Unlocking Revelation (Week 12)
The era of the Millennium
Last week we looked at part of John’s vision in Revelation chapter 20.
We saw that Jesus’ binding of the Dragon, through His life, death, resurrection and ascension, had meant that power to deceive the nations had been restricted.
What we saw from this is that this means Satan’s ability to stop people from responding to the Gospel has been taken away from Him.
We can go after our loved ones and the people around us and announce the Gospel to them.
The last part of Chapter 20 which we didn’t look at last week touches something we will all have to face in the future unless Jesus returns: Death.
6 Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.
The Judgment of Satan
7 When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore.9 They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur,where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
Benjamin Franklin, wrote in a 1789:
in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.
I want to propose that we in the West are not very comfortable with death, dying.
In my own life, the very first funeral I went to was my Grandmas. I was 28 years old. I had managed to avoid death up till then. My Granddad died the year after this. Then my own dad a few years later.
I was like Woody Allen who said,
I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.
Each year around 80,000 of us Canadians pass through the veil. Although our life expectancy has increased dramatically in the last 100 years (79 for men and 82 for women), unless Jesus is going to return we are all going to have to face death.
I want us ask to look at what the Bible says happens when we die.
John doesn’t actually tell us a lot about what happens to us when we die from these verses.
The purpose of Revelation was to tell the first century Christians what would happen shortly, especially around the Judgement on Apostate Israel (The Harlot) and Rome (The Beast).
John shows us that behind these players is the figure of the Dragon (Satan). John gives us a brief thumb nail sketch of what will befall Satan and surrounding this we get a brief glimpse into the afterlife.
John’s description in these verses in Chapter 20 are another description of one of Jesus’ famous parables, the Wheat and the Tares Mat 13:37-43:
37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
What Jesus explains in this passage is that right up until the end of the world both wheat (those that accept Jesus) and tares (those that resist him) will grow together side by side up until harvest time.
Harvest time is a way of describing the fullness of potential when both groups come to their fullest potential.
David Chilton describes it this way:
… as the potential of both groups comes to maturity, as each side becomes fully self-conscious in its determination to obey or rebel, there will be a final conflict.
Though we are in a period when Satan has been bound not everyone will accept Jesus as their King.
Romans 14:11-12 tells us that one day:
11 It is written:
“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”
12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
John describes this period of time on our passage today as the end of the Millennium and explains it will be like Satan is released from his bonds.
Satan’s final resistance fails. Satan is no match for God.
9 But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Satan is thrown into the lake of fire.
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
There is not much in these verses that tell us what happens to Christians.
Actually, in the whole Bible there is very little that is on what happens to you after you die. And where there are passages they tend to be on the ultimate Christian hope: the resurrection of the dead.
When Jesus Christ’s returns there will be a final judgement and the creation of a new heaven and earth, which will take place at the end of the age.
Most people want to know what happens NOW! Our focus is on the immediate or the near future.
In effect, they want to know what happens on the other side of death or where are their loved ones are now, who have passed beyond the veil of death?
The ‘state of the dead between death and resurrection’, commonly referred to as the ‘intermediate state’, is what I want us to look at for the rest of today.
Christians believe one of four different views on the intermediate state:
- Soul sleep,
- Instantaneous resurrection
- Temporary disembodied existence
There are 2.18 billion Christians in the world today. Of these some 1.2 billion are Catholics.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches a particular aspect within the intermediate state called purgatory, reserved for a certain category of believers as the ‘staging post to heaven.’
Roman Catholic theology on the intermediate state maintains that heaven is the reserve of believers that have attained perfection, purgatory is the reserve of the not yet perfect believers and hell is the reserve of unbelievers and those believers who have committed mortal sins.
An ‘intermediate stage, in which those who have died in a state of grace are given an opportunity to purge themselves of the guilt of their sins before finally entering heaven.’
According to this view, the majority of believers die less than perfect, with unresolved guilt in their lives and thus go to purgatory where they suffer because of this guilt.
Once, the shortfall required by God is accounted for, the soul of the dead person can then enter into the joy of heaven and the fullness of Christ’s immediate presence.
For this view:
Where do the Catholics get this view?
- The Apocrypha has some stories of the after life. In the Apocrypha 2 in Maccabees 12 passage, Jewish soldiers are killed in battle. Under their pillows are found images of other gods. Their loved ones pray for their forgiveness.
- The Early Church Fathers saw this practice of praying for the sins of those who had died to help them.
Against this view:
Purgatory stands in the face of the doctrine of justification by faith. Essentially, the doctrine of purgatory puts forward a formula for salvation as:
Faith + Works = Salvation
The Bible shows us that:
Faith + nothing = Salvation
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
2. Soul Sleep
The doctrine of soul sleep teaches that when a person dies the soul of the dead person sleeps in the grave unconscious until resurrection. For the dead person this means that the body is dead and decays but the soul sleeps. Hence those in this state are unaware of anything: they experience no pain or bliss and have no sense of time since; they are effectively unconscious and only wake up when Jesus returns at the second coming.
For this view:
Soul sleep is founded on two key thoughts. Firstly, that human existence demands unity of body and soul. You are not human without your body and soul.
Most advocates of this facet of this doctrine are monists in that they believe that we are not tri-part beings.
The second pillar of soul sleep rests on the idea of sleep, which is used of the dead in the Bible, indicates loss of consciousness’
The Jews referred to death in this way:
[Jesus] said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.”
After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.
1 Thess. 4:13
This teaching fits naturally into the eschatological progression portrayed by Scripture. Everyone who ever lived will be judged at the same time, on the Day of Judgement, there is, therefore, no point to an intermediate staging. In essence, each person receives their due reward on that day alone.
Against this view
Opponents of soul sleep highlight that the passages, which seem to suggest there is not a conscious existence between death and resurrection do so because they are viewed from the perspective of life in this world.
The dead body is obviously not alive, yet this does not dismiss the continued conscious existence of the soul in the intermediate state, which is out of the dimension of this world.
Sleep in this sense is viewed as a ‘metaphorical expression used to indicate that death is only temporary for Christians, as sleep is temporary.’
There are Old Testament passages that indicate that the souls of believers go immediately into God’s presence in heaven’:
…And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven
2 Kgs. 2:11
Jesus cited the Old Testament Scriptures when arguing against the Sadducces, who did not believe in the afterlife. He reminding them that God himself declared that:
I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ (Matt. 22:32).
The nail in the coffin for this view was that Jesus was transfigured before his disciples and conversed with Moses and Elijah.
Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
3. Instantaneous Resurrection
The doctrine of instantaneous resurrection is a variation on the doctrine of soul sleep.
However, whereas soul sleep holds to the fact that when a person dies the soul of the person lies unconscious awaiting resurrection at the Last Day, the doctrine of instantaneous resurrection proposes that death and resurrection happen instantaneously in the same breath.
For this view:
Proponents base this doctrine on the fact that when a person dies they step into eternity which does not have the human concept of time attached to it.
‘we cannot synchronise the clock of eternal time with our temporal time.’
In his view, Christ’s three days dead was viewed from a human perspective of time. For Christ, the point death and resurrection were seamless, in Anderson’s opinion, because at the point of death Christ entered into the eternal time dimension.
Against this view:
- It gets rid of the Second coming of Christ.
- Whilst it is true that God lives in eternity, humans will always exist in time. Wayne Grudem explains that we will ‘experience eternal life not in exact duplication of God’s attribute of eternity, but rather in duration of time that will never end…’
4. Temporary Disembodied Existence
The doctrine of temporary disembodied existence proposes that on death the immaterial part of the person, the soul/spirit, goes to one of two eternal destinations while the body remains on earth and is buried.
For the righteous their destination is into the immediate presence of Christ where they experience conscious perpetual bliss.
On the other hand, the unrighteous (ie. the unsaved non-believers) go to the place of the dead called Hades where they exist in conscious unrelenting torment.
In both of these destinations the spirits of the dead await the second coming of Christ when they will be resurrected into their bodies after which they receive their final judgement and are then appointed for eternity into their final resting place.
For this view:
– Advocates of this doctrine find scriptural support in a number of passages from both the Old and New Testaments.
The realm of the dead below is all astir
to meet you at your coming;
it rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you—
all those who were leaders in the world;
it makes them rise from their thrones—
all those who were kings over the nations.
They will all respond,
they will say to you,
“You also have become weak, as we are;
you have become like us.”
The unrighteous upon death being Sheol.
The most commonly cited New Testament references to support this doctrine are
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,’
(Phil. 1:21, 23)
because to Paul death is ‘to depart and be with Christ .
Paul puts it elsewhere to be ‘at home with the Lord’ (2 Cor.5:8).’
Jesus’ promise to the repentant thief on the cross that he would be with Jesus in Paradise ‘that very day’, (Luke 23:43). This promise would have in fact been empty had this not in fact been the case.
Against this view:
- The concept of a bodiless soul has strong overtones of Platonism. It is not Jewish in its perspective.
- Another commonly proposed argument against this doctrine is that it detracts significance of the final resurrection. The theory being that if a righteous dead person is in Paradise now and the unrighteous person is in Hades then why is the day of judgement necessary?
- This doctrine is also very individualistic, whereas New Testament eschatology holds to a more corporate perspective.
For me personally, I see that today’s major emphasis on the Intermediate State is not the major focus of the Bible. The ultimate Christian hope is the resurrection of the righteous dead onto the redeemed New Heavens and New Earth. That said I do see enough in Scripture to lend me to embrace the intermediate state’s perspective’s view on the Temporary Disembodied Existence.
Other Sermons In This Series
October 16, 2018
November 07, 2018
September 26, 2018