20 Studies in Bible Prophecy
Study 20 - The Eternal State
This study brings us to the last in this series and will centre our thinking around the glorious climax. God's ultimate. The apostle Peter declares in his second letter (3:13), "Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for a new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." Here we have the ultimate realisation of the blessed hope. Paradise lost is now regained.
As we see the out-working of God's prophetic plan, the next great event in the pre-millennial calendar will be the rapture - the removal of the church from the earth. We have seen that in the heavenlies there will take place for the believer the bema and the marriage ceremony, followed by the marriage celebration. While the church is feasting with the Lord, the devil will be having a rare time on earth during the fulfilment of Daniel's seventieth week, the period of seven years when Antichrist will make his covenant with the Jewish nation for that period. In the middle of the week of prophetic years he will violate his pledge, and then will commence the time of great tribulation, the time of Jacob's trouble, which will envelop the whole world and bring about the deification of Antichrist, the Man of Sin.
The Scriptures show that this unprecedented period of world tribulation will be terminated by the arrival of Christ on earth, when will take place the judgment of the nations to determine their place in the millennial earth. The basis of judgment will be their treatment of the Jews. Then will follow the earthly reign of Christ, during which time Satan will be bound and earth's rightful Sovereign will reign as the supreme autocrat, and without a rival. Such an anticipation is one of the prevailing goals of Bible eschatology.
Then will follow man's final revolt against divine authority, which will be an amazing anti-climax to such an era of blessedness. Man has been tested under every dispensation, and now under such blissful conditions he still fails. This failure, says J. M. Davies, will be "a final proof of the innate wickedness of the human heart." This post-millennial revolt will terminate with the dissolution of the present earth and heavens, and Prof. Pentecost states, "I am not prophesying nor predicting, but it would seem entirely possible that the Son of God will speak a word and will bring this earth to its dissolution by atomic fission." Then comes Doomsday, designated as the judgment of the dead, this closing drama of evil. And so, the ages finished, every authority put down, every foe vanquished, we are ushered into the eternal state, the final chapter of the prophetic drama.
We are now ready to look at what Samuel Schor describes as "the crowning picture of God's revelation." Equally apt are the words of Major Allister Smith when he writes, "What a beautiful end to the sad story of the human race."
As we analyse the book of the Revelation, Dr. Sidlow Baxter in his priceless EXPLORE THE BOOK, suggests that in this final "unveiling" we are confronted with three apocalyptic movements ending with three enthronements. The first movement (chapters 1-5) lead to the enthronement of Christ in heaven. The second movement (chapters 6-20) lead to the enthronement of Christ on earth, via the great tribulation and the outpoured wrath of God. The third and final movement (chapters 21-22) lead to the enthronement of Christ in the new creation through the eternal ages.
Here we move from time into eternity. Sin, death and all the forces antagonistic to God forever put away, and God, by a definite act of creation, calls into being a new heaven and a new earth to be the scene and centre of the eternal, theocratic Kingdom. Indeed, comments Prof. Walvoord, "It would be most natural that the present earth and heaven, the scene of the struggle with Satan and sin, should be displaced by an entirely new order suited for eternity."
(1) All Things New
John in vision saw "a new heaven and a new earth" (21:1), and when we reach verse 5 he is made aware by the occupant of the throne, "Behold, I make all things new." What are we to envisage by this term "new heaven and a new earth" ? Does this simply imply a renovation of the old heaven and earth? What the language implies is an act of new creation. Some writers argue for a renovation of the existing heaven and earth, but there can be no denial of the fact that (20:11) portrays a total destruction of the same. Indeed, observes Prof. Walvoord, "The whole structure of the universe is operating on the principle of a clock that is running down. Though many billions of years would be required to accomplish this, the natural world would eventually come to a state of total inactivity if the physical laws of the universe as now understood should remain unchanged. What could be simpler than for God to create a new heaven and a new earth by divine fiat in keeping with His purpose for eternity to come?"
If we examine the first two verses of (Rev. 21) we find mention of three "new" things, i.e. a new heaven, a new earth and the new Jerusalem. Since, as Dr. Tatford observes, "the details given of the eternal state are remarkable for their sparseness," it is not surprising that a difference of opinion exists concerning interpretation. Relative to the "new Heaven and new earth", Walter Scott puts forward the view that "the new heaven is for the raised and changed saints, and the new earth is to form the habitation of those who, during the millennial reign, were alive on earth - those companies described in chapters 7 and 14". This view is also put forward by Major Allister Smith in WORLD CRISIS AND THE FUTURE. He than observes, "It is not impossible that our Lord Jesus should occupy the highest place in heaven, with His church, and yet be King of His earthly people, the Jews. Nor is it impossible that there should be some real communication between those on the new earth and those in Heaven, seeing the barrier of sin will then have disappeared for ever." Dr. Tatford adds a cautious note here, and remarks, ". . . it is by no means clear that the inhabitants of the new-made world will be limited to the believers of the millennial era ... the Scriptures are not sufficiently explicit for any view to be put forward dogmatically." Suffice it to say that this new creation will be for a new people with facilities for new worship. God is with His people and all else is excluded.
Though John in vision is captivated by the new heaven and the new earth, the "Holy city, new Jerusalem' becomes the centre of the vision. Jerusalem was called "the Holy City", and so is this new Jerusalem, and its heavenly nature is depicted by the words "coming down from God out of heaven." This would seem to be the church since the designation "bride" is used, and we thus take the city not as a literal metropolis, but symbolically. It is to be noted here that G. H. Lang, whose approach is normally literal, insists upon symbolism in this connection, and avers that "the reason for the employment of symbols may be that there simply is no other way of creating in our minds any just conception of reality."
It is not to be wondered at that here again we meet with a difference of interpretation. Some would argue exclusively for the church as represented here by the bride, while others would allow for the saints of all ages. Indeed Prof. Walvoord contends "that saints of all ages are involved." Of this we can be sure, it will be glorious, and it is for those whose names are recorded in the Lamb's Book of Life. It will indeed be paradisial, and the Rev. lan MacPherson suggests in NEWS OF THE WORLD TO COME that "The New Testament taxes the resources of language in an endeavour to convey a vivid impression of its glories and felicities." Nowhere is our language more taxed than in (Rev. 21:18-21). How apt the comment of Prof. Walvoord, "the city is undoubtedly far more beautiful to the eye than anything man has been able to create, and it reflects not only the infinite wisdom and power of God but also His grace extended to the objects of His salvation.
In contrast to the eternal bliss of the redeemed we are confronted with the eternal woe of those excluded because of unbelief (21:8 and 27).
(2) Some Things Excluded
There are seven "new things" mentioned. A new heaven, a new earth, a new Jerusalem, a new people, new temple worship, new luminaries and a new paradise (21:1, 2, 3-8, 22, 23 and 22:1, 2). But the exclusions from this eternal scene are equally impressive.
(a) No more sea (21:1). The absence of sea from the earth captivated John, and well it might since three quarters of the globe is occupied by sea. Henry Barclay Swete succinctly interprets this exclusion thus: "The sea belonged to the order which is passed. It has disappeared because in the mind of the writer it is associated with ideas which are at variance with the character of the New Creation. For this element of unrest, this fruitful cause of destruction and death, this divider of nations and churches, there could be no place in a world of deathless life and unbroken peace."
(b) No more death. (21:4). Earth is a graveyard. Here is mentioned the assured absence of those aspects of our human lot which are ever with us on earth, death, sorrow, crying and pain. Nowhere does God's Word deny the reality of pain and death, but it bristles with the assurance that in the consummation of grace these will be non-existent.
(c) No more temple (21:22). As John looked at this city from heaven he could see no temple therein. This stands in contrast to the Old Testament where the tabernacle and the temple occupied a place of definite honour. In the millennium too a temple will be erected for the worship of Jehovah, but in the eternal state God and the Lamb will be the temple. As C. Anderson Scott observes, "That which now has to be delimited from the world, and set apart for God - yea, and held with determination and force of will against invading hosts - has there expanded to cover the whole area of human experience and activity. God's presence has no longer to be sought; it is known, it is felt, universal and all-pervading as the light of day."
(d) No more sun or moon (21:23). The new light will be the glory of God. A single flash of this glory blinded Saul on his Damascus journey to persecute the followers of Christ. Here that glory will shine forth un-hindered and undimmed. As Dr. Wilbur Smith writes, "As we need a candle in the night, but not at noon, when the sun is shining, so we do need the sun and moon in our present state of existence, but will need them no more when in the presence of God, Who is light indeed."
(e) No night (21:25). The night of sin is over and the eternal day has dawned. "All that darkness - the sin that brings night on the soul; the sorrow that brings night on the heart - shall be banished for ever. In peace by day, the city gates will be open; nor can there be night when God the Almighty is the Sun." (Ellicott).
(f) No defilement (21:27). This is one of the most blessed and divine statements in the divine record. Only those registered in the Lamb's Book of Life are allowed into that city, and anything that savours of evil will be debarred. Harry Lacey observes, "And no veneer of lie will ever besmirch the reality experienced in the city, no idol rival its Monarch and nothing common sully its beauty or defile its purity."
(g) No more curse (22:3). The original creation was brought under a curse because of sin, but in the eternal state sin will be absent, and so, no more curse. As Dr. Tatford so aptly states, ". . . in the place of the curse, there was unrestrained love and life and blessing."
(3) All Things Perfect
Let us look closely at (22:3-5). Well might Dr. Sidlow Baxter speak of these verses as "ineffable consummation." The negative aspects of our glorious anticipation delight us, but the positive affirmations are more enthralling.
(a) Perfect government. "The throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it." Then shall come to pass the complete fulfilment of (Isa. 9:6). As Prof. Pentecost observes, "By the establishment of the theocracy on earth for a thousand years, under the Messianic theocratic King, God has accomplished His purpose of demonstrating His rule in the sphere in which that authority was first challenged. By merging this earthly theocracy with the eternal kingdom God's eternal sovereignty is established... God's right to rule is eternally vindicated."
(b) Perfect service. "His servants shall serve Him." We are not enlightened as to what this service will be, but we know it will be service with delight. "This is a picture of blessedness in service rather than arduous toil." (Prof. Walvoord).
(c) Perfect vision. "They shall see His face." Faith will then be exchanged for sight - there will be immediate access to the glory of God. Is it to be wondered at that John gave vent to such words as those in (1 John 3:2) ? Well might A. Plummer express himself thus, "The sight of God will glorify us."
(d) Perfect ownership. "His name shall be in their foreheads." All the inhabitants of that "holy city" will be God's property and will bear His seal and image. Paul avers that on earth we are being changed from glory to glory into the same image (2 Cor. 3:18). The ultimate aim is to be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48). This process will finalise when we see Him face to face.
(e) Perfect illumination. "The Lord God giveth them light." It will be a place of continual daylight. The children of light in this world of darkness will dwell in His eternal light.
(f) Perfect blessedness. "They shall reign for ever and ever." As Christ reigns now in glory so His sovereignty must be manifested universally in the millennium, and eternally in the eternal state. "Christ continues for all eternity as King of kings and Lord of lords even though the scene of His mediatorial and millennial rule over the earth is changed to the new heaven and the new earth." (Prof. Walvoord). Well might the Rev. Geoffrey King exult, "How proud Jesus will be."
With this scene of blessedness and glory the Apocalypse of John closes. The remaining verses contain words of confirmation and warning. To quote one writer in conclusion, "They sum up and press home on the reader's conscience the foremost practical lessons of the book."