The New Testament Scriptures as to the Judgment of the World
We are now free to enter upon the New Testament, unembarrassed by the questions which would otherwise divert us too far from the study of the special texts which we shall now have to consider. And in order to pursue our study of the subject with more clearness, we shall first seek to separate from the texts which speak of final judgment those which speak of the judgment of the living when the Lord appears.
We have already looked at this from the side of the Old Testament, as it is indeed a point of main concern throughout it. But the New Testament, while going beyond the Old as far as the literal sense extends, does not by any means lose sight of the coming judgment at the appearing of the Lord. The millennial blessing as to the earthly part of it is indeed very briefly touched on, and the blessings in heavenly places are substituted for this, Christian promises instead of Jewish ones. And in accordance with this the judgment coming on the earth is more a solemn warning to the impenitent and unbelieving, than as connected with the hope of the saints themselves.
The Jewish promises being earthly, necessarily, for those who are to inherit them, the earth must be delivered from what defiles and destroys it. Israel 's foes must be put down with the strong hand of power, that they may be nationally saved, and inherit the earth. Christians, on the other hand, rightly expect to be with the Lord in heaven in the Father's house according to His promise (John xiv. 1-3). Their part in the millennial kingdom is to reign over the earth with Christ, but this is not to be confounded with living on it.
It is not, of course, possible here to dwell upon the points in controversy between so-called premillennialists, and the advocates of a merely spiritual reign. Still it will be found that the connection of truth is everywhere so intimate in Scripture that a wrong view as to the millennium may confuse many an otherwise clear passage of the gravest importance as to the present question. As already said, the putting off the Lord's coming to the end of the millennium confounds together two wholly different epochs of judgment. But what has been already urged as to this must suffice us now. The texts which apply to the judgment of the living in the New Testament in general present no special difficulty.
(1.) First, in the Baptist's words we have Israel, I doubt not, purged by judgment at the coming of the Lord. "He will thoroughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire". It is a figure of judgment wholly inconsistent with hope for those condemned as "chaff." Annihilationists would naturally claim it as a figure of utter destruction, and so it is. But then a figure and what it figures are as different things as here the "chaff" is from the men compared to them. This is what these writers constantly ignore. They argue from the literal effect of material fire as if the fire, the thing subject to it, and the effect itself were not all in some respects as much contrasted as compared. Material destruction is not a FIGURE of material destruction. It must figure something else.
Not of course its spiritual opposite: and here it is that universalism of all grades so completely fails. Material destruction cannot figure spiritual restoration. It is wholly and absolutely opposed to this. But it figures spiritual destruction on the other hand, and not material; and here annihilationism of all grades fails as completely.
When God's wrath is the fire and man its object, who can argue that the necessary effect will be his material destruction? Certainly it must be argued at least on some other ground than this. And this has been attempted accordingly, Isa. lvii. 16 being quoted in the random and careless way, I must say not unusual with them, to show that "the spirit would fail before" His constant anger, "and the souls that He had made." But this is said, in the style of the Old Testament which we have before insisted on at length, of death as the effect upon mortal man here, and has no reference to that judgment which is beyond death itself. The argument is therefore inadmissible. I have shown before what man's utter destruction is. It is his perishing from the place for which he was naturally made and fitted, and this by the wrath of God because of sin: this solemn judgment it is that may find its figure in the chaff burned in the fire. No material destruction can be argued from it.
Here the perishing even from the earth may be intended, for a similar figure is often used in the Old Testament when God's wrath takes away living men. And to the judgment of the living the words here apply. Yet in this case eternal judgment is so closely connected with it, that I see no use in separating between them.
(2.) In Matt. xxii. 13 we are warned of the judgment at the Lord's coming. The time is when the king comes in to see the guests invited and presenting themselves at the marriage-feast. The scene is earthly: no guest will find his way into heaven and be turned out. But here there is no figure even of destruction. The judgment is, "Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." I need only refer to a similar picture in ch. viii. 12.
Here "darkness" is not annihilation, even in figure. There can be none as punishment where there is no eye to behold light if it were there. In ch. xxv. 30 the unprofitable servant is adjudged to the same thing; and in Jude 13, we shall find it again in stronger language used for an eternal doom.
(3.) I pass over the separation of the sheep from the goats, because although it is really the judgment of living people when Christ comes, the terms of it connect it plainly with the final judgment. We shall examine it therefore in another place. Luke xix. 27 again refers to the Lord's coming, and presents no difficulty.
(4.) Luke xx. 18 is again one of those pictures in which material destruction figures another thing. I need scarcely repeat what I have just now said about a parallel case.
(5.) We may pass on now to 2 Thess. i. 7-9, upon which we shall dwell somewhat longer. It manifestly speaks of a time "when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He shall come to be glorified in His Saints," etc.
Mr. Dobney has the most fully of all writers that I know examined this passage in behalf of annihilationism. I shall therefore follow his argument as to it. He brings Whitby and Macknight forward to show that the "literal sense" appeared so manifestly the true one to these expositors that even they "had to adopt it to the fullest extent their mental philosophy would allow," and admit that the "utter destruction of the bodies [of the wicked] without any hope of their regaining new bodies" is involved in the passage. And Mr. D. presses that "beyond dispute, the sinner in his entireness can be destroyed literally; and if the word has any literal force at all in this passage, it comes in all its tremendous fulness against the whole man, and not merely against a part of his nature."*
*Scripture Doct. of Fut. Punishment, pp. 216, 217.
Now here is an instance of the value of a little knowledge of what the Bible says as to the close of the present order of things. Had Dr. Whitby been a pre-millennialist instead of being as opposed to it as it is well known he was, he would have understood the absolute impossibility of "everlasting destruction" being what he would make it. For the passage says plainly that this takes place at Christ's appearing, - before the millennium therefore, and more than a thousand years before the resurrection of the wicked. In this last all the dead not raised at the first resurrection are to rise. It is impossible then that these could have been (in that sense) eternally destroyed, and so never to rise, a thousand years before. To any one who holds therefore to a true millennium, and Christ's coming before it, this text alone should be decisive that "everlasting destruction" is not annihilation. Thus error is linked with error, and truth with truth.
I need not follow Mr. Dobney in his further remarks upon the expression "from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power," as I do not take this to mean "away from." I am quite content to accept Mr. Hudson's reference to "the times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord" as a parallel instance of the use of that phrase. In either case the "presence of the Lord" is what brings whether the judgment or the blessing. But I cannot allow so easily his remarks upon "everlasting." I believe with his Eclectic reviewer that "the apostle in speaking of everlasting destruction, means to describe something which has continuance as a state of suffering, and not extinction of being."
But I must be permitted to state my own reason for this, which is outside all Mr. Dobney's argument. For, supposing this awful penalty to be inflicted after resurrection, "destruction" alone would be sufficient (if a material destruction) to convey the whole thought, and the addition of "everlasting" would be redundant. Annihilation would be, after resurrection, necessarily everlasting, for there is no repetition of resurrection, and "everlasting annihilation" has no proper sense. If before resurrection, then, as I have said, the resurrection afterwards would sufficiently show it was not "everlasting'"
I have shown besides that "destruction" is not what Mr. D. and his associates mean by it.
(6.) In the next chapter we have another judgment which takes place at the same time, but the special destruction of the "wicked one". Without entering too much into particulars, which would divert us too from our present aim, it is evident that we have in this "wicked one" a person exalting himself above God, and claiming to be God Himself; and whom "the Lord Jesus shall consume with the breath (pneuma) of His mouth, and annul (katargeo) with the manifestation (or appearing) of His presence (epiphaneia hautou parousia). The words are a partial quotation from Isa. xi.: "and there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots; and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him; ...with righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth; and He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked (one)". If any one doubt who or what is in question here, let him follow on this quotation, and he will find a familiar picture of millennial days when "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb," and also Israel and Judah be brought from the four corners of the earth and finally united together.
Thus we have, both in Isaiah and Thessalonians, a premillennial judgment of this "wicked one." In the latter we are distinctly told it is at the appearing of Christ's presence. Words could hardly more emphatically declare a personal, not a merely spiritual, coming. The wicked one is then to be "consumed" and "annulled," in the day when the rod of iron shall smite (and yet to heal) the earth.
Now, if we turn for a moment to Rev. xix., we shall find there (as I have before briefly argued) Christ's coming to the earth. It follows the marriage of the Lamb in heaven; and upon the white-horsed warriors who follow their Head and Lord we see the same white linen which before clothed the bride, and which is interpreted for us as the "righteousness of saints" (ver. 8). It is a figure of course, but a very intelligible figure, of Christ's appearing with His saints; and, as the sword out of His mouth to smite the nations answers on the one hand to Isaiah's "rod of his mouth," so among the objects of the judgment we have two leaders, one of which (it does not matter for our purpose which) is generally allowed to be "the wicked one." Indeed, it seems hardly possible for one who believes in any harmonious interpretation of the word of God to doubt this. The history of the beast and false prophet is given in chapters 13-17 of the book, in close correspondence with what is said in Thessalonians, and there could hardly be a third person at the same time on earth, who could take the place that these do.
But what then is the "consumption," or "annulling," or even "slaying" (putting to death) of this wicked one? "These both were cast alive into a lake of lire burning with brimstone," and there they are found still alive a thousand years afterwards!
We shall have to return to this again. But here at least how fully evident that to be "consumed," "annulled," and "put to death," even, when applied to the final judgment of the wicked, do not mean material destruction or annihilation at all. Let Mr. Constable and others, instead of indulging in a priori reasoning as to the force of the words, only examine the interpretation of them by the facts of Scripture, and they will soon have indisputable proof that the general sense of Christendom has not been so far astray as to these common words of not very recondite meaning. Nor are they badly suited to convey just what they have conveyed to generations of at least ordinary intelligence as to the every day speech they used.
I do not know of any other passages referring to the judgment of the living which can cause any difficulty, save one which has been reserved for future consideration.
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