The Seven Year Tribulation

     There is coming a future time of tribulation upon the earth. Its severity is without historical precedent. Concerning this time, the angel, Gabriel, told Daniel, that it “will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time” (Dan 12:1a). This time of tribulation is in keeping with unfulfilled prophecy given to Daniel that pertains to Israel (Dan 9:24-27). It is during this time that God’s wrath will be poured out upon the world—specifically those who are hostile to Him and His people. A brief walkthrough of Daniel’s prophecy is as follows.

Seventy weeks [i.e. 490 years] have been decreed for your people [Israel] and your holy city [Jerusalem], to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity [fulfilled by Christ as His first coming], to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place [to be fulfilled by Christ at His second coming]. 25 So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem [fulfilled by Artaxerxes Longimanus on March 5, 444 BC; see Neh 2:1-8] until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks [the 49 years to rebuild the city of Jerusalem] and sixty-two weeks [434 years]; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. 26 Then after the sixty-two weeks [49 years + 434 years = 483 years] the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing [March 30, AD 33 = Triumphal entry into Jerusalem], and the people of the prince who is to come [i.e. Romans] will destroy the city and the sanctuary [August, AD 70]. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined [Josephus documented that 1,100,000 Jews were killed]. 27 And he [he = the prince who is to come = Antichrist] will make a firm covenant with the many [many = unbelieving Israel] for one week [seven years], but in the middle of the week [3 ½ years] he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering [at the third Jewish temple, yet to be constructed]; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate [see Matt 24:15]. (Dan 9:24-27)

     The present period from the day of Pentecost until the Rapture of the church is the time between the sixty-ninth and seventieth-seven. The seventieth-seven will be a time for the fulfillment of prophecy pertaining to Israel. The seven-year tribulation precedes the second coming of Jesus who is prophesied to set up His kingdom on earth (2 Sam 7:16; Psa 89:3-4; 34-37; Dan 7:13-14; Luke 1:30-33; 22:28-30; Acts 1:3-6; Rev 20:4-6). The whole seven years is called a time of “tribulation” (Matt 24:9); however, the last three and half years are called the “great tribulation” (Matt 24:21; cf. Rev 7:14). Isaiah called it “the day of the Lord” (Isa 13:6-13; cf. Joel 2:1-2; Amos 5:18-20), and Jeremiah called it “the time of Jacob’s distress” (Jer 30:7). The angel, Gabriel, revealed to Daniel that it will be “a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time” (Dan 12:1). The tribulation is the period in which God destroys the rebellion of: 1) Satan and his angels, 2) and unbelieving Israel and Gentiles. At the close of the tribulation, Satan will be defeated and bound for a thousand years (Rev 12:7-9; 20:1-3), the Antichrist and his false prophet are cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev 19:20), and all unbelievers are destroyed in judgment (Rev 19:19-21; cf. Matt 24:37-41), leaving only believing Jews and Gentiles to enter His kingdom on earth (Matt 25:31-46). In all the judgments, God is righteous and just, whereas men are wicked and “deserve” wrath (Rev 16:5-7; cf. 19:2). There is a dominant motif in all of Scripture which reveals “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5; cf. Jam 4:6). This is certainly true during the seven-year tribulation. God opposes those who:

  1. Try to hide and flee from Him (Rev 6:15-16)
  2. Seek death rather than conform to His will (Rev 9:6)
  3. Do not repent of their rebellion (Rev 9:20-21)
  4. Rejoice and celebrate at the death of His servants (Rev 11:7-10)
  5. Side with the Satan (Rev 13:3-4)
  6. Blaspheme and curse God’s name (Rev 16:8-9, 11, 21)
  7. Make war with Jesus Christ (Rev 19:19)

God’s grace is witnessed toward:

  1. The 144,000 Jews He saves and calls to service (Rev 7:4-8).
  2. The many who have been saved during the tribulation (Rev 7:9-17).
  3. His two prophetic witnesses whom He resurrects (Rev 11:11-12).
  4. The nations to whom He sends His gospel message (Rev 14:6-7).
  5. Those who enter into His kingdom after the Tribulation (Rev 20:4-6).

Burning World     The seven-year tribulation is part of God’s future history upon the world. It is the time period in which He pours out judgment upon the world because of wickedness. In all His actions He is sovereign and just. According to His sovereignty, “our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psa 115:3; cf. 135:6), for “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan 4:35). Of God’s judgments, the holy angels declare, “Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; for they [wicked unbelievers] poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it” (Rev 16:5-6). And the martyred saints agree, saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments” (Rev 16:7).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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The Rapture of the Church

The Bible reveals Jesus will return to earth; however, a distinction must be drawn between Jesus coming for His saints at the Rapture (John 14:1-3; 1 Cor 15:51-53; 1 Thess 4:13-18; 2 Thess 2:1-3a; Tit 2:13), and Jesus coming with His saints at His Second Coming to reign for a thousand years (Dan 7:13-14; Matt 19:28; 25:31; Rev 19:11-21). There are basically five views on the rapture of the church which are held by Bible scholars.

  1. Pre-Tribulation Rapture: The church is taken out of the world before the Tribulation begins (this author’s view).
  2. Partial Rapture: Only believers who faithfully watch for the Lord’s return will be raptured out of the world before the Tribulation.
  3. Mid-Tribulation Rapture: The church is taken out of the world in the middle of the Tribulation.
  4. Pre-Wrath Rapture: The church is taken out of the world before God’s wrath is greatest, just before Christ returns to establish His earthly kingdom.
  5. Post-Tribulation Rapture: The church is raptured up as Christ is returning to earth at His Second Coming.

The doctrine of the Rapture was first presented by the Lord Jesus when He provided new information to His apostles on the night before His crucifixion. After speaking of His soon departure (John 13:33), Jesus comforted them, saying, “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). The place where Jesus was going was heaven. The purpose of His going was to prepare a place for them. And, at some unspecified time, Jesus promised He would come again to receive them to Himself, that they may be with Him.

Changed     Paul explained to the church at Corinth that the changing of our bodies at the Lord’s return was a mystery. Paul said, “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor 15:51-53). The word mystery translates the Greek word μυστήριον musterion, which means “the unmanifested or private counsel of God, (God’s) secret, the secret thoughts, plans, and dispensations of God.”[1] A mystery was something “which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints” (Col 1:26). What Paul revealed for the first time—not found in the OT—pertained to the physical transformation that occurs at the Rapture, that our mortal bodies will be transformed into immortal ones.

Raptured     Paul described a time in which Christians will be raptured out of the world and taken to heaven. He explained, “the dead in Christ shall rise first [i.e. be resurrected]. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up [ἁρπάζω harpazo] together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:16b-17). The meaning of ἁρπάζω harpazo is “to grab or seize suddenly so as to remove or gain control, snatch/take away.”[2] The form of the Greek verb is passive, which means the Christian will offer no resistance when the Lord removes His church in a moment, without notice, and by force.

The Latin translation of this verse used the word rapturo. The Greek word it translates is harpazō, which means to snatch or take away. Elsewhere it is used to describe how the Spirit caught up Philip near Gaza and brought him to Caesarea (Acts 8:39) and to describe Paul’s experience of being caught up into the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2–4). Thus, there can be no doubt that the word is used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 to indicate the actual removal of people from earth to heaven.[3]

Some have asserted that the Rapture is not a biblical doctrine because, they argue, the word Rapture is not mentioned in the English Bible. However, the word Rapture comes from the words “caught up” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. This verse could be translated, “Then we who are alive and remain shall be raptured together with them in the clouds.” The important point is that the verse says Christ will come for believers and take them from the earth to heaven, where they will be in His presence till they return with Him to the earth to reign. The Rapture will mean that all believers “will be with the Lord forever,” enjoying Him and His presence for all eternity.[4]

Paul reaffirmed his teaching of the Rapture in his second letter to the church at Thessalonica. Apparently, someone had upset the Christians living in Thessalonica by writing a false letter, as if from Paul, that the Rapture had already occurred and their suffering was a result of entering into the time of the Tribulation. Paul said, “Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him [at the Rapture], that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us [i.e. a false letter], to the effect that the day of the Lord has come [day of the Lord = seven year Tribulation]” (2 Thess 2:1-2). Paul explained the Rapture could not have occurred yet, saying, “for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first” (2 Thess 2:3a). The word apostasy translates the Greek word ἀποστασία apostasia, which is believed by the majority of scholars today to refer to a special end-time rebellion against biblical teaching. Though this departure from God’s Word will happen in the days leading up to the Rapture (1 Tim 4:1-3; 2 Tim 3:1-5; 4:3-4; 2 Pet 3:3-6), it is argued—quit convincingly—by some Bible scholars that the word ἀποστασία apostasia is better understood as referring to the physical departure of the church at the time of the Rapture.[5] Dr. Thomas Ice states:

I believe that there is a strong possibility that 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is speaking of the rapture. What do I mean? Some pretribulationists, like myself, think that the Greek noun apostasia, usually translated “apostasy,” is a reference to the rapture and should be translated “departure.” Thus, this passage would be saying that the day of the Lord will not come until the rapture comes before it. If apostasia is a reference to a physical departure, then 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is strong evidence for pretribulationism.[6]

The above passages, taken as a whole, argue convincingly that we are “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Tit 2:13). The appearing of Christ at the Rapture is what the Christian is looking for, since that is the next prophetic event to come. This Rapture is immanent, meaning it may occur at any time and without prior notice. All Christians who are alive at the time of the Rapture will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, will go with Him to heaven, and be spared the wrath to be poured out during the seven-year Tribulation. Our future is not one of judgment; rather, we are assured we will be spared God’s future wrath, both in time and eternity (Rom 5:9; 1 Thess 1:10; 5:9; Rev 3:10).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 662.

[2] Ibid., 134.

[3] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 537.

[4] Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, Understanding Christian Theology (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), 1265.

[5] Among these are Dr. E. Schuyler English, Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost, Dr. Thomas Ice, Dr. Andy Woods, Dr. Paul Lee Tan, Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Dr. Dave Olander, and others.

[6] Thomas Ice, “The Rapture in 2 Thessalonians 2:3″ (2009). Article Archives. 82.
https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/pretrib_arch/82.

A Brief Analysis of the Millennial Kingdom

     The Millennial KingdomThe Bible reveals two aspects of God’s rule over His creation. The first is His universal rule in which He sovereignly decrees whatsoever comes to pass and “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). There are times when God accomplishes His will immediately without the assistance of others (such as in the creation), and other times He chooses to work mediately through creatures, both intelligent (angels and people), and simple (Balaam’s donkey). Concerning God’s universal rule, Scripture reveals, “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Ps. 103:19), and “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:6). Daniel writes, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth” (Dan 4:34b-35a; cf. 5:21; 1 Chron. 29:11-12).

     The second is God’s earthly rule in which He governs through a human mediatorial administrator. The first account of such a rule is found in Genesis where the Lord assigned Adam and Eve to rule over the whole world (Gen. 1:26-28). Theirs was a mediatorial kingdom, which may be defined as “the rule of God through a divinely chosen representative who not only speaks and acts for God but also represents the people before God; a rule which has especial reference to the earth; and having as its mediatorial ruler one who is always a member of the human race.”[1] However, through an act of disobedience (Gen. 3:1-7), Adam and Eve forfeited their rulership to Satan, a fallen angelic creature, who rules through deception (2 Cor. 11:3, 14; Rev 12:9; 20:3, 8), blindness (2 Cor. 4:3-4), and enslavement (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13). Since the fall of Adam and Eve, Satan has had dominion over this world and is called “the ruler of this world” (John 14:30; 16:1), “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), and “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4). When tempting Jesus, Satan offered Him “the kingdoms of the world” (Matt. 4:8-9), and they were his to give. However, the Bible also reveals that Satan has been judged (Gen. 3:15; John 16:11), and in the future will be cast out of heaven (Rev. 12:7-9), confined for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-3), and eventually cast into the Lake of Fire forever (Rev. 20:10). It must always be remembered that God sovereignly permits Satan a limited form of rulership for a limited period of time, always restraining him and his demonic forces, if they seek to transgress the boundaries He’s established for them (Job. 1:6-12; 2:1-6; Mark 15:1-13; 2 Pet. 2:4).

     Subsequent to Adam and Eve, God has worked to reestablish His kingdom on earth through the promises and covenants offered to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3), the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10), the nation Israel (Ex. 19:5-6; Deut. 29:1-29; 30:1-10; Jer. 31:31-33), and king David (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37). When Jesus came, He repeatedly offered the earthly kingdom to Israel (Matt. 3:1-2; Matt. 4:17; 10:5-7), a literal kingdom they could physically enter into (Matt. 5:20; 6:10; Luke 19:11; Acts 1:3-6). But they rejected Him and His offer (Mark 15:12-15; John 19:15); therefore, the earthly kingdom was postponed for a future time (Matt. 21:43; cf. Matt. 19:28; 25:31; Luke 22:28-30; Acts 1:3-6; Rev. 20:4-6).

     We are currently living in the church age, which will come to an end when the church is raptured to heaven (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Afterward, there will be a period of time known as the Tribulation, which will begin when the Antichrist signs a seven year peace treaty with Israel (Dan. 9:24-27; cf. Revelation chapters 6-18). The time of Tribulation will come to an end when Jesus returns to earth to put down rebellion (Rev. 19:11-21) and establish His kingdom (Matt. 25:31; Rev. 11:15; 20:1-6). After His second coming, Jesus will rule the whole earth, from Jerusalem, on the throne of David (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37; Jer. 23:5-6; 33:14-15; Dan. 2:44; 7:14, 27; Matt. 6:10; Luke 1:31-33; cf. Mark 11:9-10), He will rule absolutely with “a rod of iron” (Ps. 2:9; Rev. 19:15), and His reign will be marked by righteousness and peace on the earth (Isa. 11:1-9). Also, we know from Scripture that the earthly kingdom will last a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-6), and afterward will become an eternal kingdom (Dan. 2:44; 7:27; 1 Cor. 15:24). The word millennium is derived from the Latin words mille which means “thousand” and annum which means “year”. The word millennium translates the Greek word χίλιοι chilioi, which occurs six times in Revelation 20:1-6. The millennial kingdom will see Jesus seated on the throne of David, in Jerusalem, ruling over the world. He will rule the nations in righteousness, advocating for the poor and weak, as well as suppressing wickedness and rebellion (Isa. 9:6-7; 11:1-9; Jer. 23:5-6; 33:14-15). Satan will be bound during the reign of Christ (Rev. 20:1-3), and a new worship system will be implemented (see Ezekiel 40-46).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Alva McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom (Winona Lake, Ind. BMH Books, 2009), 41.

A Brief Analysis of Israel in History and Prophecy

     Israel in History and ProphecyThe history of Israel starts with God who chose the nation to be His representatives from eternity past. Israel was created by God (Isa. 43:1, 15), and He loves them with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:1-3). God chose them because of who He is, not because of any greatness or goodness in them (Deut. 7:6-8). Israel began with a unilateral covenant which God made with Abraham, promising “I will make you a great nation” (Gen. 12:2). The Abrahamic covenant was later expanded with the Land Covenant (Deut. 29:1-29; 30:1-10), the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37), and the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34). Though Abraham had children by different women (Sarah, Hagar, and Keturah), the Abrahamic promises were restated only through Isaac (Gen. 17:19-21) and Jacob (Gen. 28:10-15). Because of a crippling encounter with God, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, which means “he who wrestles with God” (Gen. 32:24-30). The sons of Israel (i.e. Jacob) went into captivity in Egypt for four hundred years as God had foretold (Gen. 15:13), and remained there until He called them out through His servants Moses and Aaron (Ex. 3:1-10). God delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage through a series of ten plagues that destroyed Pharaoh and the nation (Exodus chapters 5-14). Then God entered into a bilateral covenant relationship with Israel at Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:1-8), and gave them 613 commands—which comprise the Mosaic Law—and these commands are commonly divided into moral, civil, and ceremonial codes. Under the Mosaic Law, Israel would know blessing if they obeyed God’s commands (Deut. 28:1-15), and cursing if they did not (Deut. 28:16-68). The nation of Israel remained in the wilderness for forty years while God tested and humbled them (Deut. 8:2-5). After Moses died, God brought the Israelites into the land of Canaan (i.e. the land promised to Abraham) under the leadership of Joshua (Deut. 31:23; Josh. 1:1-9), and there the land was divided, giving a portion to each of the descendants of Jacob. After Joshua died (Josh. 24:29-31), Israel repeatedly fell into idolatry and suffered divine discipline for their rebellion (read Judges). This went on for nearly 300 hundred years as Israel fell into a pattern of idolatry, after which God would send punishment, then the people would cry out to God, Who would relent of His judgment and send a judge to deliver them, then the people would serve God for a time, and then fall back into idolatry. The period of the Judges is marked by people who did not obey the Lord, but “did what was right in their own eyes” (Judg. 17:6; 21:25). Samuel was the last of Israel’s judges, and then the people cried for a king because they wanted to be like the other nations (1 Sam. 8:4-5). God gave them their request (1 Sam. 8:22), and Saul became the first king in Israel (1 Sam. 10:1). Though Saul started well, he quickly turned away from the Lord and would not obey God’s commands. Saul reigned for approximately 40 years and his leadership was basically a failure (1 Sam. 13:1; cf. Acts 13:21). Later, God raised up David to be king in Israel (1 Sam. 16:1-13), and David reigned for 40 years and was an ideal king who followed God and encouraged others to do the same (1 Ki. 2:10-11). God decreed David’s throne would be established forever through one of his descendants (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4), and this is Jesus (Luke 1:31-33). Solomon reigned for 40 years after David (1 Ki. 2:12; 11:42-43), and though He was wise and did many good things (ruled well, built the temple, wrote Scripture, etc.), he eventually turned away from God and worshiped idols (1 Ki. 11:1-10), and the kingdom was divided afterward (1 Ki. 11:11-41). The nation was united under Saul, David, and Solomon.

     Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, ruled over the two southern tribes (Judah) and Jeroboam ruled over the ten northern tribes (Israel). Israel—the northern kingdom—had 19 kings throughout its history and all were bad, as they led God’s people into idolatry (i.e. the “sins of Jeroboam” 1 Ki. 16:31; 2 Ki. 3:3; 10:31; 13:2). The ten northern tribes came under divine discipline because of their idolatry and were destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. Judah—the southern kingdom—had 20 kings throughout its history and 8 were good (some more than others), as they obeyed God and led others to do the same (they were committed to the Lord like David, 1 Ki. 15:11). However, Judah repeatedly fell into idolatry—as the 10 northern tribes had done—and were eventually destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The dispersion of Israel was promised by God if they turned away from Him and served other gods (Deut. 28:63-68). Since the destruction by Babylon, Israel has been under Gentile dominance (Luke 21:24; Rom. 11:25). After a temporary regathering under Ezra and Nehemiah, Israel continued under Gentile dominance with the Medes & Persians, Greeks, and Romans. Because of their rejection of Jesus as Messiah, God disciplined Israel again in A.D. 70, and the Jews were scattered all over the world (Jam. 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1). Israel’s current state is one of judgment (Matt. 23:37-39), and a “partial hardening” (Rom. 11:25).

Israel Present

     For nearly 1900 years God has faithfully kept His word to disperse Israel because of their idolatry (Deut. 28:63-68) and their rejection of Jesus as Messiah (Matt. 23:37-39). Now, since 1948, Israelites are back in the Promised Land; even though the majority of them are atheists who reject God. This could be a fulfillment of prophecy in which God has regathered His people before the time of the judgment of the Tribulation (Ezek. 20:33-38; 22:17-22; Zeph. 2:1-2). Logically it makes sense that God will regather Israel as a nation (Ezek. 36:22-24) before He regenerates them and gives them a new heart (Ezek. 36:25-28). Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum argues two regatherings of Israel. The first is a regathering of Jews in unbelief, which sets the stage for the Tribulation. The second regathering is in belief, which prepares them for Messiah, who will rule over them during the millennium.

First, there was to be a regathering in unbelief in preparation for judgment, namely the judgment of the Tribulation. This was to be followed by a second worldwide regathering in faith in preparation for blessings, namely the blessings of the messianic age. Once it is recognized that the Bible speaks of two such regatherings, it is easy to see how the present State of Israel fits into prophecy.[1]

     As Christians, we are glad to see Jews returning to the Promised Land and support the nation of Israel. This support is by no means a blanket endorsement of all Israel does, for the nation may behave immorally like any other nation. However, we recognize that God is working to set the stage for prophetic events, and that Israel being in the Promised Land is a part of that.

Israel Future

     Israel has a future hope because of the promises and covenants God made through the patriarchs and prophets (Gen. 12:1-3; 13:15, 17; 15:18; 17:8; Deut. 29:1-29; 30:1-10; 2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:33-37; Jer. 31:31-33). Though unbelieving Israel is currently under divine discipline (Matt. 23:37-39), and subject to a “partial hardening” (Rom. 11:25), God’s covenants and promises are still in effect (Rom. 9:1-5; 11:1), and will remain in force until Jesus returns and is accepted as their Messiah. Once Jesus returns, Israel will possess all of the land that was promised to them, and they will possess it forever.

     Covenant theologians often argue that God has already fulfilled His promise to Abraham that his descendants would possess the land (see Josh. 21:43-45; 1 Ki. 4:21; Neh. 9:8). God was faithful to bring Abraham’s descendants into the Promised Land, and though they eventually came to control much of it under the reign of Solomon (1 Ki. 4:21-24), they did not possess it all, and this seems plain from other biblical passages where Israelites had to fight the old residents still in the land (Josh. 23:5-7; Judg. 1:21, 27-28).

     “The first chapter of Judges, recording events which took place after the death of Joshua (1:1), records how various tribes failed to take the land allotted to them (1:19, 21, 27, 29, 30, 31–32, 33, 34–36). Never in Old Testament history did Israel possess, dwell, and settle in all of the Promised Land. Nor did it ever happen in Jewish history since.”[2] In fact, several of the prophets who lived after Solomon wrote about Israel’s future possession of the Promised Land (Isa. 14:1; 60:21; Jer. 30:3; Ezek. 11:17; 20:42; 37:12; Amos 9:14-15)

     Furthermore, it was stated in Scripture that Abraham personally would possess the land, and that he and his descendants would possess it forever. Several times God said to Abraham, “For all the land which you see, I will give it to you [Abraham] and to your descendants forever” (Gen. 13:15), “Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you [Abraham]” (Gen. 13:17), and “I will give to you [Abraham] and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Gen. 17:8). Yet, Abraham has never possessed the land that was promised to Him. In fact, Stephen makes this very point in his speech in Acts, where he says, “But He [God] gave him [Abraham] no inheritance in it [the land], not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that He would give it to him as a possession, and to his descendants after him” (Acts 7:5).

     During his lifetime, Abraham did not possess the land God promised to him. But God will keep His word to Abraham and his descendants. God will, in the future, through resurrections, give both Abraham and Israel possession of all the Promised Land, and they will possess it forever. In addition, Israel will benefit from all the blessings of the New Covenant which are stated in Scripture (Jer. 31:31-34). Lastly, the nation of Israel will be blessed when Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, will be seated on His throne in Jerusalem, ruling over them “forever” (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37; Luke 1:31-33; cf. Matt. 19:28; 25:31).

     Both Covenant and Dispensational theologians agree that God made promises to Abraham of land, seed, and blessing (Gen. 12:1-3; 13:13-17; 15:17; 17:26; Deut. 29:1-29; 30:1-10; 2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:33-37; Jer. 31:31-33). The difference lies in that Covenant theologians believe that God has fulfilled all those promises to Abraham, whereas Dispensationalists believe God will fulfill those promises in the future.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Rev. ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1994), 716.

[2] Ibid., 632.

God’s Righteousness in the Future

But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (2 Pet. 3:13)

     RighteousnessGod has a plan for the future and that plan involves His righteous rule over His people, both in time and eternity.  Only a sovereign God Who possesses all the attributes of deity, such as omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, and so on, can work providentially in His creation to guarantee a future righteous rule.  In one sense, God rules universally and eternally.  He is always the sovereign Ruler of all His creation (Ps. 145:13; Jer. 10:10).  Scripture reveals, “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Ps. 103:19), and “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:6).  Daniel writes, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth” (Dan 4:34b-35a).  From Genesis to Revelation, God sovereignly governs the lives of people and nations.  People exist because God gives them life.  David writes, “Know that the LORD Himself is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves” (Ps. 100:3).  He determines the duration of each person’s life, having final control over the day and cause of a person’s death.  It is written, “In Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Ps. 139:16).  And Hannah, in her prayer says, “The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up” (1 Sam. 2:6).  People live and die as God decides, “For in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28).  God controls when and where people will live in history, for “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation” (Acts 17:26).  Even the great rulers of this world exist because of His plan, for “It is He who changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding” (Dan. 2:21).  God has power over wealth and poverty, for “The LORD makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts” (1 Sam. 2:7).  God allows fallen angels and humans to produce sin and evil, but they never act beyond or against His sovereign will (Job 1:1-21; Ps. 105:12-15; 1 Kings 22:19-23; 2 Cor. 12:7-10). 

     It is because God is absolutely sovereign that He can providentially control His creation and the affairs of mankind and bring about His will on the earth.  God’s providence refers to His wise and personal acts, whereby He creates and controls circumstances in order to direct history according to His predetermined plan, all for His glory and the benefit of His elect.  People live in the flow of history and are moved by the circumstances God controls.  God “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).  By His sovereign will God created all things in heaven and earth, and sustains and directs them as He desires.  God “is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17).  The Lord knows all things at all times.  He knows when a sparrow falls to the ground (Matt. 10:29), and the ever-changing number of hairs on our head (Matt. 10:30).  He knows our thoughts before we think them (Ps. 139:2), and our words before we speak them (Ps. 139:4).  He knows our wickedness (Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:21-22), and chooses to love us by grace, in spite of our sinfulness (Matt. 5:45; Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-9).  Some He elects to purpose, even from the womb (Jer. 1:5; Gal. 1:15).  Because God is righteous, all His actions are just.  Because He is loving and good, He directs all things for His glory and the benefit of His elect.  The wicked are also under God’s sovereign control, and He uses them for His own ends (Prov. 16:4).

God’s Righteous Kingdom Promised to David

     One must distinguish God’s universal and eternal kingdom from His earthly kingdom.  God has a specific plan for the future to establish an earthly kingdom that will be centered in Jerusalem with Jesus Christ ruling on the throne.  This promise is rooted in the Davidic covenant where God promised David that one of his descendants would rule on his throne forever (2 Sam. 7:12-13).  The Lord said to David, “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16).  That this was a covenant promise from God to David is specified elsewhere, where God states, “I have made a covenant [בְּרִית berith] with My chosen; I have sworn to David My servant, 4 I will establish your seed forever and build up your throne to all generations” (Ps. 89:3-4), and He further declares, “Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David. 36 His descendants shall endure forever and his throne as the sun before Me. 37 It shall be established forever like the moon, and the witness in the sky is faithful” (Ps 89:35-37).  A forever-kingdom requires a forever-Person to rule over it.  Jeremiah spoke prophetically about this King and kingdom, saying:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land. 6 “In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely; and this is His name by which He will be called, ‘The LORD our righteousness.’” (Jer. 23:5-6)

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth.” (Jer. 33:14-15)

     It cannot be missed that this promised descendant of David is described as “a righteous Branch” who shall “reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land.”  Concerning this King, justice and righteousness will be the chief characteristic of His rule over Israel and the earth.  Daniel writes about the eternal nature of this future earthly kingdom, saying, “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever” (Dan. 2:44).  Earthly kingdoms come and go because their rulers die or are conquered.  However, the future ruler of God’s kingdom on earth will never die, and this explains why it will “not be left for another people” and will last forever.  It was also revealed to Daniel that God’s saints will participate in this kingdom, saying, “Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him” (Dan. 7:27).  A king has authority and subjects over which to rule.  The saints of all time shall know the righteous rule of God’s King on the earth.

Jesus – God’s Righteous King

     Up until the conception of Jesus, no one knew by name Who the King would be.  There was only anticipation of His coming.  The promise that was given to David, and reiterated by Jeremiah and Daniel, was finally confirmed to Mary, that her Son, Jesus, would sit on David’s throne and would reign over the house of Jacob forever.  Jesus is the forever-King that God has decreed to rule over His forever-kingdom.  The angel Gabriel revealed this to Mary as follows:

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” (Luke 1:30-33)

     Several things are noticed about what Gabriel said to Mary: 1) the name of her Son is Jesus, which is derived from the Hebrew Joshua, which means “Yahweh saves.”  2) Gabriel said, “He will be great,” which speaks both of Him as a Person as well as His accomplishments.  3) He would be called “Son of the Most High,” which means He is equal with God the Father.  4) God would “give Him the throne of His father, David.”  No doubt Mary would have thought of 2 Samuel 7:16 and perhaps Psalm 89:35-37, both of which reveal that God would raise a descendant of David to rule from his earthly throne in Jerusalem.  5) Jesus would “reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”  The question, as one reads the Biblical text, is how did Mary understand what was said to her.  It is natural that she would have understood the words in the plainest sense possible, that her Son, Jesus, would fulfill the Biblical promises concerning the son of David who would sit on His earthly throne and rule forever over Israel and the earth.[1]

Jesus’ Offer of God’s Kingdom to Israel

     As Jesus grew into manhood, His mother knew His identity, that He is the promised King of Israel and would set up the promised kingdom.  Just before Jesus’ public ministry, John the Baptist came as His forerunner and proclaimed the offer of the kingdom, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2).  Jesus also proclaimed this message, saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).[2]  Both “repent” and “believe” are imperatives in Mark 1:15, which imply a volitional response of obedience from those who heard.  These words are closely related and go together, like two sides of the same coin.  Israelites were called to change their mind from whatever they were trusting in (i.e. repent), and to accept Jesus’ message that the kingdom was being offered to them (i.e. believe in Him as King and His offer of the kingdom).  The concept of the Davidic kingdom was prominent in the minds of many Jews in Jesus’ day, so it’s not like He had to persuade them about His message.  Jesus simply had to communicate the offer of the kingdom and wait for Israel’s response.

This concept was familiar to the Jews of Jesus’ day. In light of Old Testament prophecy (cf. 2 Sam. 7:8–17; Isa. 11:1–9; 24:23; Jer. 23:4–6; Micah 4:6–7; Zech. 9:9–10; 14:9) they were expecting a future messianic (Davidic) kingdom to be established on earth (cf. Matt. 20:21; Mark 10:37; 11:10; 12:35–37; 15:43; Luke 1:31–33; 2:25, 38; Acts 1:6). So Jesus did not have to arouse interest in His message. His hearers naturally understood His reference to the kingdom of God to be the long-awaited messianic kingdom predicted in the Old Testament.[3]

Israel’s Rejection of the Kingdom

     The arrival of the kingdom was contingent upon Israel’s repentance and belief.  Jesus repeatedly proclaimed His offer of the kingdom (Matt. 4:17, 23; Mark 1:38; Luke 4:43; 8:1) and even sent His disciples out to all Israel to proclaim the message with validating signs (Matt. 10:5-8).  Jesus confirmed His Messianic offer of the kingdom with many miracles (Matt. 11:2-5; 14:15-21; John 9:1-7; 10:37-38), which should have resulted in Israel’s acceptance of Him as their King.  However, after much proof, Israel did not repent, and Jesus “began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent” (Matt. 11:20).  It was the sad reality that “though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him” (John 12:37).  The Light of the world had come, but “men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).  The leadership of Israel did not deny Jesus was performing miracles, what they denied was the heavenly source behind His miracles, saying, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons” (Matt. 12:24).  Israel’s rejection of Jesus as their King brought a pronouncement of judgment upon the nation (Matt. 23:37-39), but Israel’s leadership did not care, as they publicly told Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).  So they crucified Jesus on a cross and treated Him as a lowly criminal (John 19:17-19).  This was all in accordance with God’s providential plan (Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28).

The Postponement of the Kingdom for a Future Time

     The kingdom of God was postponed for a future time.  Though postponed, its future fulfillment is certain, for Jesus told His disciples, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28; cf. Matt. 20:20-21).  The Davidic kingdom will not arrive until the second coming of Jesus, for He says, “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne” (Matt. 25:31).  Though they knew it was coming, His disciples did not know the exact time of its arrival.  After Jesus death, burial and resurrection, His disciples asked, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).  But Jesus left them without a specific time, saying, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority” (Act 1:7).  So, God has implemented the current church age, which is part of His eternal plan (Eph. 3:1-10; Col. 1:24-27), until such a time that He will establish His kingdom on the earth.

God Will Justly Reward Christians

     Between the first and second coming of Jesus, there is the church age, and the following seven year Tribulation.  The church age is marked by grace, whereas the seven year Tribulation will be a time of God’s wrath upon the earth.  Christians, who live in the church age, will not face God’s wrath during the Tribulation (1 Thess. 1:10; cf. Rom. 5:9; 1 Thess. 5:9), for God will rapture His church at the end of the church age and take those Christians who are alive at that time directly to heaven (1 Thess. 4:13-18).  Christians are not looking forward to a time of punishment upon the earth, but rather, we are “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Tit. 2:13).  After the church is raptured to heaven, God will then dispense rewards to His faithful children who learned and lived His will during their lives on the earth.  It is right for Christians to think that God will justly reward them in the future for the life of obedience they now live.  Speaking about future rewards, Paul writes:

According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Cor. 3:10-15)

     This event will take place in heaven, after the rapture of the church, in which God will justly reward Christians.  Paul himself personally expected a reward from God, saying, “in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).  “Because he had been faithful Paul did not dread dying but looked forward to seeing His Lord. On the day of rewards for Christians (the judgment seat of Christ; 1:12, 18; 2 Cor. 5:10) Paul was confident that the Lord would give him a reward that was proper.”[4]  The future appearance of Christ at the rapture is important, and those who long for it will be rewarded. 

God Will Suppress Rebellion before the Kingdom is Established

     Sin is upon the earth, and it will continue to have a negative impact because people are temporarily permitted to continue in rebellion against God.  However, Scripture reveals a time will come in which God will bring in everlasting righteousness, which will extend into eternity.  A future day will come in which God will pour out His wrath upon the earth and will suppress all rebellion, both human and demonic. 

     The Book of Revelation, chapters 6-19, reveal this time of judgment upon the earth.  In His wrath, God will put down the rebellion of Satan and his angels, unbelieving Israel, and unbelieving Gentiles.  In all His judgments, God is righteous and just, whereas men are wicked and deserve wrath (Rev. 16:6-7; cf. 19:2).  The hearts of men are corrupt, and rather than turning to God during this time of wrath, they try to flee and hide from Him (Rev. 6:15-16), they seek death rather than conform to His will (Rev. 9:6), they refuse to repent of their rebellion (Rev. 9:20-21), they rejoice and celebrate at the persecution and death of God’s servants (Rev. 11:7-10), they align themselves with the Satan (Rev. 13:3-4), they willfully blaspheme the holy name of God (Rev. 16:8-9, 11, 21), and they gather together to make war against Jesus Christ (Rev. 19:19).  During the tribulation, God will punish those who killed the saints, as John writes:

“And I heard the angel of the waters saying, ‘Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; 6 for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.’ 7 And I heard the altar saying, ‘Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments’” (Rev. 16:5-7). 

     We should not see the seven year Tribulation solely as a time of judgment and gloom, for God’s love and grace are also manifest.  This is obvious in the kindness He shows to the 144,000 Jews He saves and calls to service (Rev. 7:4-8), to the martyrs who have died for their faith in Jesus (Rev. 7:9-17), to the two prophetic witnesses whom He resurrects (Rev. 11:11-12), to the nations who hear His gospel message (Rev. 14:6-7), and to those who enter into His kingdom after the Tribulation (Rev. 20:4-6).

     Toward the end of the seven year Tribulation, it is recorded that God will judge Babylon, which is described as the “great harlot” that has corrupted the earth and killed His saints.  Future Babylon has both religious and commercial aspects to it.  In its entirety, future Babylon is a satanic system that unites religious and commercial practices that, at their core, are independent of God.  John writes about God’s judgment, saying, “After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; 2 because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her’” (Rev. 19:1-2).  God’s righteous judgment upon this great immoral system is just.  “God has indeed vindicated the injustice visited on his servants by meting out true justice on the great prostitute, Babylon. She deserves the sentence because she corrupted the earth (cf. 11:18; Jer. 51:25) and killed the saints of God (cf. 18:24).”[5]  At the close of the Tribulation, Satan will be defeated and eventually bound for a thousand years (Rev. 12:7-9; 20:1-3), all unbelievers will be defeated (Rev. 19:19-21; cf. Matt. 24:29-35:46), leaving only believing Jews and Gentiles to enter His kingdom on earth (Rev. 19:19-21; cf. Matt. 24:29-35:46).  

     At His first coming, Jesus did no come to judge the world, but to save it.  John writes, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (Joh 3:17).  Later Jesus states, “If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world” (John 12:14; cf. Luke 19:10; 1 John 4:14).  However, at His second coming, Jesus will judge the world, and He will judge it in righteousness.  Concerning this, the apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).  This teaching is not popular and frightens some.  This was true when Paul was defending himself before Felix, as Luke writes, “But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, ‘Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you’” (Acts 24:25).  The future becomes a fearful place for those who know they live sinful lives outside of God’s will.

     The end of the Tribulation marks the end of the age of the Gentiles, a period starting with the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C. and culminating with the return of Christ to establish His millennial kingdom on earth.  The apostle John writes about the second coming of Jesus, saying, “And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war” (Rev. 19:11).  “The rider obviously is Jesus Christ, returning to the earth in glory. That He is coming as Judge is further supported by the fact that He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood (19:13; cf. Isa. 63:2–3; Rev. 14:20).”[6] 

     After Christ puts down earthly rebellion, He will then judge those that survived the Tribulation.  Matthew writes, “So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous” (Matt. 13:49).  Of the wicked, it is said of them, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:46).  This is a judgment that must take place before Christ sets up His kingdom.  “The righteous and the ungodly will be sent away to their respective final places. There is no hint that the verdict can be changed. In concluding his teaching about the last judgment, Jesus said that those on his left hand ‘will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life’” (Matt. 25:46).[7]

There will be a Future Resurrection of the Righteous

     To be resurrected means a person who has died will receive a new body that will never experience death.  Concerning resurrections in general, Daniel wrote, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:1-2).  Daniel is writing in general and referring to the resurrection of all people, both believers and unbelievers.  However, we learn from other biblical passages that there are specific resurrections mentioned.  The first person to be resurrected is Jesus (Matt. 28:1-7; Mark 16:1-11; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Rev. 1:5).  Jesus died because of our sin, and after three days in the grave, He was resurrected with a new body that will never die again.  Paul wrote, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20).  After the resurrection of Jesus, there will be other resurrections.  These other resurrections are called the “first resurrection” (Rev. 20:5-6), or the “resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:14; Acts 24:15).  Jesus spoke about a future resurrection of the righteous, and rewards associated with that resurrection, which should impact how the believer lives here and now.  Jesus said, “But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:13-14).  And Paul, when standing on trial before Felix, spoke about a future “resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (Acts 24:15).  The resurrection of the righteous includes believers from all ages up to the second coming of Jesus.  There is a final resurrection that will take place at the end of Jesus’ millennial reign and consists of unbelievers only who will be thrown into the Lake of Fire.  Concerning these various resurrections, Charles Ryrie states:

The resurrection of the just is also called the first resurrection and will occur in several stages, not all at once. The dead in Christ will be raised first at the rapture of the church (1 Thess. 4:16). The redeemed of the tribulation period who die during that time will be raised before the millennium (Rev 20:4). The redeemed of Old Testament times will also be a part of the resurrection of the just. Expositors are divided over when they will be raised, some believing that it will happen at the rapture when the church saints are raised, and others holding that it will occur at the second coming (Dan 12:2—the writer prefers the latter view)…all unsaved people of all time will be raised after the millennium to be judged and then cast into the lake of fire forever (Rev 20:11–15). At their resurrection they will apparently be given some sort of bodies that will be able to live forever and feel the effects of the torments of the lake of fire.[8]

The Millennial Kingdom of Christ

     After the Tribulation and judgment of those who survived, Jesus will set up His kingdom on the earth.  This earthly kingdom was anticipated throughout Scripture (Jer. 23:5-6; Dan. 2:44-45; 7:27; Amos 4:1-4; Zech. 14:3-12; Matt. 6:10; Luke 1:31-33; Acts 1:6), and described as being ideal (Isa. 2:2-4; 11:1-9; 19:23-25; 35:1-10; 65:19-25; Amos 9:11-15; Rev. 20:1-6).  Revelation chapter 20, for the first time in Scripture, specifies the duration of Christ’s reign on the earth as one thousand years (Rev. 20:1-6).  John writes, “Then I saw thrones, and they sat on 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, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Rev. 20:4).  Paul explains that the kingdom of Christ on the earth will eventually become an eternal kingdom.  This will be after the thousand year reign of Christ.  Paul writes of this transition, saying, “then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet” (1 Cor. 15:24-25). 

     Jesus came to earth the first time as a suffering Servant to die on the cross to bring salvation to all men (Gen. 3:15; Isa. 53; Mark. 10:45; John 3:16-19), and will come the second time to establish His righteous kingdom on earth (Isa. 9:7; 11:3-5; 42:1-4; Jer. 23:5; Rev. 20:1-6). The return of Christ is praiseworthy news to those who are in heaven and on the earth who love Him and look forward to His coming.  However, it is bad news to those who hate him and resist His will on the earth (2 Thess. 1:3-10; Rev. 19:11-21). 

Our Lord will be a King who reigns in righteousness (Isa. 32:1). Righteousness will be the belt of His loins (11:5). With righteousness He shall judge the poor (11:4; 16:5). Zion shall be called the city of righteousness (1:26). Only the righteous shall enter the kingdom at its inauguration (Matt. 25:37), and those who thirst after righteousness shall be filled (5:6).[9]

Judgment after the Millennial Kingdom

     After the millennial reign of Christ, there will be a time of judgment in which Christ will judge all unbelievers.  This is called the Great White Throne judgment, which consists of resurrected unbelievers only, and it is to point out that they are unrighteous, not having received the gift of righteousness that is imputed to those who have trusted in Christ alone for salvation (Rom. 3:21-28; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 3:9).  Since those who stand before the throne do not have God’s righteousness within them, they are left to be judged according to their human good works, which are not sufficient to gain them entrance into heaven (Isa. 64:6; Gal. 2:16; Tit. 3:5), and the fact that their names are not written in the book of life will ensure their assignment to the Lake of Fire forever (Rev. 20:14-15).

God Promises a Future World of Righteousness

     There is much sin in the world.  However, the believer anticipates a time in the future when God will remove all wickedness and bring in everlasting righteousness.  Peter writes, “according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13).  What promise is Peter thinking of?  Most likely the promise mentioned in Isaiah, who wrote, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind” (Isa 65:17).  This is a great hope of many Christians.  “When our Lord returns He will take the reins of government and rule the nations of this world as a benevolent dictator (Rev. 19:15). Then and only then will the world experience a time of righteousness, justice, social welfare, economic prosperity, and spiritual knowledge.”[10]

     Man, by his own efforts, cannot bring perfect or lasting righteousness into the world.  Certainly there are good and righteous people in the world, but the good they produce is often fleeting and has no lasting value.  Even good rulers are only good for the duration of their rule, and there is no guarantee that his/her successor will follow in the same pattern of goodness.  Because the nature of man is fallen and prone toward sin, the natural flow of human history tends toward corruption.  The tendency of people is to promote self and exclude God from human government and institutions, and they do this to their own harm.  However, apart from mankind’s weaknesses and failings, God has promised a new heavens and new earth, and the eternal state will be marked by righteousness.   

Summary

     God is sovereign and He rules over His creation.  The sovereign God promised an earthly kingdom to His servant, David, that one of his descendants would rule in righteousness on his throne forever.  Jesus, Who is Himself God, is that promised Son Who offered the kingdom to Israel, but they rejected Him and it.  Jesus pronounced a curse upon Israel for a time that would last until the age of the Gentiles concluded.  The Lord will reward church age believers after the rapture.  God will also reward His saints at the second coming of Jesus and He will justly judge the wicked.  Jesus will then establish His millennial kingdom on earth after He has put down all rebellion.  The earthly kingdom will become an eternal kingdom, and righteousness will go on into eternity. 

     The future is bright because there is the hope of a good and righteous King who will bring in everlasting righteousness.  This King is the Lord Jesus, the Christ, the Savior who will establish His kingdom upon the earth.  Jesus will reign forever.  Though His kingdom is preceded by a time of rebellion and judgment, He will suppress that rebellion, and once His righteous kingdom is established, it will never end.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] The simple fact of the Bible and history is that Jesus has not fulfilled these promised words.  Jesus is seated, no doubt, on a throne in heaven; but it is not David’s throne, which is an earthly throne.  In order for Jesus to fulfill the covenant promise given to David, as well as the reiteration stated by the angel Gabriel, Jesus must, at some time in the future, return and claim the throne that is rightfully His by promise. 

[2] The word “gospel” simply means good news, and the good news that Jesus preached here was that of the promised kingdom.  I’ve heard some preachers try to argue this “gospel” was the same as Paul’s and concerned the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  However, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ was foreign to the minds of those who followed Him (see Matt. 16:20; 17:22-23; 20:17-19).  No, the gospel message of Jesus and John the Baptist was the good news about arrival of the Davidic King and the offer of His kingdom on earth.

[3] John D. Grassmick, “Mark,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 107.

[4] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, 2 Tim. 4:8.

[5] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 570.

[6] John F. Walvoord, “Revelation,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 976.

[7] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 1104.

[8]Charles C. Ryrie, “Resurrections” A Survey of Bible doctrine (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1995), 182-183.

[9] Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, 594.

[10] Ibid., 316.

The Lord’s Day of Vengeance

       Many in the world today look to gods and religions that are ultimately no greater than those who support them. Sadly, many who defend them often resort to violence when their theological presuppositions are threatened. Unlike those who feel they must rise in violence to defend their religious beliefs, the mature Christian knows that God needs no defense, for He is the sovereign Lord of the universe, the Creator of all things, and He never feels threatened by the activities of mankind. When people speak out against Christ or Christianity, Christians do not take up arms in violent defense of God. The Lord is able to defend Himself, and indeed He does. When men rise and take their stand against God, “He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them” (Ps. 2:4), for “all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth” (Dan. 4:35). Christianity is inherently strong, because it is God who supports and defends the Christian, not the Christian who supports and defends God.

       Unbelievers often attack God because they are totally depraved and reside in a state of spiritual darkness. Total depravity means that every part of man’s being (mind, will, and emotions) is corrupted by sin, so that his natural tendency is toward self and sin. Man, by his very nature tends toward evil. We should not think solely of the immoral man, but also of the moral degenerates who have substituted works-religion in place a genuine relationship with God. The Bible tells us men are lost, and the heart of man is wicked to its core, for “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, [and] slanders” (Matt. 15:19). It was not too long after the fall of Adam and Eve that “the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). The Scripture reveals that the heart of every man is bent toward evil and “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9a). Most Christians in America seem regularly surprised at the ungodly behavior of unbelievers in the world. This surprise is due to the poor theology that streams from our weak pulpits where ignorant or cowardly pastors fail to teach the dynamic truths of God’s Word that should give Christians a correct view of the world that helps them orient to reality as God’s Word defines it. Unfortunately, solid theology is traded for tinsel teaching set to organ music, theatrically presented with colorful lights, and an orchestra and choir.

       The world is an evil place, and those who have given themselves over to Satan’s evil system often demand that others in their periphery do the same. Failure to conform brings pressure and persecution. Persecution often comes in stages and is defined as “the suffering or pressure, mental, moral, or physical, which authorities, individuals, or crowds inflict on others, especially for opinions or beliefs, with a view to their subjection by recantation, silencing, or, as a last resort, execution” (G. W. Bromily, “Persecution,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, 771). Evil men often employ pressure tactics of all sorts, including violence, in order to obtain their objective. Paul wrote to Christians who were facing evil persecution and told them they must “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).

       Because persecution was part of the normal Christian experience in the early church, Paul knew they would be tempted to retaliate against their attackers and return evil for evil. Unjustified attacks naturally stimulate the sin nature within the Christian. Because the sin nature is usually the first responder in evil situations, the Christian must be careful to exercise self-restraint and not act impulsively, but control his emotions. The Christian must be governed by God’s Word and never by his emotions, as the Scripture tells him to “be angry, and yet do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). The Christian will face evil his entire life, so he should prepare for it. More so, he should ready himself mentally to respond as God would have him to respond, as a dignified ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). And how should the Christian respond to evil?

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. (Rom. 12:17-19)

       It’s easy to retaliate and kick the one who kicked you, or hit the one who hit you, or curse the one who cursed you. But this is not the Christian way. Jesus suffered unjustly many times throughout His life, and especially during the illegal trials which led to His crucifixion. And even though He was verbally reviled, “He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23).

As children of God, we must live on the highest level—returning good for evil. Anyone can return good for good and evil for evil. The only way to overcome evil is with good. If we return evil for evil, we only add fuel to the fire. And even if our enemy is not converted, we have still experienced the love of God in our own hearts and have grown in grace. (Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, Vol. 1, 556)

       As Christians, we cannot stop the injustice or violence that often comes our way, but we can control our response to it by thinking and living biblically. I cannot help but think of Stephen who, when being falsely accused and stoned by his attackers, cried out to the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” and then prayed for his attackers, saying, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:59-60). God sovereignly controlled the circumstances of Stephen’s martyrdom, and Stephen glorified the Lord by facing his death with an attitude of faith and love, looking to the Lord and trusting Him in the face of violent opposition.

       By faith, the Christian has confidence in the face of suffering because he knows “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose”(Rom. 8:28). Even if the Christian should face violent death, he knows he will leave this world and come immediately into the presence of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8), have a new home in heaven (John 14:1-6), receive his resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:51-57; Phil. 3:21), obtain his eternal inheritance (1 Pet. 1:4-5), and enjoy the reality of the eternal life he received at the moment of he trusted Christ as his Savior (John 3:16; 10:28; 1 John 5:10). Jesus Himself stated “do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

       Living in God’s will is not always easy, and it does not guarantee a positive response from those who follow worldly values. The teaching of Scripture is that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). Sadly, there are many Christians who suffer for sinful reasons and it is good that they suffer, if it teaches them humility and respect for legitimate authority. The Apostle Peter tells Christians to “make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name” (1 Pet. 4:15-16). We cannot stop suffering in this life, but “it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong” (1 Pet. 3:17). We cannot control what other people think or how they behave, but we can control our response to them, and we can make sure that what we do is pleasing to the Lord by being obedient-to-the-Word believers. In this way, we can overcome evil by doing God’s will for our lives; and this is good.

       The Christian cannot control much of the suffering that comes into his life, but he does not have to be overcome by that suffering, as he can look to God and maintain faith in His Word. Jesus was not overcome by the cruelty and suffering he endured, but showed love and forgiveness to His attackers (Luke 23:34), and “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Stephen, who spoke strong words of truth while filled with the Holy Spirit, prayed and asked God to forgive those who were stoning him (Acts 7:60). Paul and Silas demonstrated loving concern for the jailer who kept them in chains, sharing the gospel with him when given the opportunity (Acts 16:22-32). Our lives may be vulnerable to the unjust pain and suffering caused by others, but we must look beyond the suffering and be willing to love even our attackers for the sake of Christ in the hope that they may come to know the gospel and be saved.

       Rejoicing in the midst of Christian suffering is an act of the will, not a natural emotional response. By faith the Christian chooses to praise God in the midst of his suffering because he knows God is using that suffering to produce the character of Christ in him (John 16:33; Rom. 5:3-5; Jam. 1:2-4). Even when the Christian faces death at the hands of violent attackers, he is to continually entrust himself to God as the keeper of his soul (Luke 23:46; Acts 7:59). The Christian overcomes evil when he adopts God’s will for his life and follows it, no matter the cost. The Christian overcomes evil by committing himself to doing God’s will according to Scripture and refusing to bow down to the evil pressures of weak people who have surrendered themselves to Satan’s worldly system. To be sure, overcoming evil is not a onetime event, but a lifetime activity that has application to every aspect of life wherever evil is encountered.

       Turning now to the matter of God’s vengeance, let me be clear that God has not ignored the fact that His children are being wrongly treated everywhere. The above section was presented first to show the believer that God is aware of the unjust suffering that His people face and to make the Christian aware that the Lord has provided everything he needs to overcome every adversity this world will present, so that that he might face it with courage and honor (Rom. 5:3-5; 8:28; Eph. 1:3; Jam. 1:2-4). At the present, God is being patient with sinful men, withholding His wrath and graciously drawing them to Himself and saving many (2 Pet. 3:9). However, though the grace of God is infinite in scope, it is not eternal in its duration, and there will come a day when the Lord’s grace will largely be withdrawn from this world, and He will pour forth His wrath upon mankind (Rev. 6-19). In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John had a vision in which he saw underneath an altar, “the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained” (Rev. 6:9). These are the souls of martyred saints who will be persecuted and put to death unjustly at the hands of violent men because of their faith in Christ. John heard them crying out to God and asking, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10). The answer that came in heaven was, “…they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also” (Rev. 6:11). Patience was required. God has in His mind a set number of martyrs who must die for their faith before the measure of the world’s sinful cup becomes full, and then He will pour forth His righteous wrath upon the world and bring about the judgment it so richly deserves.

       Christians who look to the Lord for justice have every right to call out to Him in expectation that He will judge and avenge them for their mistreatment in the world. Even though Scripture tells the believer, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God”, it also assures him that vengeance will come, for the Lord says, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY” (Rom. 12:19). God will execute vengeance on the earth, and that day of retribution will ultimately come when the Lord Jesus Christ personally returns to earth at His second coming. At this time He will put down all human rebellion and establish His millennial kingdom (Rev. 19:11-21; 20:1-6). John saw in a vision the return of the Lord Jesus Christ at His second coming and described it as follows:

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He [Jesus Christ] who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations [who oppose Him], and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty [cf. Isa. 63:1-6]. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in midheaven, “Come, assemble for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great.” And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. And the beast [i.e. the Antichrist of the Tribulation] was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh. (Rev. 19:11-21)

       Rest assured, there is a day of vengeance coming upon this world, and Jesus Christ, the Son of God, will personally bring it to pass (Rev. 19:11-21; cf. Isa. 63:1-6). After the millennial reign of Christ, all unbelievers of human history will stand before the Great White Throne of Christ and be judged because they had rejected Jesus Christ as their Savior (Rev. 20:11-15). Because their names were “not found written in the book of life,” they will be “thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15). A day of judgment follows a day of vengeance. Until then, believers must stay the course and be faithful to the Lord as His ambassadors to a lost and hostile world He desires to save (2 Pet. 3:9).

Dr. Steven R. Cook