heaven with his angels” the righteous are vindicated but their persecutors and all “who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” will pay the ultimate penalty, “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord.” In contrast, at that time Jesus will be “glorified in his saints and admired in all them that believe” (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).
    Paul goes on to label this event as the arrival (parousia) of our Lord Jesus Christ and the “day of the Lord.” This is the same “coming” cited from each of the preceding passages, the same day when Jesus gathers all the elect to himself. Two events must occur before that day can occur: the unveiling of the “man of lawlessness” and a “falling away” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12). This “man of lawlessness” will use “all power and signs and lying wonders” from Satan to deceive all who do not love the truth. But he will be destroyed all the same by Jesus at the “brightness of his coming (parousia).”
    In his first epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul responded to some members who were denying the bodily resurrection. Not only did Paul affirm the reality of the future resurrection, but he also linked it to Christ’s past resurrection and provided a broad outline of events that will occur at that time. The righteous dead will be raised at Christ’s “coming”; not only so, but that day will consummate God’s kingdom and mean the final subjugation of all his enemies, including the “last enemy,” death. From then on death will cease to occur. Both living and dead saints will inherit the kingdom and receive “immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:20-57). This group of events Paul labels “the end.”
    Paul again addresses the subject of the future resurrection in Romans 8:10-24. If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in our mortal bodies, then He will also quicken our mortal bodies by this same Spirit. The indwelling of God’s Spirit confirms that we are His children and therefore also “joint heirs with Christ” destined to experience that same resurrection. Not only so, but the creation itself eagerly awaits the “manifestation of the sons of God” at which time creation itself will be “delivered from the bondage of corruption”; that is, the New Creation. This glorious manifestation of the sons of God will be the “redemption of our body,” the resurrection. A bodily resurrection is an act of new creation.
    The Apostle Peter explicitly links the New Creation to the “coming” or Parousia of Jesus, as well as to the judgment of the wicked. This event he calls the “day of God,” echoing the Old Testament theme of the “day of Yahweh.” For the ungodly, that day will mean “judgment and destruction.” It will arrive unexpectedly “as a thief in the night” and result in the replacement of the old order with “a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:3-13).
    The book of Revelation also locates key events such as the judgment of the wicked at the coming or arrival of Jesus. In his prologue John declares, “Behold, he is coming with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all the tribes of the earth shall wail because of him” (Revelation1:7). This passage echoes the words of Jesus about the “coming of the Son of Man” and alludes to Daniel 7:13-14 and Zechariah 12:10. The victory of Jesus at the end of the age results in the New Heavens and New Earth as the book closes.
    When the sixth seal is opened, the day of the Lord begins, the day of the “wrath” of God and the Lamb in which all the wicked attempt to hide to evade the judgment about to fall (6:12-17). This day is marked by great celestial and terrestrial upheaval described with some of the same Old Testament language used by Jesus to portray the upheaval that characterizes the arrival of the Son of Man. In Revelation, this occurs not a thousand years after the return of Jesus but at the end of the sequence of seven seal openings. Likewise, when the seventh trumpet sounds the transference of all the kingdoms of the earth to the realm of the Lord is complete and “he will reign forever and ever.” This event includes the arrival of God’s wrath, the raising of the dead, judgment and the vindication of the righteous, and the destruction of “them that destroy the earth” (14:15-19).
     Similarly, the seventh angel pours out the contents of his bowl following the “battle of Armageddon” when the kings of the earth and their armies are overthrown (16:12-21. Cp. Revelation 19:17-21). The seventh bowl of wrath results in terrestrial and celestial upheaval, the destruction of the city of “Babylon,” the downfall of the “cities of the nations,” and the transformation of the earth (“every island fled away, and the mountains were not found”).
     The same final battle portrayed in the sixth bowl of wrath (16:12-14) is described again in Revelation 19:17-21; both descriptions borrow language from Ezekiel 38-39, the attack by “Gog and Magog.” This time a heavenly rider on a white horse, the Lamb, arrives to do battle with this force, presumably Jesus Christ. The actual battle is not described; the text instead notes simply that the “kings of the earth and their armies” are destroyed, and the beast and the false prophet are cast alive into the Lake of Fire. The same battle is described in both texts, which demonstrates that the book’s chapters are not presented in chronological order.
     This same final conflict is described in Revelation 20:7-10, also using language originally applied to “Gog and Magog,” now explicitly named. This “battle” also results in the destruction of the attacking force, which is followed by the final judgment before the Great White Throne when the wicked are cast into the Lake of Fire. The “thousand years” occur before this final judgment and the attack by “Gog and Magog,” a period during which Satan is bound from deceiving the nations (20:1-9).
     If the battle and judgment scenes in Revelation 6:12-17, 11:15-19, 16:12-21, 19:17-21 and 20:7-10 refer to the same general events, then whatever the thousand years period is, it must precede the final battle/judgment, not follow it.
     The New Testament tells a consistent story. The “coming” or Parousia of Jesus means final judgment, the resurrection of the dead, terrestrial and celestial upheaval, the consummation of God’s kingdom, the cessation of death, the final overthrow of all God’s enemies, and a New Creation in which righteousness prevails from that point forward. This leaves no room for any subsequent interim period during which sin and death still occur, however infrequently. 

     Popular teachings about the “Millennium” during which Christ reigns but must continue to subjugate his enemies are incompatible with the New Testament picture. They also negate another New Testament declaration; that Jesus began to reign over all things following his death and resurrection (e.g., Philippians 2:9-11).
    Christ's victories over death, sin, and Satan have already been achieved in his death and resurrection (Hebrews 1:1-3). They do not require another interim period during which he must continue to do battle with his enemies.