In the last essay we studied Individual Eschatology, which includes the subjects of physical death, spiritual death, immortality of the soul, and the intermediate state. In this essay we shall study General (also known as World) Eschatology. The first matter under this head is the second coming of Christ. We will begin with Heb. 9:26b-28, which reads, “he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. .And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Chris, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Notice that these verses clearly indicate two comings of Christ, the first when he came to die for our sins, and the second, when he will come again to institute his kingdom.
Next, I suggest that you turn to 1 Cor. 15:22-24, which expresses the three eschatological stages of the end time. Those verses read, “For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed every ruler, and every authority and power.”
Notice that all three stages clearly are set forth. First is the resurrection of Christ as the “first fruits” of the end-time resurrection harvest. Then second is the resurrection of those belonging to Christ. And finally, third, after destroying every evil, Christ will hand the kingdom over to the Father.
Now part of that end-time process is the consummation of the kingdom. We already have studied the difference between the present kingdom in which we participate now by faith, and the future end-time kingdom that Christ will consummate when he returns. Of course it is the future, end-time kingdom that is in view here.
There are two aspects to the end-time kingdom, the millennial and the eternal. Rev. 20:4-6 speaks of the millennial kingdom. That passage reads, “Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God.” They had not worshipped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years.”
As you can see, the first phase of the consummated kingdom will be a thousand-year rule of Christ, which is commonly called the millennial kingdom. Christ will resurrect the dead believers (bringing the intermediate state to a close) and reign with them for a thousand years. The second phase will be the eternal phase that will be instituted following the millennium. There will be a final rebellion, and a creation of a new heaven and earth. Rev. 21:1 tells us about the new creation. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” The eternal heaven is associated with this new heaven and earth.
It does not serve our poses in this broad study to go into detail concerning the many biblical passages that deal with heaven. I recommend Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven (Tyndale, 2010), if you wish to delve deeper into the subject.
In my own study I have come to several conclusions. First, heaven will be on the renewed, or recreated, earth. Second, the eternal state of heaven is, will be both superior to and similar to our present experience, as we saw in relation to the intermediate state, Third, there is consciousness there. Fourth, in contrast to the intermediate state, there will be no disembodied souls in the eternal state in the future heaven. In the eternal state all human beings who are there will have spiritual bodies. Fifth, the eternal heaven will be more than a state of mind. That is, it is a genuine existence in a genuine place. Sixth, memory seems to play a part. We saw that even in regard to the intermediate state (Lk. 16). Seventh, the future heaven is life. That is, the people there will be living. This implies growth and development rather than stagnation.
And eighth, the future heaven is a gift from God.
Turning to the concept of hell, the available information is limited. Several images appear in the New Testament to express the horrors of being among those who refuse salvation. For example, following the healing of the centurion’s servant, Jesus spoke about the faithless people in Israel being “thrown into the outer darkness, where they “will weep and gnash their teeth” (Mt. 8:12).
Thus we already see three powerful images, darkness, weeping, and gnashing of teeth. Gnashing of teeth seems particularly offensive to me. It is like fingernails screeching on a blackboard forever.
Then after Jesus told the parable of the wheat and the tares, he said, “The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth” (Mt. 13:41-42).
Here of course the primary image is fire. The Revelation also uses that image. After the defeat of the antichrist and his armies, the antichrist and the false prophet are cast into the “lake of fire.” Later Satan receives the same judgment.
Since these images are so varied, and in some cases, even contradictory (fire and darkness, for example), they probably are not intended to be interpreted literally. The reality of hell is made clear in Mt. 25:41. The saying follows Jesus’ judgment of the sheep and the goats. It reads, “Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” Whatever else hell may be, it means to be cut off from God and God’s influence forever. That is, it is eternal banishment from the presence of God.
I once read that someone said he would prefer to be in hell, because there would be more interesting people there. Right! Take a few moments to think about what it would be like to spend eternity with those “interesting” people with no divine influence whatsoever.
I want to mention one more matter regarding general eschatology. It is the existence of Satan. The name Satan means “adversary.” Of course some people deny the existence of Satan altogether.
Others define Satan as a personification of an evil force. Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, is an example. The play is about the Salem witch hunts. And Miller’s point is that although the Salem people thought they were fighting the evil of Satan by killing witches, the witch hunt itself was the evil.
The orthodox view of Satan and demons is that Satan is a real person, probably a fallen archangel who is in total rebellion against God. He leads a group of demons, also fallen angels, who seek to undermine or destroy the plan of God at every turn (Rev. 12:7-12; Eph. 6:11-12). Their powers on the earth are limited primarily to the ability to tempt free creatures to rebel against God. But if a person gives permission to Satan or his demons to work in or through them, the consequences can be extremely destructive.
Nevertheless the “bottom line” is that the Holy spirit who dwells within us is stronger than the devil and all of his demons. As the apostle John tells us, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4).