- Published: 17 April 2011
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I believe that it's much simpler than you think, however, it does require the re-evaluation of a common belief among Christians.
Jesus indicates that we all (all of mankind, believers and unbelievers alike) will be raised again to stand before the throne of God and receive our judgement. At that time he will separate the goats (on the left) from the lambs (on the right), at which point the lambs will go on to eternal life with God and the goats will die the second death. Most people will have died a first death (except those who are alive at the gathering/return). The unbelievers will die a second death. The believers will not see the second death. The belief that confuses people is this: The idea that people go directly to heaven when they die is comforting, but not scriptural. Jesus said of both Lazarus and the dead young girl that he raised from the dead that they were "sleeping". People have used the reference of Christ speaking to the other being crucified, "I say unto you, this day you will be with me in paradise." However, Jesus says to Mary when he is resurrected three days later, "Do not touch me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father who is in Heaven", so that is inconsistent. There were no commas in the original Greek or Aramaic, so the comma was added later. Now move the comma and read it again,"I say unto you this day, you will be with me in paradise." Now it is in harmony.
Search the scriptures and see if that does not fit.
Thank you for your time.
God bless you and thank you for writing. We agree with you that the notion of "people go directly to heaven when they die is comforting, but NOT Scriptural" and that all believers who have died are sleeping awaiting the return.
1Co 15:20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
1Co 15:23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.
But as for the second death to get at a Scriptural answer we should not take the simple approach because we then create for ourselves a huge problem in that the saved are already risen prior to the white throne of judgement and are already with the Lord and found righteous in Him.
Let's first get a greater understanding of:
The first occurrence of the words aionion life is in Matt. xix.16, "Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have aionion life." It will be observed that "doing good" is directly associated with "having aionion life." The Lord, it is true, corrects the error contained in the loose usage of the word "good," but does not correct the idea that good works, or keeping the commandments, were necessary for the attainment of this life, for He said:-
- "If thou wilt enter into the life (the article seems to indicate the life under consideration, namely, aionion life), KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS."
One cannot help comparing these two expressions together, and asking whether they both refer to the same thing. In verses 27-29 Peter asks a question arising out of the failure of the young man, and is answered, and there again a twofold description is given of the result of "forsaking all and following." To the disciples the Lord held out the prospect of sitting upon twelve thrones in the regeneration, and supplements that by a promise to "every one that hath forsaken...," that they "shall receive an hundred-fold, and shall inherit aionion life." Here, in place of "treasure in heaven," is found "sitting on thrones" and "receiving a hundred-fold." We must also bear in mind that the Lord did not say that a rich man could not enter into the kingdom of heaven, but that he would only enter with great difficulty.
It will be observed that the Lord uses the word "inherit" with aionion life. He never misused words, and it will be our wisdom to keep this idea of an inheritance before us as we continue our study. Mark and Luke record the incident of the rich young man, and in their Gospels the word "inherit" is used by the young man himself. Readers must not think this to be a discrepancy. The young man in all probability spoke Aramaic, and the Holy Spirit has given us in the translation two Greek words, "to have" and "to inherit," to help us to understand the meaning of the term. Mark's record clarifies our conception somewhat as may be seen by the following slight variation from Matthew's record, Mark x.17-31, "what shall I do that I *may inherit* aionion life?"
We have heard it said that the young man was very wrong to have boasted that he had "kept all these things from his youth up," yet Mark tells us that when the young man had made this statement, "Jesus beholding him, loved him, and said, One thing thou lackest, etc."
Yet one other item is explained by Mark and Luke. Matt. xix.29 leaves us with no settled knowledge as to when the "hundredfold" should be received. The record in Mark is very explicit, "he shall receive a hundred-fold *now* in this time,...and *in the coming age* life aionion." So also in Luke xviii.30. Luke records two occasions when the Lord was definitely asked the way to obtain aionion life. In chapter xviii. we read of the rich young ruler as in Matthew and in Mark, and in Luke x.25-28 a certain lawyer asks the question tempting Him, but to him also it was shown that inheriting aionion life is linked with doing the commandments.
Many have felt how diametrically opposed to the way of justification and life these passages are to the doctrine revealed through Paul, and, failing to discern the things that differ, they have attempted to make the Lord teach the rich young ruler that aionion life was to be attained only by faith and not by works. In no other branch of study would such biassed reading be tolerated. Nothing is clearer than that aionion life was connected with doing, keeping, forsaking, and following. Matthew, writing with the kingdom of the heavens before him, uses aionion life with special reference to that period. The Lord Himself links it with the kingdom and the regeneration, and the time when He shall sit upon the throne of His glory. Once again, and only once, He refers to that throne, and it is there we find the next and last reference in Matthew to aionion life. Matt. xxv.31,32, "He shall sit upon (the) throne of His glory and before Him shall be gathered all the nations." The nations are divided into two sections, the one section hear the words, "Come ye blessed of My Father, INHERIT the kingdom prepared for you since the overthrow of the world...the righteous into life aionion." Here it will be seen that these nations "inherit a kingdom," are "righteous," and enter into "aionion life." What is the basis of the entry? We unhesitatingly say, with the scripture before us, works! This is the Lord's own explanation. "FOR I was an hungered...thirsty... Then shall the RIGHTEOUS answer Him saying, Lord, when saw we Thee an hungered...... thirsty, etc. ?" They had done it unto His brethren, and were not conscious that it was received by the Lord as being rendered unto Himself. This therefore rules out the idea often read into the passage that it was an act of faith; faith does not enter into the passage. The rest of the nations are addressed as "Ye cursed," and while the righteous inherit the prepared kingdom, they enter the prepared fire, "aionion fire prepared for the devil and his angels." "These shall go away into aionion punishment."
The basis for this punishment is the exact negation of the kind deeds shown by the righteous. This is the Lord's own explanation. "FOR I was an hungered...thirsty... Then shall they also answer Him, saying, Lord, when saw we Thee an hungered...thirsty, etc."
The way in which the Lord deals with these two classes shows how exactly He will keep to the law, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Failure to observe this cost these nations the kingdom and aionion life. Instead, they received aionion punishment in aionion fire. The relation which is observed between the subject of aionion life and the set of parables under consideration in other articles is important.
The parable which precedes the first reference to aionion life in Matthew is the parable of the wicked unforgiving servant. He is delivered to the tormentors (same root as the word used so often in the Revelation), till he should pay all that was due. This is parallel with the passage in Matthew v.26, "Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing." The parable which immediately follows Matt. xix., and which commences with the word "For," is the parable of the householder and vineyard where the penny a day seems to be in the parable what the aionion life is in the plain statement of xix.29.
The parable that immediately precedes the last reference to aionion life in Matthew is the parable of the faithful and unprofitable servants. The faithful enters into the joy of his Lord, the unprofitable servant is cast into outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. All these parables have service or manner of life before them, with their consequent rewards and punishments. It is so with regard to the way in which aionion life, punishment, and fire are used in Matthew.
There are many who do not hesitate to affirm that the aionion fire of Matt. xxv. is the second death of Rev. xx.14. Color is given to this interpretation by the fact that in Rev. xx.10 we read that:-
- "The devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet (are), and they shall be tormented day and night unto the ages of the ages."
There is a special emphasis upon "the overcomer" in the Revelation and it should be kept in mind when considering the meaning of the passages relating to punishment. Note the alternatives in the addresses to the seven churches in chaps. ii. and iii. So far as we can understand the term, aionion life may be for a limited period, and may end. Life in Christ is another matter, and must on no account be confused with it.
In Matt. vii.14, and xviii.8,9 are the only other references to "life" found in Matthew. We there learn of the "strait gate and narrow way that lead to life" with its alternative "destruction"; and in xviii.8,9 we read that it is better to enter into life halt, or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into the aionion fire. This *aionion fire* is further interpreted for us by the fact that the next verse says, "rather than having two eyes to be cast into *the Gehenna* of fire." The danger of the Gehenna of fire is first mentioned in Matt. v.22; a parallel passage with xviii.9 is found in Matt. v.29,30. The destruction of soul and body is referred to Gehenna in x.28 (this should be considered over against the losing of the soul in Matt. xvi.25, mistranslated "life"). The proselytes of the Pharisees and Scribes are spoken of as children of Gehenna, and the Pharisees and Scribes are asked, "How can ye escape the judgment of Gehenna?" (Matt. xxiii.33). Gehenna occurs only in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and James. It is exclusively used in connection with the kingdom, and never comes into sight in the Church Epistles; it is the divine explanation of the aionion fire as used by Matthew. Enough has been shown that aionion life and aionion punishment as found in Matthew have an entirely different aspect from that evangelical offer of life connected solely with faith in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. Neither faith nor the atonement are ever in view in the passages we have been studying.
While no human judge could possibly condemn or exonerate a prisoner on the grounds of what he would have done, the Judge of all the earth sees the thoughts and intents of the heart? What a light this may throw upon the superficial inequality of human experience and opportunity:
- To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality (God will render), eternal life ... (For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel (Rom. 2:7-16).
- If the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? (Rom. 2:26).
- Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life (5:18).
Again, speaking of Adam, the apostle said:
- As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive, but every man in his own order (1 Cor. 15:22,23).
- And if anyone was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15 author's translation).
What we have aimed to demonstrate that while there is a sphere of blessing wherein faith is dominant, there are other spheres where faith is either not mentioned or where it appears to be impossible of exercise in the circumstances. All, whatever their calling, whether under grace, under the law, or without the law, whether they have heard and believed or whether ignorant alike of either gospel or the law, all who shall be saved, are saved solely by the merits of the Redeeming Sacrifice of the Son of God, however diverse may be the ways in which their interest in Redeeming Love may be manifested.
Starting with the widest possible extension of Divine Mercy we note:
- Those whose names will be found in the Book of Life at the time of the end are there, not by reason of faith or works, but because they were In Adam, and form a part of the true seed, a seed placed in contrast with the seed of the Serpent or children of the wicked one. This is the most comprehensive division of mankind known to the Scriptures. These enter into their sphere of blessing at the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11-15), just before the new heaven and new earth as seen by the apostle, at which point of time the ages end and the goal of the ages is attained.
- Those who died in Adam are made alive in Christ and while they do not receive abundance of grace and reign in life, nevertheless receive as a free gift a justification of life and enter their spheres of blessing in their own order; those who are called the firstfruits= , anticipating them at the resurrection of the just.
- The unevangelized heathen, and those nations that never came under the illuminating light of the law of Moses. Those peoples that saw no miracles and yet acting according to the law written on their hearts sought for glory, honor and immortality are not necessarily lost -- al= l will be judged, with their secrets, their thoughts and intentions, wha= t they would have done under more favorable circumstances. Many of these too will attain unto age-abiding life, probably together with those nations so adjudged when the Lord sits upon the throne of His glory, and divides the nations as a shepherd divides his sheep and goats, as recorded in Matthew 25.
- The nations of the earth that have had direct contact with Israel numbering among them Egypt and Assyria, as well as those unnamed nations already mentioned as found in Matthew 25. These too have a place of blessing in the day to come (Isa. 19:24,25).
- The Nation of Israel, even though enemies at present as concerning the gospel, must be saved because the gifts and calling of God are without repentance (Rom. 11:28,29).
- The association of believing Gentiles with the hope of Israel, is a peculiar characteristic of the ministry of reconciliation which was exercised by the apostle Paul during the first part of his ministry.
- The great outside world, compared to the highways and the by-ways, is evangelized by the ministry of the gospel according to John. Its great blessing is life, and little is said about any particular sphere of blessing or of calling.
- Last of all, and central in the structure of the Divine purpose, is the prison ministry of Paul, with its revelation of the Mystery, the hidden secret of the heart of God; reserved until the people of Israel passed off the scene, and the kingdom of Israel became temporarily suspended. This is the calling of the present period, and it is the desire to make all men see what is the dispensation of the Mystery (Eph. 3:9 R.V.), that prompts us in the preparation of this Analysis.
All God's Blessings,