THE NEW HEAVEN AND NEW EARTH OF THE ETERNAL KINGDOM OF GOD.
"I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold I make all things new. And He said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful." - #Rev 21:1-5.
A NEW heaven and a new earth! Yes! The world wants renovation. Nature, physical and moral, is in a disordered state. The earth is full of sin and pain and death; mans moral nature has been marred by transgression; the fountain of existence has been embittered by the spirit of pride, hatred, selfishness, injustice, and cruelty. The human frame has been invaded by disease; its beauty fades as a leaf; its comeliness turns to corruption; the earth has become a great cemetery, and life a procession to the tomb. The whole creation groans and travails in pain together; the sky is darkened by clouds and shaken by tempests; there is the heaving of earthquake, the outburst of the volcano, the flash of lightning, the roll of thunder. The sea is tossed by storm and lashed by the fury of the tempest; its shores are strewn with wrecks, and in its depths are shrouded innumerable dead. The reign of evil in the world, physical and moral, is an obvious and undeniable fact, and no power of man is of any avail to bring it to an end. No philosophy, no march of civilization, no discoveries of science, no changes in government, can abolish sin and pain and death. Innovation is wanted; mans moral and physical nature, and the very framework of the surrounding terrestrial scene, all need complete and thorough renovation; and to effect this nothing short of the exercise of Almighty power can suffice.
No feature is more prominent, precious, and glorious in the Scriptures than that they are the unveiling from first to last of a great remedial system, involving in its operation the restoration of the soul and body of man, and of the very framework of terrestrial nature. The Bible reveals a twofold work of God, that of creation and redemption, the work of the constitution and restitution of the world, or of "the instauration and restoration" of all things. The entire history of the world, as told in the pages of inspiration, is a history of redemption; it is the marvellous story of the recovery of a ruined world, and its creation anew in the perfection which is to endure for ever.
Neither the first creation nor the second is accomplished by a single Divine act, but by a succession of such acts, or by steps and stages. The open page of the Bible sets forth the chief stages in the first of these great works, and the light of geology reveals in that record a far-reaching meaning, and shows it to be the story of a long-continued operation, which moved forward through slow rolling ages to the appearance of man upon the scene. History exhibits, on the other hand, the analogous progress of the new creation through a long succession of Divine acts, still in process of accomplishment; while the light of prophecy unveils the glorious consummation of the work and shows its completion in the "new heavens and earth," wherein there shall be life without death, light without darkness, pleasure without pain; where there shall be righteousness without sin, peace without warfare, love without hatred, joy without sadness, smiles without tears, songs without sighing; a paradise without a tempter, an inheritance without a stain; where heaven and earth shall be re-united, where life and light and love shall be triumphant for ever, and God be all in all.
Even in the first, or natural creation, there are certain types and shadows of the new; unmistakable analogies with that better order of things unveiled to us in the blessed pages of inspiration. If death is written in nature, so also is resurrection. The seeds of innumerable plants fall into the ground and die, and lie buried in oblivion, and then spring again from the cold, dark bosom of the earth, in fresh forms of life and loveliness. Winter draws its mantle of darkness and death over the world; but spring time follows, and nature smiles again, dressed in renovated beauty. Looked at in the light of redemption, it is evident that even the first Adam and Eve and paradise, the tree of life, the river which flowed through Eden, and the sabbatic peace of that primeval scene-considered as the termination of a work which had embraced the creation of the beasts of the forest and monsters of the deep, and whose earliest stages began by the movings of the Divine Spirit, in a scene unvisited by light and life-was typical of that better and nobler order of things in Gods redeeming work which culminates in the restored paradise and sabbatic peace of the "new heavens and earth," wherein shall dwell righteousness. Grouping together the statements of Scripture as to the glorious process of renovation which God is carrying on in the world, we find that it consists of four great consecutive stages:
1. The preparatory stage.
2. The Messianic stage.
3. The millennial stage.
4. The eternal kingdom.
1. THE PREPARATORY STAGE.-The period from the fall to the first advent may be regarded as a preparatory stage in the work of the worlds redemption; and here, without staying to examine the various steps by which the providence of God prepared the way for the advent of the Redeemer, and the better order of things, we are struck by the fact that there was a double prefiguration of the work of redemption in the two dispensations into which that preparatory age was divided: the patriarchal dispensation and the Jewish. In the first there was the story of two worlds, an old and a new, the passing away of the first order of things, and the introduction of a second and better by the operation of judgment and mercy. The world that then was, overflowed with water, perished; but from its grave arose another world, and a new humanity was made to rejoice in the protection and the smile of Heaven in a renovated earth. And so, similarly, in the second or Jewish stage of the preparatory work. A new people, so to speak, was called into existence; a law was given, a revelation was granted; light and life sprang up; there was a land of promise, and a temple built to the Divine name, and filled with the glory of Gods presence; while Jerusalem shone in its beauty as the city of the great king, and Solomon reigned in peace and prosperity. Moreover, from age to age throughout that preparatory period there was a slow unveiling, in promise, type, and prophecy, of one glorious, far-reaching plan, embracing the advent of the second Adam, a renovation of the Gentile world, the restoration of Israel and even the renewal of the earth itself and "restitution of all things."
2. THE MESSIANIC STAGE.-The Messianic stage of Gods restoring work includes two principal sections: first, the advent and glorification of Christ, the second Adam; and, secondly, the story of the spiritual renewal of His people, or the history of the Church.
The first of these has both a spiritual and a physical aspect. A new spiritual Man has appeared upon the scene, a perfect human being, a sinless moral character, the archetype of a renovated humanity. Tested by temptation, schooled by suffering, the blameless purity and absolute righteousness of His character and life were demonstrated and developed to the uttermost; in Him was fulfilled all righteousness, and He finished the work which His Father had given Him to do by becoming "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross," that He might redeem His people and be their righteousness and life for ever. Then came the second stage, that of His physical glorification, when he was "declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead," and clad in that resplendent form in which He appeared to John in Patmos, when with countenance shining as the sun in its strength, and voice of power mixed with tenderness, He said, "Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore." In His glorified humanity the work of the new creation is already consummated; man shines forth in the Divine likeness, spirit, soul, and body made perfect, and "filled with all the fulness of God."
The interval from the ascension of Christ to the present day has been occupied by a work of spiritual renovation, carried on by the influence of the word and Spirit of Christ in the world. The work of renewing all things is in ceaseless progress; every true conversion is a regeneration: "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature (or new creation); old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new." Every genuine disciple of Christ has "put off the old man," and "put on the new"; we are renewed in the spirit of our minds, renewed in the image of Him who created us, and created in righteousness and true holiness. This blessed process of spiritual renovation is going forward without cessation all the world over, and those renewed are still further "changed into the image of the Lord from glory to glory," as with unveiled heart they gaze upon the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Though more or less evident by its fruits and effects, the work is in itself one invisible to human eyes, but it is none the less real; the living stones are being ceaselessly built up into a holy temple of the Lord, to be "the habitation of God through the Spirit."
3. THE MILLENNIAL STAGE.-The second and more manifest glorious stage of this renewing work is yet to come; as it was with our Lord, so it is with His people, the moral and spiritual manifestation of the new man comes first, and the physical glorification afterwards. "If the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Jesus from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you"; "as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." When we see Christ "we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." But though the first resurrection will manifest, as nothing else has ever done, the power, grace, and glory of Jesus Christ, it will not complete the work of renovation, for it leaves the nations of the earth still in a state of probation. This co-existence of man in the flesh on earth, with glorified humanity in the Church, is a stumbling-block to many, and hinders their receiving the doctrine of the first resurrection. But why should it be thought a thing incredible with us? Does not this very state of things exist even now? Is not Christ risen from the dead and become "the first fruits of them that slept"? and yet are not His people on earth still in the flesh? and more, are not the bodies of the great majority of them slumbering in the dust? Does not 1 Corinthians xv. clearly show that resurrection takes place in three distinct stages? "Christ the first fruits, afterward they that are Christs at His coming; then cometh the end," when the rest of the dead that rise not in the first resurrection rise to stand before the great white throne.
Coincident with the physical restoration of "the Church of the first born" is the spiritual resurrection or conversion of the natural Israel, just as coincident with the Lords own resurrection was the spiritual regeneration of the Gentile Church; and consequent on the conversion of Israel is the millennial blessing of the wide world, according as it is written, "In thee, and in thy seed, shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." The receiving back of Israel to the favour of God is as "life from the dead" to the world; it is also marked by a beginning of renewal to the earth itself. As the entry of sin at the fall destroyed first the spiritual and then the physical nature of man, and then the earth, which was his habitation, so the redeeming work of God first re-creates man spiritually, then physically, and then restores the earth, which is his dwelling-place. At the first resurrection this takes place partially, but not fully; it is a great stage in the work of renewal, but not the final one, which does not come till -
4. THE ETERNAL KINGDOM.-This is the last stage of the re-creating process, the great final result of the work of redemption, when Christ will in the fullest sense "see of the travail of His soul, and be satisfied"; when God will once more see everything that He has created and made, the result of everything that He has done, and, behold, it will all be, not good simply, but "very good." This stage includes the full and final introduction of the new heaven and the new earth; but here some caution is necessary, lest confusion arise.
There are in Scripture three principal passages which speak of the new heavens and the new earth: the double one in the close of Isaiah, that in the last chapter of the Second Epistle of Peter, and the glorious passage which we are now considering in the two closing chapters of the Apocalypse. Taking these in order, it is evident that the first, in #Isa 65:17, is distinctly millennial in character, and cannot describe the eternal state, for it speaks of a continuance of death as occasional, at any rate, though wonderful longevity will be the rule; for "he that dieth a hundred years old shall be considered only as a child, and the sinner that dies at a hundred years old shall be reckoned as one accursed." On the other hand, the second passage, in #Isa 66:22, as plainly includes the eternal state:
"As the new heavens and the earth which I make shall remain before Me, so shall your seed and your name remain. This promise cannot of course refer to the earth that is said in the Apocalypse to pass away, or describe merely the temporary and transitional millennial state. Hence the expression, "new heavens and earth," is plainly applied both to the condition of things during the millennial stage of the great work of renewal, and to the eternal state which succeeds; it is used alike of the introductory and of the permanent stage of the coming kingdom of Christ and of God. The reason will be evident on a moments reflection. The expression is to a certain extent a symbolic one, and it is also a relative one. In the literal sense there will of course never be "new heavens and a new earth"; the globe of this planet and the sidereal heavens are not to pass away. As Alford says, "the expression does not necessarily suppose the annihilation of the old creation, but only its passing away as to its outward and recognisable form, and its renewal to a fresh and more glorious one. The fleeing away of heaven and earth described in #Rev 20 is described in Peter as their consumption by fire. Both descriptions include the passing away of their present corruptible state, and change to a state glorious and incorruptible."[Alford: "Greek Testament," in loco.]
That this is the case is clear from a careful study of the passage in the Second Epistle of Peter. The apostle speaks here of three worlds. First: "The heavens were made of old by the word of God, and the earth also, which standeth out of the water and in the water; which things being so, the world that then was, being overflowed with water, was destroyed." What was destroyed? Not the globe or the sidereal heavens, but the world that then was, the wicked antediluvian society; the then existing state of things passed away, but the globe, the solar system, and the sidereal heavens remained of course as they were. Secondly, to "the world that then was" he compares "the heavens and the earth which are now," or as Alford renders it, the new heavens and earth; that is, the post-diluvian visible world; and of these he says that at the parousia, or appearing of the day of God, the thousand years of the millennium which is as one day with God, it is destined to be similarly purified, not with water, but with fire; and he adds thirdly, that "we according to Gods promise (alluding evidently to Isaiah) look for a new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." Alford says of this last statement: "Of annihilation there is here no trace; the flood did not annihilate the earth, but changed it, and as the new earth was the consequence of the flood, so the final new heavens and earth shall be of the fire." [Alford: "Greek Testament," in loco.]
Hence it is evident that the expression is a relative one, and that in the case of the earth, just as in the case of the human race, there are several stages in the work of renewal. The present state of things is "a new heavens and new earth," as compared with the antediluvian world; the millennial condition is called such in comparison with the present state of things. The eternal state is emphatically and in the fullest sense, even compared with that millennial condition, "new heavens and a new earth."
[A difficulty has been raised in connexion with the passage in Peter with reference to the coming of the Lord. It is said that it is evident from this passage that His coming will bring, not an earthly millennium, but the end of all things and the dawn of the eternal day, since the heavens are to be dissolved, and the elements to melt with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein are to be burnt up. The answer is that "the day of the Lord," as intimated in the passage itself, lasts for the whole thousand years of the millennium. It is both introduced and closed by fiery judgments, and its course is also characterized by judgment, though not in its destructive sense. It is emphatically the day of award, the day of distinguishing between the righteous and the wicked. The " day of salvation," has already extended over nearly two thousand years; the coming "day of the Lord" is to extend over a thousand. The pre-millennial judgments mark the morning of the day, and the post-millennial mark its evening. Peter presents it as a whole, while the Apocalypse, according to the principle of progressive revelation, distinguishes its parts; the earlier must be read in the light of the later, and not the reverse.] The third great passage on this subject is the one we are considering in Revelation 21 and 22; here the "new heavens and new earth" follow the passing away of the old at the close of the millennial age. "I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. . . . The former things are passed away. And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new." That these are the last, the final and eternal "new heavens and earth," and not the millennial, is clear, though it has sometimes been questioned. The passing away of "the first heavens and earth" is synchronous with the judgment of the dead, who rise not "till the thousand years are ended." The state of things in which there is "no more sea" must be subsequent to that in which "the sea gave up the dead that were in it." Moreover the fact that death and sorrow and crying and pain are never again to intrude on the scene proves that the state of things here portrayed must be subsequent to the "little season" of the loosing of Satan and the post-millennial apostasy and judgment. Here then at last there breaks upon us the vision of the everlasting kingdom of God on earth-the glorious goal of redemption, "the end of the Lord" in all His providential dealings with His fallen creature man. Here we reach the perfected results of the saving work wrought on Calvary- that good, as regards the world, in view of which infinite wisdom saw well to permit the entrance of evil, and its continuance for long ages.
Well may we meditate on the beautiful picture presented in this closing vision, and seek to learn all that may be learnt from its exquisite imagery! The revealing Spirit has to stoop to human incapacity to comprehend the truth, and to picture the inconceivable in symbols which shall convey at least some glimmering perceptions of the blessed, eternal future of the Church, of the race, and of the earth. But the very symbols say, We cannot utter it, and remain themselves to some degree inconceivable! Like the mysterious and glittering Alpine peaks, that appear at times above the clouds that shadow our lower world, bathed in a far-away roseate glow, these closing visions of the heavenly Jerusalem shine with so much of celestial light, that they seem as if they scarcely could belong to earth. Yet we know their base is terrestrial, else why a new heavens and a new earth preparatory to the manifestation of the heavenly Jerusalem? Let us glance at their glories ; though we may not linger to expatiate on them now, it will be ours to rejoice in them to all eternity, for "the vision shall surely come, it shall not tarry." It is evident that this eternal kingdom differs from the millennial in some respects, and resembles it in others; we must consider both the analogies and the contrasts.
1. It differs as Davids reign differed from Solomons; the former was a time of bringing into subjection, and, especially at its commencement and close, of putting down enemies. It was a glorious reign, but a warlike one; a time of conflict with Saul and with Amalek, the Philistines and Moabites, with foreign foes and domestic traitors, until "the day when the Lord delivered David out of the hand of all his enemies, and out of the hand of Saul," and he sang his triumphant song, "Thou hast lifted me up on high above all that rose up against me." Recalling his fathers career after his death, his son Solomon spoke of the "wars which were about him on every side," until the Lord put his enemies "under the soles of his feet." As to himself, Solomon added," The Lord my God hath given me rest on every side, so that there is neither adversary nor evil occurrent" (#1Ki 5:3, 4).
It is thus with the greater than David. When the Son and Lord of David first returns to inaugurate His millennial reign He is represented as a crowned warrior on a white horse; and, in harmony with this attitude of Christ, His saints in the same vision appear as a white-robed army, similarly mounted on white horses. They who, both before and after the millennial reign, are spoken of as "the bride, the Lambs wife," are seen under this strangely contrasted symbol of martial hosts just prior to the commencement of the millennium, and they are seen as enthroned judges, reigning rulers, priestly kings on their thrones during its course. Why this contrast? Because of the different work to be done at the different periods, In the eternal state we are now considering, the subjugation of enemies being over, the Solomon kingdom of perfect peace having come, there being no longer any enemy or evil occurrent, the symbol representing Christ and His saints is changed and becomes altogether different. Unto the new earth there descends a glorious celestial city, a heavenly Jerusalem, a city which is also a bride, a city which forms the tabernacle of God among men.
2. The final kingdom differs again from the millennial in its duration. We no longer read as to the saints of the celestial city that "they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years," but "they shall reign for ever and ever."
3. There is a contrast also in the aspect which the righteous rule of Christ and His saints bears in the later section of the kingdom. In the millennium we read of "ruling with a rod of iron," "breaking in pieces as a potters vessel," "smiting the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips," "slaying the wicked," etc. There are no such statements in connexion with the eternal state; the righteous rule remains, but as there is no longer any evil on earth to be repressed, it bears a wholly different and purely beneficent aspect. "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil," and have nothing but praise for those who do well. But the resemblances between the two stages of the kingdom are, as might be expected, far greater than the differences, for the kingdom is, as it is presented in Daniel, one. Never after His second advent in glory does Christ vacate the throne of this world, or allow a usurper to occupy it as at present. The post-millennial rebellion is but a passing incident in the story of the establishment of the kingdom, and the destruction of death; the last enemy, only marks its transition from its introductory to its permanent form. Its main characteristics remain unchanged; the throne becomes "the throne of God and of the Lamb," instead of being, as in the millennium, distinctively that of Christ the Redeemer; but the heavenly saints still reign as "the bride, the Lambs wife." They are still kings in respect to the nations of the earth, though servants as to God; "His servants shall serve Him," on the one hand, and "reign for ever and ever," on the other. Israel similarly still retains her supremacy on earth, as we learn from many passages in the Old Testament which reveal the perpetuity of her distinctive blessings. "If ye can break My covenant of the day, and My covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season ; then may also My covenant be broken with David My servant, . . . then will I cast away the seed of Jacob," and not till then. "For as the new heavens and the new earth which I shall make shall remain before Me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain". And further, the ransomed and renewed human race will occupy the new earth, for " among the mysteries of this new heaven and new earth this is set forth to us: that besides the glorified Church, there shall still be dwelling on the renewed earth nations organized under kings (#Rev 21:24), and saved by means of the influences of the heavenly city." [Alford: "Greek Testament," in loco.]
This fact, that millennial distinctions reappear in the new heaven and the new earth of the eternal kingdom of God, is one of profound significance and interest; it illustrates the doctrine of Scripture that "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance." His original purpose and act in the creation of man was to place pure and happy human beings in an earthly paradise, to have dominion over the works of His hands. That purpose is here, in the last vision of the last prophecy of Scripture, seen to be realized, and realized notwithstanding all Satans efforts to frustrate it. It is a vision of paradise restored. In the call of Abraham, and in the gift to him and to his seed of peculiar covenant blessings, the purpose of God was to have a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people among the nations of the earth; and in the coming kingdom this purpose also will be fully realized. [#Isa 66:19,21.]
In calling sinners saved to be sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty, His purpose was "that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us through Christ Jesus," that there may be to Him "glory in the Church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end." And this purpose will be triumphantly realized by the position and character of the heavenly saints, the celestial city throughout eternity.
It is undeniable that the closing prophecy of Scripture, the fullest revelation we have as to the eternal kingdom of God, teaches that it has a double character, that it has both earthly and heavenly aspects; there are the nations of the new earth, and there is the celestial city. There is a degree of spiritual heavenly radiance about the latter which is absolutely dazzling, bewildering, inexpressible, in its manifold loveliness and priceless glory. It comes down out of heaven from God; it is the very tabernacle of God; angels watch at its gates; it needs no created light, for the glory of God lightens it, and the Lamb is the light thereof; the river of life flows through its golden streets, and its purity and beauty are as those of "a bride adorned for her husband." Yet utterly unearthly as this New Jerusalem bride is, she has plainly a close connexion with the earth. She is twice over said to descend "out of heaven from God," to or towards the new earth. John beholds her from the summit of an earthly mountain; and we read that "the nations walk in the light of it," and that their "kings bring their honour and glory into it." The blessed inhabitants of the new earth regard this heavenly city as, in a sense, their metropolis, and bring to it the tribute of their honour and greatness. They are to have free access to it, for its gates are never shut at all by day, and there is no night there. The water of the river of life, and the leaves of the trees that grow by its banks, are alike freely given for their benefit. To him that is athirst I will give the water of life freely, and "the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations." [Or "for medicine," not necessarily involving the idea of sickness: may be preventive as well as curative. In a very similar passage in Ezekiel we read, " The fruit thereof shall be meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine."]
These nations must be distinct from the celestial bride, though brought themselves into close and blessed relationship to her. They are some of the subjects over whom the saints reign for ever and ever. Hence we may unhesitatingly affirm that the last and fullest testimony of Scripture on the subject reveals to us that the eternal kingdom of God will be something widely different from the vague heaven of popular theology; that it is to be a kingdom distinctly connected with the globe on which we live, a kingdom in which the subjects will be "nations" of men under their "kings" on the earth, though the rulers will be Christ and His heavenly saints. The "tabernacle of God" will be "with men," and he will dwell with them. Here is heaven indeed, for what can be more heavenly than the very sanctuary of God Himself, the holiest of all, the immediate sanctuary of the Divine glory? But it is a heaven related to the earth; for this "tabernacle of God" is to be "with men," and in it He is to dwell among them, revealed in the risen Christ and His risen saints, who are to form an eternal link between a ransomed humanity and God.
Now this teaching seems to negative an impression which has long prevailed, and prevails widely in the Church still, and which is somewhat rashly assumed to be founded on the clear teaching of Scripture. It is taken for granted, apart from any distinct revelation on the subject, that the issue of the saving work of Christ is to be the salvation of a heavenly Church, and that the resurrection and translation of this Church at the second advent is to be the sole and final result of the redemption of mankind, wrought out by the Son of God on Calvary. As regards this view, it is well to observe, first, that it cannot of course be entertained by any who hold the scriptural doctrine of the pre-millennial advent; that doctrine recognises that the " Church of the firstborn" is translated at the coming of Christ in the first resurrection, and that the conversion of Israel and of the nations of the millennial earth takes place subsequently. No pre-millennialist therefore can hold that the Church of this dispensation, which is to be glorified at the second advent, is inclusive of the whole number of the redeemed, or that no others are to share in the glories of the future. Pre-millennialists have learned to interpret earlier and less detailed predictions in the light of the latest and fullest, and thus to recognise, both as to resurrection and judgment, that what at a distance appeared to be single proves on nearer inspection to be double. This principle must be applied equally to the question of the kingdom of God which we are now considering.
It is perfectly clear that the twentieth chapter of Revelation presents us with three distinct parties co-existing during the continuance of the millennial age.
1. The risen and enthroned saints, who are "priests of God and of Christ," and "reign with Him" (#Rev 20:6).
2. The "camp of the saints," or "the beloved city" (#Rev 20:9), which is evidently the earthly Jerusalem, "not the New Jerusalem, but the earthly city of that name, which is destined yet to play so glorious a part in the latter days." [Alford.] This is evident from the fact that the city is compassed about, and attacked; it is unreasonable to suppose that men would or could attack the heavenly Jerusalem of #Rev 21.
3. The "nations" of the earth, who are delivered from satanic deceptions during the millennium, and afresh deceived at its close, and who fall into the final apostasy. This shows that the threefold distinction at present existing continues through the millennial age at least.
A similar distinction evidently exists also in #Rev 21, though Israel does not there appear clearly distinguished from the nations of the earth; but the difference between the earthly and heavenly saints-the celestial New Jerusalem, and the new earth with its nations and kings- appears as broadly as ever. The expression "the nations" (the ethne) occurs twenty-two times in the Apocalypse, in connexion, first, with pre-millennial times; secondly, with millennial; and thirdly, with post- millennial times. In the first class are such passages as "the nations were angry, and Thy wrath is come," and "the cities of the nations fell," etc.; in the second, the millennial, the word occurs in #Rev 20:3, "that he should deceive the nations no more," and in #Rev 20:8, "he shall go out to deceive the nations"; and then in chapter xxi. we read of the post-millennial earth, "the nations shall walk in the light" [see new version] of the heavenly city, that "the nations bring their honour and glory into it," and that "the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations." These nations present the earthly side of the eternal kingdom, and the New Jerusalem presents the heavenly side.
That the detailed vision of the New Jerusalem (#Rev 21:9 - 22:5) is a description of the post-millennial condition seems evident, first, from the absolute identity of the expressions used in vv. 2 and 10, the same words, in the same order, being employed to describe (?????????????????????????????????????????), "descending out of heaven from God"; secondly, from the statement that there shall be "no more curse" (#Rev 22:3), which the context links with "the nations" of the earth, as well as with the city, and which it is impossible to apply to the millennial condition; and thirdly, from the statement of #Rev 5, "that they shall reign for ever and ever," compared with the contrasted statement about reigning "for a thousand years." The twofold condition of the millennial reign continues therefore into the eternal kingdom.
Now here there arises a deeply interesting and most important question. Does the fact of the foretold existence of post-millennial nations upon earth, in addition to the glorified Church of the first-born symbolized as the New Jerusalem, involve an endless succession of generations of the human race on the earth ? Does it imply that what was apparently the original purpose of God in the creation of man in Eden is still to be realized in the endless future, and that thus there is to be a perpetual increase of the government of Christ in relation to the human race? Or does it confirm the popular view, that the continuance of the human race as such upon this earth is to be brought to a sudden and complete termination at the final judgment?
We will not venture to answer this question with any dogmatic certainty, remembering that "now we know in part, and prophesy in part," and that not till "that which is perfect is come" shall "that which is in part" be "done away." "For now we see through a glass darkly," and where the clear light of revelation is lacking, the greatest caution befits us in dealing with these sacred subjects. But this much is evident, that there are found in Scripture two classes of passages which seem to bear on this subject.
1. There are a considerable number of texts and teachings, prophecies and parables, which seem at first sight to teach the latter view-the simultaneousness of resurrection and judgment, and the entire cessation of terrestrial existence at the day of judgment. As regards the greater part of these passages, we may recall the fact just mentioned, that pre-millennialists have learned to distinguish between the apparent and the real, and to recognise that while they do not teach the doctrine of two stages of resurrection and judgment, yet that they do not contradict it; and the same is true of the entire class as regards this further point. None of them distinctly teach the continuance of the human race in the eternal kingdom upon the earth, but none of them deny it. They can all be harmonized with such a view, should the light of later revelations require it, without any distortion of their statements. #2Pet 3 is a type of this class of passages; and we have shown above that it admits, and even seems to require, the survival of a portion of the human race after the judgment, seeing that it refers to the flood as to a parallel case.
2. The second class of passages, which certainly ought to be allowed their due weight in the formation of any opinion on this great subject, is the very numerous one in which Scripture seems to unfold the prospect of successive generations of redeemed men throughout the ages to come upon the earth, in the same way as the passage which we are considering does.
No limit is either expressed or implied in the original constitution of man: "Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it." The nature of man, unlike that of angels, contains a provision for an ever-multiplying number of objects of Divine beneficence. Limit is distinctly denied in the covenant with Noah, the second father of the human race. "And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish My covenant with you. . . . This is the token of the covenant which I make between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations. The bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth." The Noaic covenant is here declared to be everlasting and "for perpetual generations"; and this covenant is employed in Isaiah as a sample of an enduring promise. The subsequent covenant with Abraham again introduced no limit. "Thou shalt call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him." I will establish My covenant between Me and thee, and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession." In referring to this covenant, the psalmist says, in #Psa 105:8: "He bath remembered His covenant for ever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations. Which covenant He made with Abraham, and His oath unto Isaac; and confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant." This expression of "a thousand generations" is several times repeated. It is found in #Deut 7:9: "Know therefore that the Lord thy God, He is God, the faithful God which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations." And again in #1Chron 16:15 : "Be ye mindful always of His covenant; the Word which he commandeth to a "thousand generations." Now since the ward of God speaks several times over of a thousand generations, and in other passages of perpetual generations, during which man is to be upon the earth; and as the promises of blessing to Israel are continually said to be everlasting,-it becomes a very grave question whether we have any right to restrict promises which seem to be stamped with eternity within the limits of two or three hundred generations, which is all that there is chronological room for between the creation of Adam and the end of the seventh millenary of human history, the millennial sabbath.
[A generation is generally reckoned about thirty-three years, and 33 x 212 = 6,996. So that there are only about 212 generations in 7,000 years-the great week of time.] The duration of the covenant relation granted to Israel, as revealed in these Scriptures ("a thousand generations "), is four times as long as the whole course of human generations up to the close of the millennium; so that it would seem to point forward to successive generations of the new earth in the ages to come. "I will make a covenant of peace with them. . . . I will set My sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore." "And they shall dwell therein, they, and their children, and their childrens children for ever : and My servant David shall be their prince for ever." [#Ezek 37:26, 25.]
Or as the prophet Micah puts it, "The Lord shall reign over them in Mount Zion from henceforth, even for ever." [#Micah 4:7.] In this and a hundred other passages which might be adduced a blessed and endless futurity on earth seems distinctly promised to Israel, the course of their generations being spoken of as co- extensive with the enduring of the sun and moon. The Jews themselves always held, and still hold, that Messiahs kingdom is to be a perpetual one of peace and happiness on earth, and they certainly can quote abundance of Scripture in confirmation of the doctrine. One of the strongest passages in their prophets on the subject is that in #Isa 9, the description of Messiahs titles and sway, in which it is distinctly stated that "of the increase of His government there shall be no end upon the throne of David"; not merely that there shall be no end to His earthly government, but no end of the "increase" of it, i.e. of His subjects.
When again we turn to the New Testament, we find nothing absolutely to contradict, but much to confirm the impression derived from all these Old Testament passages.
The elect Church is Christs "body" and "bride," [#Eph 5:25-33.] and would seem therefore to have a definite completeness of its own. The glorified saints "neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God." The living temple the "habitation of God through the Spirit,"[#Eph 2:22] has also, as the very figure implies, a definite completeness; but that temple is destined to be, as we see from the final vision of Scripture, the glory of a new earth full of redeemed nations.
There is a remarkable expression in #Eph 3, which we have already quoted, in which praise is ascribed to God in the very striking words, "Unto Him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus unto all the generations of the age of ages"; or, as the Revised Version has it, "unto all generations for ever and ever," giving the other as an alternative reading in the margin. No stronger expression could be used to convey the idea of eternity, nor a clearer association of successive generations with eternity; in fact, it would seem as if the force of this expression could be understood only in the light of the last revelation on this subject. It has to be reduced and distorted to make it harmonize at all with the popular view. The same conclusion seems to be implied in the expression to which we have before alluded, "a kind of first fruits of His creatures," and "the Church of the first-born." Both phrases would seem to suggest further and wider accessions to the family of the redeemed; for harvest follows first fruits, and the first-born derives his title from the fact that there are other members in the same family.
That there are difficulties in the way of the reception of this doctrine it were folly to deny. The question, for instance, naturally occurs, If the fountain of humanity is to flow for ever, how can there be room for all its waters? Our planet would, of course, soon overflow. This is no real difficulty, but one resting solely on our present ignorance of the further plans and purposes of God. This globe is not the universe; the Fathers house does not consist of one dwelling-place; the myriad stars of the midnight sky are suns of other systems, and our own stellar universe is all but infinite, to say nothing of the distant nebulae. Is it a thing impossible for God to translate His saints to other scenes? Have we not already had ample indications of His power in this direction? Do we not all expect to be translated ourselves? Do not even men know how to found colonies, and people new and distant lands with the overflow of older ones? Shall we conceive of God as more destitute of resources than His creature man? Would not this same difficulty apparently have arisen had sin never entered paradise? Must not the all-wise Creator have provided against it from the beginning? We need to remember that if we could perfectly understand and map out the whole procedure of the ages to come, the scheme would clearly be human and not Divine! Let us pause where Revelation pauses, nor seek to be wise above what is written; but let us search the Scriptures to see what they do reveal as to the future of humanity, and let our faith rest not on the traditions of men, but on the word of God. It is important for many reasons that our views as to the future of our race should be as clear and definite as Scripture warrants.
Whether we accept this view as to successive generations of mankind in the new earth or not, we cannot in any case escape the conclusion that, just as Scripture distinguishes between the saved and the lost, and between different classes of the one and of the other, so it also distinguishes between the future portion of the Church of Christ, that of the Jewish people, and that of the nations of the earth.
[The servant that knew his lords will, and did it not, is to be beaten with many stripes, but he that knew not with few stripes; and "one star differeth from another star in glory." There are to be rulers over ten cities, and rulers over five.] Too many in their thoughts of the future leave out this last the destiny of the Church of this dispensation figures so largely in their anticipations, that they seem almost to forget that "the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world," and to lose sight of the blessed prospect that, not only is the present Church to be saved out of the ruined world, to become the Eve of the second Adam, but that the ruined earth itself is yet to be renewed, and to become the happy home of saved nations, who participate in the results of redemption.
The narrowness which sees nothing but the salvation of the Church of this dispensation is born of human selfishness, and not of Divine love; it is founded not on the teaching of Scripture, but on tradition and prejudice. The Bible in this, its last revelation on the subject, plainly teaches that while the peculiar glories of the Church are hers, and hers alone, that while the special privileges of the natural seed of Abraham belong to Israel, and to Israel only, that there is also a blessed future awaiting mankind under the gracious government of Immanuel; that one of the effects of the completed work of Christ will be to place the saved nations of the eternal kingdom in a restored paradise, completely delivered from the tempter, and so established in righteousness that the Holy One can take up His abode among them for ever. "He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
The salvation of the Church of this dispensation is not the whole result of the death of Christ. There is to be in addition the establishment for ever of a kingdom of God, in which His will shall be as fully done by men on earth as it is now done by angels in heaven. The consummation, for which we daily pray, is destined to come at last; and holy and happy service, without a flaw and without an interruption, is yet to be rendered to God, not merely by the glorified saints of the new Jerusalem, but by redeemed nations on the earth, who walk for ever in the light of the celestial city.
Such is the sublime vista of the future of our race, and of our earth in the eternal ages, with which Scripture closes.
"THE NEW HEAVENS AND THE NEW EARTH."
And I beheld new heavens and earth, All radiant as the morning sun, Rejoicing on their day of birth; For the first heaven and earth were gone. And Eden spread oer hill and lea Its peace; and there was no more sea.
And I beheld afar in air, Descending out of heaven from God, As a chaste bride adorned and fair, A city mortal never trod, Shining with many a peerless gem,- The pure, the new Jerusalem.
And a great voice from heaven I heard Which said, "Behold, the dwelling-place Of God, the house His hands have reared; That in His glory and His grace He may with men for ever dwell, As God with us, Immanuel.
"For His own hand from every eye Shall wipe away the tears of grief; And none shall languish, none shall die, And perish like the autumn leaf; And pain be at an end for aye, For former things are passed away."
And He that sat upon the throne Spake thus: "Lo, all things I renew !" And bid me write in joyful tone, For faithful are the words and true; And said unto me: "It is done! The First, the Last, am I alone.
"To him that is athirst I give The fountain infinite and free, The flowing spring whose waters live; And his for ever shall it be. Who overcomes hath all things won; I am his God, and he My son.
"But unbelievers, the unclean, The murderer, and man of lust, Unsuited for that holy scene,- The foul, the false, and the unjust,- Are sentenced to that lake of flame Which heaven the second death doth name.
And, lo! an angel, of the seven Whose holy hands the vials bare Of the last judgment acts of heaven, Drew near, and talking with me there, "Come hither," said he, "to my side, And I will show thee the Lambs bride."
And he upbore me to the brow Of a majestic mountain high, Whence, while the world lay far below, He turned my glances to the sky, And made me see a city fair Descending in the ambient air.
She had the glory of her God, Her light was crystalline and clear As shining jasper; round her stood A wall with gates, and angels near Guarded those glistening gates full well, Named from the tribes of Israel.
Three several gates on every side, On east and north, and south and west Her wall had twelve foundations wide, With names inscribed for ever blest; On each foundation was the name Of an apostle of the Lamb.
A golden reed the angel bare To measure the celestial frame; The city formed a mighty square, Its length and breadth and height the same; Twelve thousand furlongs every way The bright and beauteous city lay.
And twelve times twelve he measured more, The stature of the jasper wall; The measure of the reed he bore Was human, yet angelical; The city was of worth untold, All crystal and transparent gold.
How rich were its foundations fair! Chalcedony and chrysolite, And jasper, sapphire, sardius there, And topaz, each with different light, And amethyst, and many a gem Shone in the new Jerusalem.
Its gates were twelve, of lustre white, A single pearl was every gate; Its street was golden, crystal bright; No temple rose in sculptured state; For God Himself, the great I AM, Is all its temple, and the Lamb.
Its light was not the summer sun, The waning moon, the starry sky; The glory of Jehovah shone And streamed through its transparency; His presence made eternal day, The Lamb enlightened it for aye.
The nations of the ransomed earth Shall walk in its transcendent light; And kings shall bring to it their worth, The tribute of their treasures bright; Its gates, for ever open wide, Shall welcome the rejoicing tide.
No falling night or fleeting shade Shall oer its beauty ever come; Nought that defiles or could degrade Shall enter that celestial home; But those who, like the Lambs true wife, Are written in the book of life.
He showed me then a river clear, Untroubled by a warring wave; As crystal did its depths appear, A living flood whose waters lave The city, flowing from the throne Of God and of the Lamb alone.
And by its bank on either side The wondrous tree of life did grow, All central in the city wide, And yielded fruit on every bough; And every month its branches bore Of fruit a different sort and store.
And of the tree of life the leaves Were for the healing of mankind; And not a sin or curse which grieves The earth shall then remain behind: For there the throne of the I AM Shall ever be, and of the Lamb.
And Him in love and liberty They then shall serve, and see His face; His name upon their brows shall be In living characters of grace; His presence there shall banish night; And they shall reign in endless light.