Part 3 The Eternal Issues

Chapter 24.

The Purification and Blessing of the Earth

Let us now seek to arrive at some definite conclusion as to the prophetic future portrayed in the Old Testament. It is quite necessary to do so in order properly to understand the predictions of coming judgment which are scattered through its pages.

First then, the horizon is earthly, and extends neither to heaven nor to hell. It is recognized that the souls of the departed exist indeed in Sheol, but that it is as yet a land of darkness, unexplored and little known to living men. It is recognized, too, that there will be a resurrection, and the Redeemer will stand in the latter day upon the earth, and Job in his flesh will see him. But there is no dwelling in heaven openly revealed, and no hell, in the true sense. I do not say there were no beliefs upon these points, but we shall consider these hereafter.

A text or two here will give us the Old Testament range.

First, what the psalmist says: — "The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord's; but the earth has He given to the children of men" (Ps. 115:16). There is no other statement anywhere than that, save that as a matter of fact, Enoch had not died, but the Lord had taken him; and Elijah, too, had gone up in a chariot of fire to heaven. But there is no statement anywhere that heaven is to be man's dwelling-place. God dwells there, but into his "hill" the righteous ascend, and in His "holy place" on earth they stand (Ps. 24:3, comp. ver. 1). Zion is where Jehovah rests forever (Ps. 132:13-14).

Then as to judgment or reward: — "For evil-doers shall be cut off; but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be; yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be. But the meek shall inherit the earth, and delight themselves in the abundance of peace" (Ps. 37:9-11).

Again: "The righteous shall be recompensed in the earth; much more the wicked and the sinner" (Prov. 11:31).

This is the universal strain. The God of judgment is going by judgment to purify the earth, and make it the abode of righteousness and peace. Transgressors are to be rooted out of it. The whole earth is to be full of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

These are the promises. But whose? Mark well, there is not one word yet of the Father's house or of the heavenly places. The inheritance is of earth only. The prospect is what we are accustomed to call millennial. Whose then are these Old Testament promises? If I take the Old Testament itself, they are Israel's. "Israel shall bud and blossom, and fill the face of the earth with fruit." "But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills, and people shall flow unto it. And many nations shall come and say, Come, and let us go up unto the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths; for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine, and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it" (Isa. 27:6; Micah 4:1-4).

Thus sealed with Jehovah's seal is Israel's claim to the Old Testament promises. If still we doubt, let the apostle of the Gentiles assure us whether we are to read the name typically or literally here. "For I was wishing," says he, "that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh; who are Israelites, to whom pertaineth the adoption and the glory and the covenant, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, AND THE PROMISES" (Rom. 9:3-4). If we have no doubt then, as to who were Paul's kinsmen according to the flesh, we can have none as to whose are these Old Testament "promises." They are literally Israel's, spite of her present dispersion and casting off. For this she must of course be gathered and converted; and so she shall be, but it is interesting and important to ask when this national restoration and conversion shall be.

Scripture leaves us in no doubt either upon this point. The same apostle intimates to us, what seems so strange and hard to be received now, that it will not be by the going forth of the gospel as at present; that the partial blindness of Israel will not cease, and "all Israel" — the nation as a whole — will not be saved, "until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in." "As concerning the gospel," he adds, "they are enemies for your sakes; but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance" (Rom. 11:25-29).

Thus the divine purpose holds, announced in the ancient Scriptures. God has not disinherited the people of His choice. Yet for the present blindness in part is theirs, and they are enemies (God is holding them as such) with regard to the gospel. Not till the full number of the Gentiles is brought in by it will "all Israel" be saved.

And then, how, if not by the gospel? Scripture answers (Zech. 12:10–13:1): "They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born: in that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem … and the land shall mourn, every family apart… In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness."

When shall they see Christ thus, and how? With the mental eye only, or actually? That too is answered: —

"Behold, He cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him, and they also WHO PIERCED HIM, and all kindreds of the earth" — or "tribes of the land," as the Greek might read — "shall wail because of Him."*

{* Kopsontai ep auton pasa hai phulai tes ges (Rev. 1:7). It is well known that in Greek, as in some other languages, there is one word which stands for "earth" and "land." I do not insist on the latter, for it is quite according to the character of the New Testament to be of greater breadth than the Old. But the reference to Zech. 12:10 cannot be doubted.}

Here then is Israel's national repentance, and how it is produced. It is then, when the Lord Jesus comes, their eyes shall see Him, and thus Israel's blessing, and that of the earth, follows, not precedes, that for which we as Christians wait, to receive the fulfilment of heavenly, and not earthly, promises. We thus see how it is that the gospel, as now going forth, will have to come to an end, and the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. All is consistent here, for it is true; and the present gospel dispensation is thus seen to be an interval in Israel's prophetic history, a time of the suspension of her promises, only suspended, to find, as soon as this has run out, their full accomplishment.

And this is the uniform tenor of Scripture. The last chapter of Zechariah proves convincingly that the Lord God and His holy ones will have come, and His feet have stood on the Mount of Olives, before He is "King over all the earth," and "in that day shall there be one Lord, and His Name one."

The second psalm also speaks with perfect plainness of the heathen being given to Christ for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession; but often and rightly as that is quoted as a millennial prophecy, it is not always as clearly seen that, to take possession, He must "break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." And Revelation adds distinctly the promise to him that overcometh, that he shall share with the Lord this rod of iron (Rev. 2:25-27).

Thus again, therefore, when in the visions of the latter part of the book, the Lord is seen coming forth from heaven to the judgment of the earth (Rev. 19), it is after the marriage of the Lamb has taken place in heaven; and the armies of heaven that follow the white-horsed rider are clad with the covering of the bride herself — that fine linen which is the "righteousness of saints." Then follows that millennial picture with which we must become more familiar at a future time.

All this is impossible to enlarge on now. But it needs to be seen in order to get rightly hold of two very different epochs of judgment which, if confounded, confuse the whole subject of the prophetic future. There is a judgment of the quick, and a judgment of the dead; and these are quite distinct from one another. The judgment of the living is at the coming of the Lord, and before the millennium. The judgment of the dead is after it, not when the Lord comes to the earth, but when the earth and the heavens flee away (Rev. 19, 20). The judgment of the living is the purification of the earth in order to its blessing, and that the meek may inherit it, as we have partly seen. The judgment of the dead is the final award at the close of all, when the object, is finally to give every one not a sharer in the "first resurrection" his discriminate award.

It is of the judgment of the living that the Old Testament passages speak, which predict in so many ways the destruction of the wicked. As we have seen, its predicted future is of earthly blessing, which such a judgment is needed to produce. While the obstinately wicked perish out of it God's judgments cause the inhabitants of the world to learn righteousness (Isa. 26:9). Then our Melchizedek becomes the Prince of peace; but still the character of millennial times is righteous authoritative rule, in which (if we are to take Scripture simply) the saints of the first resurrection reign with Him,* who is the manifest King of kings, and Lord of lords.

{* Rev. 3:21 may help some to distinguish between a throne in which Christ now sits, and which, being the throne of absolute Godhead, the Father's throne, mere man can never share, and a throne which as Son of man He calls His own (Rev. 1:13), and which He promises to share with the overcomers here.

The future millennial kingdom is thus clearly distinguished from the kingdom of Christ as Son of God (Col. 1:13) in which we now are. That future one is when He takes His great power and reigns in order to bring everything into subjection to God and, having accomplished this, He delivers it up to the Father (1 Cor. 15:24).

One other caution. The reign of the saints with Christ over the earth does not imply a return to a fleshly condition, the gross Chiliasm of many of the ancients. The heavenly and earthly spheres are always separate, whatever the links of connection in that time when the new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven.}

There is one glimpse beyond this millennial condition in Old Testament prophecy, but it is only a glimpse. The Lord (in Isa. 65:17, Isa. 66:22) announces: "Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind." The next verses return evidently to the millennial condition, before sin and death are finally done away. Again, He identifies the new earth with Israel's promises: "For, as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain." But this verse, too, is parenthetical, and the next again returns to the millennium. It is plainly, however, to these passages that the apostle Peter refers, when he says, "We, according to His promise, look for new heavens* and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Peter 3:13). The only expansion of this is in Rev. 21:1-5. We cannot dwell upon it now. It is only adduced as giving us the full range of Old Testament prophecy.

{*Only the atmospheric heavens, which are dissolved with the earth.}

As I have said, it is to the purificatory judgment of the earth, which introduces the millennial blessing, that a mass of passages relate, which are brought forward to prove the extinction of the wicked. When only one "day of judgment" is thought of, and that the judgment of the dead after their resurrection, such passages do indeed seem to have force in this way. But it is gone as soon as we perceive their true application. And this is as true of some New Testament passages, as it is universally of the Old. It is only of the Old we are speaking now. Let us consider some of these texts, and they will illustrate the truth of the statements we have been advancing.

1. The Psalms abound in reference to this time. Passing over the second and eighth, which connected give us the prophetic outline, let us look at some more detailed statements in the ninth:*

{*The second psalm has been already referred to the eighth is applied by the apostle (Heb. 2:5-8) to Christ's reign in the "world to come." That this term applies to earth, not heaven, this eighth psalm witnesses, as does the expression of the apostle, ten oikoumenen ten mellousan, "the habitable (earth) to come," the expression translated "world" in Luke 3:1.}

"For Thou hast maintained my right and my cause; thou satest in the throne judging right. Thou hast rebuked the heathen, Thou hast destroyed the wicked; Thou hast put out their name forever and ever… But the Lord shall endure forever: He hath prepared His throne for judgment: and He shall judge the world in righteousness, He shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness… Sing praises to the Lord, which dwelleth in Zion; declare among the people His doings… The wicked shall be turned* into Sheol: all the nations that forget God."

{* Goodwyn's attempt at an argument from this word is a specimen of the kind of criticism we meet with in such writers: —

"David says by the Holy Ghost, 'The wicked shall be turned back (shoov) into (sh'ol) the grave, and all the nations that forget God.' Having been raised from sh'ol to appear before the great white throne, death relaxes not his claim upon them, but in the eternal embrace of the second, supplements his temporary hold at the first."

This is pure imagination. There is nothing about the resurrection of the dead in the passage, but the destruction of living enemies; nothing about the great white throne, but God dwelling in Zion; while the "turned back" refers to the 3rd verse, where the same word is used: "when mine enemies are turned back," i.e., from their assault upon the people of God.}

These words need no interpreter, if we will only read them literally as they stand, and not supplement them with other statements which have to do with a very different subject.

The thirty-seventh psalm has been more than once referred to. It should be carefully read in connection with our present theme. But pass on to the fifty-eighth, and listen to language which people quote of eternal punishment; it is again judgment upon living enemies: —

"Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth; break out the teeth of the young lions, O Lord. Let them melt away as waters which run continually; when he bendeth his bow to shoot his arrow, let them be as cut in pieces. As a snail which melteth, let every one of them pass away; like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun. Before your pots can feel the thorns, He shall take them away, both living, and in His wrath. The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance; he shall wash his footsteps in the blood of the wicked. So that a man shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous: verily, He is a God that judgeth IN THE EARTH."

In a similar way speak Ps. 83, Ps. 101, Ps 118, Ps. 144; but there is no use quoting testimony of the same kind repeatedly. But we must look a little at the prophets.

Isaiah describes in his first chapters "the day of the Lord of hosts" upon the pride of man, and here again we find similar expressions: —

"Therefore saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies; … Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness; and the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed."

Again (Isa. 11): —

"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 slay the wicked."

Then follows a well-known picture of millennial peace and of the regathering and reunion of Ephraim and Judah.

Ezekiel gives us the principle of these judgments, and applies them to God's dealings with Israel; see especially ch. 33. But even to refer to the passages which treat of the judgments themselves would fill up our space unduly. The theme is that of the prophets generally, but as a necessary step towards that blessing of Israel and the earth which fills everywhere the landscape of the future. One last testimony from the closing prophecy of the Old Testament is often quoted of eternal judgment, and with that we may leave the subject: —

"For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings; and ye shall go forth and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts" (Mal. 4:1-3).

Now this is, as stated, the time of the earth's day-dawn: the time when the sun rises. It is now "night," although a night "far spent." This harmonizes the pas sage (which has no exceptional difficulty) with all the other prophecies of the same time. It is earth's judgment in order to earth's blessing.

We have still to look at the bearing of the typical system of the Old Testament upon our present subject.