By John L. Bray
There has to be a final time of retribution and/ or blessing for all mankind. Romans chapter 2 specifically spells out for us a time of coming judgment for both those who receive eternal life and glory and those who receive the wrath and tribulation from God. This judgment will be “In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.” said Paul in Romans 2:16.
In verse 3 of this chapter Paul said there will be “the judgment of God.”
In verse 5 Paul said that for the unrepentant this will be “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”
In verse 6 Paul said that this judgment will be for EVERY man, which would include both the saved and the wicked. “Who will render to every man according to his deeds.”
In verse 7 Paul says some will receive eternal life in that day, while in verse 8 and 9 he says that others will receive “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish” in that day. There is no separation of time mentioned, such as 1,000 years, or 1,007 years, between the time some receive eternal life and others receive indignation and wrath, etc. It will all be in the same day. This will also be for both Jew and Gentile alike.
In verse 10 Paul mentions that glory and honor and peace will be given to some in that day, whether they are Jews or Gentiles.
In verse 16, Paul says all of this will take place “in THE DAY when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.”
In summary, Paul taught that there will come a day in which both the saved and lost, Jew and Gentile, will be judged according to the gospel.
The Last Day
That “day” of judgment will be at the “last day.” This is not to be the “last day” of the “last days” of the Jewish age. It is not to be the “last day” of the “end of the world (age)” of the Jewish nation which ended in 70 A.D. This day is to be THE last day period! This is to be the last day of ALL days. This has to be at the end of time, for there will be no more days.
Concerning the righteous, it is said they will be resurrected AT THE LAST DAY.
”And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again AT THE LAST DAY” (John 6:39).
“And this is the will of him that sent me, that everyone which seeth the Son, and beieveth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up AT THE LAST DAY.” (John 6:40).
“No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up AT THE LAST DAY?” (John 6:44).
“Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up AT THE LAST DAY?” (John 6:54).
The wicked dead will also be judged AT THE LAST DAY, for there will be no other “days”.
Jesus said, “The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in THE LAST DAY.” (John 12:48). Both righteous and wicked alike will be judged AT THE LAST DAY.
The resurrection was the hope of Israel. Paul appealed to the Sanhedrin by saying “of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question?”(Acts 23:6). It was the thing that Paul preached constantly, everywhere he went. (See Acts 13:32, 26:6-7, 13:30-33, 17:3, 17:31, 22:6. In Acts 17:31 Paul said that the world will be judged, as assured by the resurrection of Jesus). The resurrection of the dead and the kingdom of God made up the two main points of his sermons all the time. Our own resurrection is based on the fact that Christ was raised from the dead (I Cor. 15:12-19). Because He arose and lives, we too shall arise and live.
Both the righteous and the wicked will be resurrected in that same day (and hour). Jesus said, “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which ALL that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation?” (John 5:28,39). There is not mentioned any separation of the resurrection of the good and the bad by 1,000 (or 1,007 years), as believed by some. They are all raised at the same time. It will all be in that LAST DAY (and hour).
This judgment at the resurrection at the last day is pictured for us in Revelation 20:11-15:
“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books were opened: and another book was .opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
“And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to his works.
“And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
“And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”
We are not to think of God as sitting on a literal physical chair-like throne way up in the sky some where. When referring to God’s throne, the Bible is speaking about God’s rule, His reign, His authority. It is a human way of putting across this spiritual idea. Let’s examine a few places in the Bible and see:
I Samuel 7:13: “He shall build an house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever?” This, of course, does not mean that God would establish a physical place where Jesus would sit, but it simply means that God would establish his ruler-ship or reign. That this prophecy does relate to Jesus can be seen from Luke 1:32-33:
“He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
“And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”
John 26:9: “He holdeth back the face of his throne, and spreadeth his cloud upon it.” Here is highly symbolical language being used to describe the majesty of God.
David constantly talked about the throne of God. In Psalm 45:6 he said: “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre.” Here David is simply saying that God is great and that He reigns and rules forever.
Psalm 89:4: “Thy seed will 1 establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations.” Here again is reference to the everlasting nature of God’s rule.
When speaking of the enemy, David said, “Thou hast made his glory to cease, and cast his throne down to the ground.” (Psalm 89:44). This symbolical language simply refers to the cessation of the power of the enemy – not that a literal throne being cast down to the ground.
One of the greatest passages in the Bible is found in Isaiah 66:1: “Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?” This can mean nothing less than that God’s presence is universal, everywhere, as it is said that heaven itself is His throne and the earth is the place where He rests His feet. This passage was referred to by Jesus (Matthew 5:34) and Stephen (Acts 7:49).
God is not literally and physically sitting upon a natural throne somewhere!
Jeremiah 3:17: “At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord”.This does not mean that God sits on Jerusalem; rather, it means that from Jerusalem will go forth the law of the Lord.
Turning to the highly symbolic book of Revelation, we read in Revelation 1:4 of the “seven Spirits which are before his throne.” Would these be “spirit” beings in front of a “physical” throne? No, of course not. How this was pictured to John so that he could mention it this way is not known.
In Revelation 3:21 God said, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” If this were to be taken literally and physically (or naturally), then you would have two people sitting in the same seat. As it is, the overcomer sits with Jesus in His throne, while at the same time Jesus is sitting with the Father in His throne. All this would not make any sense if we are to think of a natural throne being meant. We are referring here to places of authority.
So now as we come to Rev. 20:11, it is the same way; there is this same highly symbolical language being used. “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away.” There is to be no literal, physical, natural throne on which God (who is Spirit) sits at the last day, so that the physical heaven and the physical earth flee away. John saw these things in a picture form. They signified the greatness of God in the last day when final sentence is to be imposed on sinful men. His authority will be exercised in that day. But do not picture as for real God sitting on a natural throne! Thoughts like these were normal for us as children, but now we need to think in terms of spiritual things as revealed to us in the Bible by these picture forms.
The same thing could be said of that passage in Matthew 25:31. “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of this glory.” This has the same kind of meaning, though we shall not go into the interpretation of that passage right now.
To say that God or Christ is sitting on a throne in Heaven (or elsewhere) is what is called an anthropomorphism, which has the idea of attributing human features and bodily functions to God. Many references in the Bible could be pointed out where this kind of description is given to God. But Jesus said that “God is a Spirit” (John 4:34), and we know as Jesus elsewhere said, that “a spirit hath not flesh and bones, such as ye see me have” (Luke 24:39). The word “spirit” in both places here is the same word in the Greek language. To speak of God who is a spirit as walking, standing, riding in a chariot, or sitting on a throne, is simply a way of describing God by ascribing human characteristics to Him, even though we know and understand that He is a Spirit. In the spiritual world it is different than on earth, but we use language like this to express something about God.
So we know that when we read of God sitting on a great white throne, that it is highly symbolical language; but from this picture we are certainly assured that following the resurrection ALL men are to be judged. They are either to be given eternal judgment in the lake of fire, or else exemption from that fate because their names are written in the book of life. Other matters mentioned in connection with this great day are also clothed in symbolical language, such as the picture of a “book of life”. God does not have to have a physical book in which our names are written. “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his.” (II Tim. 2:19). The identity of all God’s people is in His omniscient knowledge; He knows who belongs to Him.
In no way could all men of all ages, of all areas of the world, from on land and in the sea, both Jews and Gentiles, ever be judged in such a way as pictured here until THE LAST DAY. Then, all lives will have been lived and all actions performed. All sins will have been committed, as well as all good deeds performed.
God is simply saying here that at the end of time, at the last day, all men will be resurrected and judged. It is just as simple as that. You do not need a Clarence Larkin’s chart to divide it all up. It is all in the LAST DAY.
And let us not be so literalistic and naturalistic that we think that God has to do it our way. Our finite minds might picture God sitting in a grandfatherly way on a throne chair up in the air somewhere with 12,000,000,000 people perhaps standing up before Him waiting to hear what’ He has to say to them. (That 12 billion figure comes from nearly six billion on earth now, plus about that many dead in all time gone by; and that would be only if the last day should be soon). If only one minute were taken to go over all the sins (or good works) of each one, it would only take 23,000 (twenty three thousand) years for such a judgment to take place! (Figure it out for yourself if you do not believe me). So let’s do away with the literalism of this picture in Rev. 20:11-15. We know it is not going to be that way. All time, and all events, are in the mind of God at all times, and when ALL of us are judged by “THAT MAN” (Acts 17:31) who will judge the world in “THAT DAY”, it will not take Him forever and a day to it. It will all be done in “that day”. Judgment and destiny will be immediate! In fact, because of the nature of God with whom there is no time and who sees the end from the beginning, and who knows all things at once, He has ALREADY judged all the world. That judgment of all men has ALWAYS been in his mind. The picture scene of Rev. 20:11-15 is simply to say that it is all summed up and ended FOR US in that last day of resurrection and judgment. The sentence IS simply executed. By then, our destinies and rewards are settled forever.
“The celestial book-keeping observed in this vision is a pictorial representation of the truth that ‘all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of him to whom we have to render account’ (Heb. 12:13).” (Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, p. 218).
What Happens to the Wicked?
In that last day, the wicked are “cast into the lake of fire” where they will be destroyed forever. Remember that Jesus said, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28).
Here “Death” and “Hell” (Hades) are personified, as it is said they are cast into the lake of fire also. This simply means Death is destroyed forever, and Hell (Hades, the unseen world where souls go at death) is destroyed forever. We remember Paul said that “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (I Cor. 15:26). This, of course, referred to the resurrection of ALL the bodies which have lain in death, at the coming of Christ (I Cor. 15:23). Following that, the only death that will remain is called the “second death” when “Death” and “Hell” and all wicked people are cast into the lake of fire. “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death;” (Rev. 20:14). After that, there will be no more death. And neither will there be any more Hell (Hades) that “place” where lost people have gone at death. The resurrected lost are now cast into the lake of fire.
What is the fate of these lost people who are cast into the lake of fire? Once again, we have here symbolical language. Being cast into the lake of fire means that they will be destroyed forever body and soul (Matt. 10:28).
The Bible mentions many times that the fate of the wicked is that of destruction – and a destruction that will be everlasting (that IS, It IS permanent, forever). David said, “None can keep alive his own soul” (Ps. 22:29). Only through Jesus Christ can we have everlasting life. Apart from Him there is nothing but everlasting destruction.
Look at these verses which speak of DESTRUCTION as being the ultimate fate of the wicked:
Romans 9:22: “… the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.” (Greek work apolela, which is sometimes translated “destruction” and sometimes “perdition,” and the following words are used to define its meaning: “ruin, loss, perish, waste”.
Philippians 1:28: “And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.” The word “perdition” here is the same word as “destruction” in the previous verse.
Philippians 3:19: “Whose end is destruction” (same word).
II Thess. 1:9: “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord …” (Greek word olethros, meaning ”death, punishment”. Here it is said that the destruction is everlasting; that is, the destruction is complete and permanent, forever.)
I Timothy 6:9: “…hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.” (The word “destruction” here is the same word as in preceding verse, and the word “perdition” is the same as in the first three verses mentioned above; “destruction” and “perdition” are practically synonymous, and using both of these words gives added emphasis to the utter destruction that takes place).
Hebrews 10:39: “But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” (“Perdition” is the same word as in the first three verses above).
The above verses contain some of the words “destruction” and “perdition” as used in the New Testament, and all of these were used by the apostle Paul in his writings.
For other expressions of destruction that will come to the wicked, look up the following passages from the Old Testament: Job 20:30; Psalm 5:6; Psalm 37:38; Psalm 92:7; Psalm 145:20; Prov. 13:13 and Isaiah 1:28.
If the word “destruction” does not fully express the fate that awaits the wicked, another word is also used. It is the word “perish”, from the Greek word apollumi meaning “to destroy fully”. The following verses all use this word:
Luke 13:3: “… except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” The same is in verse 5. These two verses probably refer to physical destruction, as can be seen in the context, no doubt referring to the destruction that would come on Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The word refers to both physical and spiritual destruction. In this passage, to the physical; in the next verses, to the spiritual.
John 3:15, 16: “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” “…that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life; For the one who believes, there is eternal or everlasting life; for the one who does not believe, he will perish. He will be fully destroyed.
John 10:28: “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish?”
Romans 2:12: “For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law?”
I Cor. 1:18: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness?”
II Cor. 2:15: “. . . in them that perish?”
II Thess. 2:10: “And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved?”
II Peter 3:9: “Tile Lord is … not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance?”
In Acts 3:22-23 there is a word used for “destruction” that is only used one time in the New Testament. The Greek word is exolothreuo, and it is derived from two other words and means “to extirpate” which in turn means “to destroy completely; exterminate; abolish.” Here is the passage:
“For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you.
“And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people?”
In this prophecy about Christ, what is said will happen to those who refuse to hear Him? They will be destroyed completely. They will be exterminated. They will be abolished. That is the meaning of the word “destroyed” here.
That is a lot different than telling someone that they are going “to burn in Hell forever,” isn’t it?
One can read through the book of Psalms, in particular, and find many passages that tell how the blessings of God will be on His people FOREVER, but not one passage will be found which says that the wicked will suffer forever. In fact, except for possibly one verse (Rev. 20:10) there is not a single verse in the entire Bible that says the wicked will suffer forever! (Rev. 20:10 applies to Satan).
I have asked preacher after preacher to give me one verse that says the wicked will consciously suffer forever and ever, and not one has given me a passage of Scripture yet. In personally trying to find one myself, the ONLY one I could come up with was Rev. 14:10-1l which says, “…he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image…” The only thing that is mentioned here that goes on “forever” is “the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever.” The wording is strikingly similar to that used in Isaiah 34:8-10:
“For it is the day of the LORD’s vengeance, and the year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion.
“And the streams thereof shall be tuned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch.
“It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it Shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.”
This passage is talking about God’s judgment upon the nations, and especially Idumea (v. 5), Bozrah, and Idumea (v. 6). And the language is very apocalyptic, as for example, “the mountains shall be melted with their blood.” (v. 3). They shall be destroyed, God said, with pitch and brimstone, and the fire would not be put out, and the smoke would go up for ever, and no one would pass through it forever. This same kind of language is used in Rev. 14:10-1l, and with Revelation itself being such a symbolic book I can only assume that any meaning given to this passage would be similar to that in Isaiah 34:8-10. God did judge them, but not everything mentioned in Isaiah 34 came to pass in a literal and natural way; this was highly picturesque language as God uses when describing His judgments. The smoke was to keep rising up even after they were destroyed.
This is similar to what God said in Jude 7: “Even as Sodom and Gomorrah … are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” We know that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire and brimstone, and it says here that it was done by “the vengeance of eternal fire?” It was the fire which was eternal; not the suffering of the people. The people were destroyed, and they were everlastingly destroyed, and the smoke rose up after they were destroyed. It was the next day that Abraham “looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld, and, 10, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace.” (Genesis 19:28). Perhaps it was like someone said in Kuwait after its liberation and all the oil wells were still on fire, and black smoke was covering the whole country, “It seemed like we were driving through Hell.” But in Jude 7 it says that this was “the vengeance of ETERNAL FIRE.”
“The fire of retribution which destroyed the cities of the Plain burnt but for a day; but it is called aionian, or eternal, because the smoking ruin of it remains … and because it is the fire of God’s retributive wrath which burns eternally against unrepented sin. ‘Aeonian; expresses quality, not duration. Libanius uses the same expression, in the same meaning, of the fire which burnt Troy.” (F.W. Farrar, note at -bottom of page 129.)
So this was ETERNAL FIRE that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Wicked men will also be destroyed by this eternal fire some day.
Deuteronomy 4:24 says, “For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire.”
And in Deuteronomy 9:3 God said, “… the LORD thy God is he which goeth over before thee; as a consuming fire he shall destroy them ..” This is a simile. God’s actions in destroying the enemies of Israel is likened to a consuming fire.
The writer of Hebrews (12:29) uses this same expression when speaking of those who refuse “him that speaketh” (v. 25), “For our God is a consuming fire.”
While we do not know all that is involved in someone being cast into the lake of fire at the last day, we know that it must be a horrible punishment.
How long it will take for this complete destruction of the wicked to take place, we are not told. But certain it is that God will see to it that punishment for some is more tolerable than for others, or He would not be fair and just.
Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.” Matthew 10:15). Here Jesus was saying that the city which spurned the message of the disciples as they went to preach to them, would suffer more than those people of Sodom and Gomorrah will face. In other words, the rejecter of the gospel to whom He was referring would find that the wicked people of Sodom and Gomorrah would get off with a lighter sentence than they would. We call this “degrees of punishment. But it is only right and proper. God is just and fair. He will not punish all people the same. Some will receive greater punishment than others. Some may suffer longer than others. See also Matthew 11: 22, 24.
Differences, or degrees, of punishment after the judgment has to be, with our God being the kind of God He is. For example, a small boy who has just reached the age of accountability (where he knows right from wrong and can make decisions in spiritual matters) right after he reaches that stage in his life, suddenly dies without being converted. Would one expect him to be punished to the same degree as a Saddam Hussein or an Adolph Hitler or a Joe Stalin or a Nero would be punished? And I ask you this: can you even by the strongest stretch of your imagination, picture that boy just mentioned as burning in Hell and suffering in agony, consciously and without cessation, throughout the endless ages of eternity? If you can, then you indeed have a better imagination than I have.
And neither can we picture the heathen, who have never heard the gospel, and many whose lives are very moral in themselves, as suffering as much in Hell as would case-hardened reprobates in our civilized countries where the gospel is preached over and over again and again and they have rejected the gospel many times over and lived like the devil as well! And this is very plainly the reason that Jesus told the Jews in His day that it would be “more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment” than for them. The sins and degree of guilt of those Jews were much greater than those of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The “eternal fire” of God’s vengeance will consume men in that day, with punishment greater on the part of some than others; but ultimately it will all be over and will be permanent, complete, total and everlasting.
“Thus the second death is total death, the utter destruction of final judgment executed against the obdurate oneness of God.” ughes, p. 215.) “From this last judgment there is no reprieve; the sentence of death is irreversible; the destruction permits no recovery.” (Hughes, p. 164).
Sooner or later, after the last day, the wicked are destroyed forever. The fire of whatever nature it is, is called “eternal fire” (It is the fire that is eternal and not the conscious suffering and torment). No one really knows what fire is. But “our God is a consuming fire” His very presence can consume men. “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the PRESENCE of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” (II Thess. 1:9). “…with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.” (Isaiah 11:4). “..his lips are full of indignation and his tongue as a devouring fire” (Isaiah 30:27). “…the breath of the LORD, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it.” (Isaiah 30:33).
We do not fully understand the nature of God and how He does everything. But what He does He lets us know what He wants us to know by use of human language which can only so faintly describe the reality of His being and His works.
The Resurrection of the Righteous
Paul occasionally spoke of the resurrection of the righteous without mentioning the resurrection of the wicked. This was not because the wicked will not be raised at the same time, but because Paul was dealing primarily with something that had to do with Christians. Such as in I Corinthians 15 he was describing the glory that comes to Christians at the resurrection when they receive glorified bodies. This, he said, will happen to the Christian when Christ comes. Speaking of the resurrection of Christians, Paul said, “But every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.” (I Cor. 15:23).
This very plainly says that when we are resurrected, it is when Christ comes! The order is – Christ first (at His resurrection), then afterward us (at His coming).
The very next thing mentioned is to happen “THEN” – which is the “END”. “Then the end” (“cometh” is added by a translator). “Then the end, when he shall have delivered (past perfect tense) up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down (past perfect tense) all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet.” (Cor. 15:24-25). By the time we are resurrected at the corning of Christ, He shall have turned over His kingdom to the Father, having put all “rule and authority and power” under His feet. When? “THEN” (Greek = eita, not epita). The word means “right after” or “next”, as used in such verses as Luke 8:12, John 19:27, 20:37, 1. Cor. 12:28, I Cor. 15:5, 7, 24. Check these out. One could never put 1,000 years or so between one event and the next if the next happens “THEN”!
Christ is now reigning from Heaven following His resurrection and ascension as Peter said in Acts 2:30-31. Being exalted at God’s right hand (vs. 33) He is sitting there until all foes are made His footstool (v. 34-35). How long does this reign (kingdom) from the Father’s right hand go on? Until all foes are under His feet, it says. Or, as I Cor. 15:25 says, “For he must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet.” (That doesn’t mean He will not reign any after that). So when will this be? When will the last enemy be put under His feet? The next verse (26) says, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is DEATH.” And Paul here is talking about the resurrection of the body (this is the same as the destruction of death) which occurs at the coming of Christ. This is also pictured for us in Rev. 20:14 by death being cast into the lake of fire. THIS will be at the LAST DAY, at the END, in the same HOUR in which the wicked are also raised and judged.
New Bodies for Christians at the Resurrection
The resurrection will allow us to have new bodies. They will not be the same bodies. “And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be.” (I Cor. 15:37). A seed is placed in the ground and DIES. From it comes something else – more beautiful than the seed was. We are buried. In the resurrection we receive a new body (v. 38). Our present body is corruptible, dishonourable, weak, and natural (v. 42-44). Our new body will be incorruptible, glorious, powerful, and spiritual (v. 42-44). It will not be the same body.
When we die, the old body decays, corrupts, and turns back to dust; and many times it is scattered to the “four winds of heaven.” A cremated body results in a few ounces of dust being kept in a little urn, up on a mantle or somewhere deemed best for remembrance. Some bodies are blown to bits by enemy bombs on a battle field. Some bodies are eaten by sharks. Some bodies are killed and eaten by wild animals in forests or jungles, and in turn those animals who have digested human bodies are now killed and eaten by humans. The process goes on. In time, billions of human bodies are nowhere to be found, having corrupted, decayed, turned back to dust, and the dustly elements gone and lost forever in the sands of time. Now are these the bodies that God is going to raise and cause to exist forever? Will He in some way re–gather all the particles of dust and atoms of matter and digested particles from all over the world, form them into separate bodies again, before changing them into spiritual bodies? No, this would be an absurdity. And this is not what the resurrection is all about. For in the resurrection, we are going to have NEW bodies. “And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be.” (I Cor. 15:37).
“… it doth NOT yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (I John 3:2).
“For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, ETERNAL in the heavens.” (II Cor. 5:1).
Where is this eternal building or house (body) to be?” “In the heavens.” This is in the spiritual realm, that dimension that is separate from and not part of .this earthly natural plane of existence on which we now live.
If THIS body goes, we have another one. This one is temporary and natural. The other is eternal and spiritual. “God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him.” (I Cor. 15:37).
“Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 15:50). Jesus had flesh and blood after His resurrection (or else He could not have eaten as He did; blood is necessary for that.) He said, “a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” (Luke 24:39). “Flesh and bones” -“flesh and blood” – the same difference – physical, earthly, natural life. He was trying to tell them that He was the same Jesus who had been in the grave, and HIS BODY DID NOT SEE CORRUPTION! (See Acts 2:3 “neither his flesh did see corruption”). When He ascended later into Heaven, into the presence of God, then He had to be changed (as we shall be) and given a glorified body. When He comes, there will no nail prints in hands of flesh such as Jesus showed His disciples (see John 20:27). He is in a glorified body, and that is the way He will come when He calls us also to receive our glorified bodies. If you want to know what Jesus looks like now and when He comes, look at the pictures given to us in the book of Revelation, and then keep in mind that they are pictures in human language describing an indescribable Son of God in glory! But they are more apt to describe what He looks like now (the best John could describe in his visions), a lot better than blood-stained hands and side with holes in a physical body!
He came once in humiliation. I want to see Him as the exalted Son of God. While it is sentimental for folks to talk and sing about seeing and knowing Him by nail prints in His hands, I don’t think that will be necessary. He is the matchless, glorified Son of God, without any imperfection whatsoever!
I know you will ask if Jesus did not have a spiritual body after His resurrection, then how did He appear behind closed doors to His disciples in John 20:19? Well, the same way He could walk on water, or do a lot of other things He did. But, if you will notice, the verse does not say that the doors were locked or barred or nailed shut; it simply says that Jesus came to His disciples and met them behind closed doors – doors that were “shut” because they were afraid of the Jews passing by. He could have gone into the house the same way the others did – opened the door and walked in! Never thought of that, did you?
Our Resurrection Bodies
When it was suggested that someone could ask, “With what body do they come?” (I Cor. 15:35) Paul replies by saying, “Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die.” (v. 36). It is foolish to demand concrete answers to some of these things, as Paul indicated. But he did go on to say that what was sown, was not the end result; it will be a new body – one that pleases Him (v. 38). The body that is buried is NOT the body that shall be (v. 3); it is ANOTHER body. It is described somewhat in this 15th chapter of I Corinthians.
Our resurrected bodies will not be like that of Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead, for it was the same human body that was placed in the tomb which came forth and finally died again. Our resurrected bodies will not be like those who came out of the graves when Jesus was crucified and they afterward went into the city, for they were raised in their natural bodies and died again. And our resurrected bodies will not be like the body of Jesus was when it was resurrected, for it was still human and natural and fleshly and had nail holes and spear print in it; and though He did not die again, He did ascend to Heaven and at some point as He left He was glorified even as we shall be some day when He comes to us.
But one thing that Jesus did teach us was this: In the resurrection we shall be as the angels. “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.” (Matt. 22:30). We do know that angels are spirits – “Are they not all ministering SPIRITS…” (Heb. 1:14). “Who maketh his angels SPIRITS” (Psalm 104:4). Christ became a “life-giving spirit” (I Cor. 15:45), and we shall be as the angels which are spirits. The resurrected body is more than a physical body dominated by the spirit as someone has said. Rather, it is a SPIRITUAL BODY itself (v. 44) as opposed to a NATURAL body. Someone described the natural body as one dominated by the flesh, and a spiritual body as one dominated by the spirit. This is not a good enough definition, for a physical body can be dominated by the spirit too, if we understand what a real Christian life is as taught in the New Testament. No the word “spiritual” does not describe the actions, but the thing itself – that body. The body itself is a spiritual body, not a physical body (or a natural body). A natural body has physical components; a spiritual body does not. But who can define the components of the spiritual body? That is beyond us, and brings us back to Paul’s exclamation, “Thou fool!” (I Cor. 15:36) If we insist on knowing all there is about the new body which God gives to us when we are resurrected. So if we want to know what this spiritual body will be like, we don’t want to push too hard at the matter, lest Paul say to us also, “Thou fool!” as he said to others when questioned about with what body the dead came forth.
At least we know we won’t be involved in the kind of physical living such as we do now. There will be no physical properties of sex. “For they neither marry nor are given in marriage. (Matt. 22:30). Life will be on a different plane – a spiritual existence, and not a physical and natural life such as we have here. No, no fried chicken and peas and corn and apple pie either I’m afraid! But the natural things of life will be things of the past, not consistent with our new spiritual bodies in glory.
At this point in my life, and at my age, you can understand that even with many years of Bible study behind me, I want to be very, very careful and realistic about this matter. I would not want to deceive anyone on this, nor would I want to be deceived myself. As closely as possible, I want to ascertain what it is that I’m going to experience on the other side of life. In trying to arrive at a correct understanding of this, I am honest enough to say that I get further away from any thoughts of any kind of physical life in that next world, and I feel much more comfortable as I am led to see from the Bible the spiritual nature of things promised to us in the life to come. This thought will be involved in some more things that I now have to say next.
The Lord Shall Descend from Heaven
As we have seen the resurrection will take place when Christ comes. Paul said in I Thessalonians 4:16, “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven . . . and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” (This means they will rise “first” in relation to the living who will be caught up next.)
But living Christians will undergo a change as well.
But first, note that Christ “shall descend from heaven” (v.16).
Where is Heaven? From where does Christ come?
When we were children, I am sure that most of us thought of Heaven as being a certain area way up in the sky somewhere, where God lived and from where He sent His angels on carious deeds of mercy, etc. And we pictured those angels flying around with physical wings through the air to wherever they wanted to go. Such pictures might have satisfied our childish minds, but they do not give us much to hold on to as we move along in life and become more mature in our understanding of the Bible.
Then, as Christians we were told that Heaven was a four-square city up there in the sky somewhere, with streets of gold, and walls of jasper, and gates of pearl. Many songs were written like this. But then we studied our Bibles and found that this city “came down from God out of heaven,” (Rev.21:2) and so could not be Heaven itself that God and Heaven were the source. And we learned further that this “great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God” (v.10) was actually “the bride, the Lamb’s wife” (v.9). And then we learned from Ephesians 5:23-32 that this city, the bride of Christ, was actually THE CHURCH, God’s redeemed people. And then we began to understand about this beautiful picture of a city, that it represented the people of Christ, people who have been redeemed and who will have His presence with us forevermore (see Rev. 22:3). This was the picture of the church which God showed to John which had its origin in Heaven.
But now where does that leave us? Where is Heaven?
Back in I Kings 8:27 Solomon said, “But will God indeed dwell on earth? The heaven of heavens cannot contain thee” The same thing was said in II Chron. 2:6. If indeed the heaven of heavens (that must mean the heaven above all heavens) cannot contain God, then God must be everywhere.
Another thought before we go on: God said, “The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me?” (Isaiah 66:1). Here again we see that it takes this whole universe to hold or contain the presence of God. At least that! Who says that His presence does not extend out even BEYOND this universe? I would think that it does. And it is indicated here that wherever Heaven is, there is His throne. “Heaven is my throne,” He said. This is figurative language, of course, even as it says the earth is His footstool. “God is a Spirit,” said Jesus in John 4:24. A spirit does not sit on a literal natural throne, nor does a spirit put literal and natural feet on a natural footstool. We need to remember this whenever reading of God’s “throne” anywhere in the Bible, as has already been pointed out. His throne simply means His rule or reign or sovereignty. And He is everywhere, as Creator and sovereign God in this universe and any other areas there might be.
David said, “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.” (Psalm 139:7-8). David understood that God was everywhere.
So where is Heaven? Well, Heaven is not a PHYSICAL place out in the universe somewhere. Heaven is ANOTHER WORLD, a spiritual world, where God is ever present.
Years ago I heard Billy Graham say something which I liked, and which I have always remembered. He said, in essence, “Who knows but what Heaven is another dimension – a spiritual dimension – that is right now present with us alongside this world of ours!”
That is it! Heaven is not a physical place up in the sky somewhere, nor a spot in the universe somewhere, but it is a spiritual realm, and God exists in this realm. It is not localized, but it is everywhere. It is that spiritual world that is separate and apart from this earthly natural existence, where God’s person is present, everywhere. Heaven is a spiritual dimension, apart from this earthly life, looked on as “up” in the sense of out of this earthly life. (“Up” in China would be different than “up” to us in the United States, but we are not talking about physical direction at all).
Jesus said, “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which IS IN HEAVEN” (John 3:13). Do you understand that? Neither do 1. But Jesus said it. He was not only on earth, but He was in Heaven. Jesus lived in TWO WORLDS at the same time – earth and Heaven. You and I do not – yet; but when Christ comes we move into this other world.
If we were to depart this earthly life, we would be with Christ in another “world”, another dimension of existence, a spiritual existence apart from physical matter. That is where He is now, and it is where we shall be forever. This is eternal life and immortality which is given to us by God in Christ.
Speaking of visions and revelations of the Lord (II Cor. 12:1), Paul said, “I know a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up in the third heaven.” (v. 2).
Here Paul is telling us of a man (possibly himself) who was “caught up” to the third heaven. The third heaven must be the “heaven of heavens” which Solomon mentioned in I Kings 8:27 where he mentions “the heavens AND heaven of heavens.” It is where Jesus went when He “ascended up far above all heavens” (Ephesians 4:10). All of this is human language speaking to us of that spiritual world where God and Christ are and which is beyond and above this earthly existence in which we live.
The words “caught up” describing what happened to this man mentioned by Paul, are from the same Greek word harpazo from which the words “caught up” are found in Thess. 4:17 where it says that we shall be “caught up” together with the dead who are raised
when Jesus comes.
Paul did not know if this man was in the body or out of the body when he had that experience (II Cor. 12:2). That is, he did not know if the man had a vision while he was in a trance, or if he actually left the body and went to Heaven (or into that spiritual world we are talking about). Another case, he said, was of a man who went to paradise (same as third heaven) “and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” (v. 4) This man had a spiritual experience during which he heard things which was not allowed for him to repeat in this earthly life.
I believe there is far more to that spiritual realm (third heaven) than scientists can tell us (or even know themselves). It is only occasionally that there is s temporary break-through where someone has an experience carrying them over into that world and then back. A few such experiences are found in the Bible, of course.
Jesus was on earth and in Heaven at the same time. This man was in Heaven temporarily. When Christ comes, we shall be in Heaven forever. That is, we shall be “caught up” into a spiritual dimension where God is ever present.
Christ “shall descend from Heaven.” So says I Thess. 4:16. That is, He will appear, coming out of that spiritual existence where He now is, to raise the dead and catch up those of us who are living, to be forevermore with Him in that same kind of spiritual existence where He Himself now dwells. Don’t be too literal here about Christ coming DOWN out of Heaven to us, for where would that leave folks on the other side of the world? He certainly could not come down to them at the same time, could He?
As Christ comes, and even as the dead are given spiritual bodies, we too shall be changed and we too shall be conformed to the spiritual likeness of Jesus Christ. We shall be with Christ forever in that immortal, incorruptible, spiritual, glorious, existence that will be ours.
“Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed;’ (I Cor. 15:51-52).
The picture given to us in I Thessalonians 4:13-18 is inspired use of human language to convey spiritual truths to us. Certainly Christ will descend from Heaven, but we need to understand what Heaven is. The “trump” is hardly an earthly natural trumpet such as a soldier or someone in a parade here would blow (which could be heard for so many yards away), but this is symbolic language telling us of His call (same as His voice, etc.) to a higher life in the spirit. Out of the spiritual world He summons us to partake of His
immortality and eternal life.
I Thess. 4:16 says that “the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a SHOUT.” In the Greek language this represents a voice of command. Jesus said in John 5:28, “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his VOICE.” Paul and Jesus both accommodated themselves to Old Testament language to express this great event.
In the Old Testament, the Lord is depicted as shouting, as uttering His voice, as roaring, when He came in times of judgment in the Old Testament. In Joel 2:11 it said, “And the LORD shall utter his voice before the army.” The Assyrian army became the army of the Lord to bring judgment upon Israel. The “northern” army is mentioned in verse 20, and Albert Barnes Commentary says “There can really be no question, that by the northern army, he means the Assyrian.” (p. 145, Minor Prophets, vol. 1). The time when that was to happen was called “the day of the LORD” (see 2:11 and 1:15). Just before saying that’ ‘the LORD shall utter his voice”, God said, “The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining;’ (Joel 2:11). This is the type of apocalyptic language God used to describe the time of His judgment upon Israel, the same as used at other times of judgment in the Bible, as well as describing the time as “the day of the Lord;’ But the point is, when these special times of judgment from God come upon various groups, God is characterized by crying loudly with His voice.
Look at Jeremiah 25:30: “Therefore prophesy thou against them all these words, and say unto them, The LORD shall ROAR from on high, and utter his VOICE from his holy habitation; he shall mightily ROAR upon his habitation; he shall give a SHOUT.”
Look at Isaiah 42:13 when chastening was threatened against Israel through Babylon (43:14): “The LORD shall go forth as a mighty man, he shall stir up jealousy like a man of war: he shall CRY, yea, ROAR; he shall prevail against his enemies.”
Look at Amos 1:2 when judgments were predicted on the surrounding peoples: “The LORD will ROAR from Zion, and UTTER HIS VOICE from Jerusalem; and the habitations of the shepherds shall mourn, and the top of Carmel shall wither?”
Look at Psalm 46:6: “The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he UTTERED HIS VOICE, the earth melted?” This has to be symbolic language, with the earth melting away.
When the context of these passages is read, it can easily be seen that the language used is apocalyptic and highly symbolical. The writers in the New Testament (and Jesus) when speaking of prophetic things, used Bible language; that is, they accommodated themselves to the same kind of words and meanings. Much of all that was said did not LITERALLY and NATURALLY happen. But the language conveyed the great thoughts that God wanted to express. Therefore, would it not be reasonable to think that Jesus and Paul (and others of course) used language in the same way? So when it speaks of Jesus giving a “SHOUT”, and the “VOICE” of the archangel, it is simply a usage of words in exactly the same way it was used in the Old Testament when these great events were mentioned. Jesus with a Voice like a human which can be heard in every grave throughout the entire world makes more sense when we understand this in the light of apocalyptic language.
It all happens “in a moment, in the twin king of an eye?” (I Cor. 5:52). This is not a picture of millions of saints floating upwards into the atmosphere while the rest of the world gazes in amazement at what is going on. It is an immediate transformation into the likeness of Jesus Christ . “When he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (I John 3:2).
Though God cannot be seen by mortal man (Exodus 33:20), the Bible tells us that He “descended in the cloud, and stood with Moses” on Mount Sinai (Ex. 34:5). We do not know all that this means, but it must be very symbolic language, for God is a Spirit and does not “stand” on anything material! But He made His presence known, and it was said that He “descended.” He really was already there, but the inspired writer put it this way that He descended and stood with Moses.
I do not think that when Christ “descends” from Heaven that this means He will leave a spot billions of miles away and come down to this earth on a physical mountain somewhere. I cannot tell you exactly what will happen in a literal way, but I cannot accept such a crass literalistic naturalistic materialistic concept of what happens when Christ comes.
Symbolical words are used to describe in our finite human language these LITERAL events which will take place some day.
Many times we would better understand what New Testament passages might mean if we were to go back into the Old Testament and find the same kind of language used by inspired men in those days, and see if we understand what it meant back there. God does not give us an I, 2, 3 nor an A, B, C outline of future prophetic events that put Himself down on our level as to doing things. He did this once in the person of Jesus when He came to earth the first time, but never again!
The disciples saw Jesus disappear into the clouds and were told “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come IN LIKE MANNER as ye have seem him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11). He went up to Heaven, and He will come down from Heaven. But at his coming, He will have a glorified spiritual body and not a body of humiliation and wounds in His hands. “In like manner” tells HOW He will come, and NOT what He will look like. As I said, He went up (ascended to Heaven), and He will come down (descend to us).
God showed Jesus to John on the isle of Patmos while he was “in the Spirit” and if we could really see this, it would be enough to blow our minds! (See Rev 1:13-18). But that’s a picture, even as other descriptions of Him m the book of Revelation are pictures also. Throughout this book of Revelation are presented various pictures of Christ, and I am sure that NONE of them in our human language can really tell us what Jesus is like RIGHT NOW in glory. These are only what John saw in vision form. But “when he shall appear, we shall be like him.” (I John 3:2).
We could no more look on Jesus and see Him as He is with our earthly eyes, than anyone could have looked on God in the Old Testament and lived (Exodus 33:20). Only through that transforming change that takes place when Christ comes can we behold Him. To me, it is silly for anyone to even think of Jesus coming in thin air some day looking like a mortal man with holes in His hands and feet and side, etc. Even the pictures in Revelation do not and cannot give all the full depth to all that Jesus Christ is today. God had to compress into finite human language those pictures to help us to see the wonders of His person. Even so, it is all inadequate.
And when Christ comes, He does not appear to these human earthly, physical eyes of ours – for we shall be changed, too! Our condition will be immediately as His! “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye … the dead shall be raised incorruptible and we
shall be changed.” (I Cor. 15:52).
Caught Up in the Clouds
Paul said that Christ would descend from Heaven and that we would be caught up in the clouds (I Thess. 4:16-17). When He appears, it is then that we are immediately “caught up” in the clouds (the Christian dead ones first, then we).
We have to use human language to get across spiritual truths.
So does the Bible.
What does it mean to be “caught up” in the clouds? You say, “Well, it means exactly what it says. We are going to rise up from the earth until we are as high as the clouds where we will all be together with Jesus.” Really? And I ask, is that what it is all about – salvation and eternity and everlasting life and glory and immortality – that all this is something like floating around up there in the clouds somewhere? Or shall we fly instead of float?
I was sitting by the window of an airplane as I was going somewhere, and we finally got up into the clouds. Now clouds to me are not very pretty as we go into or through them – only as they are looked on from a distance, or maybe up above them at night when a full moon shines down upon them; that is a sight! But as we were flying through those clouds, misty and dark, foggy-like in appearance I suddenly realized that I would not want to step out of the plane and fly (or float) around in the midst of those clouds – even if I could. And it also appeared to me, from that experience that neither would I want to be caught up into THOSE clouds when Jesus comes! Not only would it be murky, but I wouldn’t even be able to see Jesus, let alone the billions of other Christians who would be there moving around also! Do you get the picture?
“But,” you say, “Brother Bray, we won’t be in those clouds in our human bodies!” Exactly! So then what do we have – spirit beings moving around in materialistic misty natural clouds? Does that make sense? I do not think our spiritual bodies would be tuned in to such a crass materialistic type of flight into the new life! It just doesn’t appeal to me at all – this idea of being physically caught up into atmospheric clouds and finding any sense of enjoyment or delight in that. I must have more to “hold on to”. In my understanding of the future if I am to be comfortable with my beliefs and have real anticipation for the future.
“But the Bible says we shall be caught up into the clouds.” you say. And indeed it does!
Why don’t we investigate and see something about clouds in the Old Testament, so that we can possibly understand what God is talking about in the New Testament?
I do not mind telling you right now what I believe “clouds” in the Bible represent when they are used in conjunction with God and His appearance to those on earth. Clouds symbolize the glory and the majesty of God, and they are used when describing God’s intervention in the affairs of men – whether in times of great blessing or times of great judgment. Let us look at several passages:
Daniel 7:13: “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.” Now some take this verse to speak of the second coming of Christ, but it has nothing to do with that. This is where Jesus came to the Father to receive from Him the kingdom, as you will see also from the very next verse. I believe it refers to the time of His ascension. It did not say He came to earth. But our interest is in His coming with the clouds of heaven. Here this expressions used as it speaks of the glorified Christ receiving the kingdom from God the father. But this expression tells us of a heavenly situation, a majestic situation, a glorious situation. It tells of the exalted Christ. And so it refers to Him as coming in the clouds of Heaven. Now you will see this kind of language used in a number of places in the Bible when God is intervening in the affairs of men, or when He is expressing His great power and might, or when He is about to bring judgment on the earth.
Psalm 104:3: “Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind.” What is David expressing in this passage? That whole chapter is full of symbolism as David talks about the greatness of God. “O LORD my God, thou art very great.” (v. 1). His inspired pen writes all kinds of figures of speech as He describes the greatness of God. Of course we know that God does not walk “upon the wings of the wind.” This is one of the most beautiful Psalms of all, but this does not mean that God actually rides in a “chariot”. But it says that He makes the clouds to be His chariot. Now we understand, surely, that the expression is symbolic, and that if He were to ride on anything it would have to be the clouds, but that even that cannot express fully the movements of God. But it is a beautiful expression, and we understand the meaning of it.
Exodus 13:21: “And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them by the way; and by night on a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night.” God was leading the children of Israel toward the promised land, and His presence would be recognized by the outward sign of a cloud by day and a fire by night. As to God actually being compressed into a cloud, we know this could not be any more than the “heaven of heavens” could contain Him. But it was symbolical, and represented His presence. In Exodus 16:10 it says that “the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.” And in Exodus 19:9 it says, “Lo, I came unto thee in a thick cloud.” and then in verse 6 it says that “Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire.” The cloud revealed His glory and His presence. And He “descended” upon the “mount ‘in fire.” He did not have a “body” and He could not be seen by mortal eye, but yet He “descended” upon the mount “in fire”. The fire represented His presence. The awful, the terrible, and yet glorious, presence of God revealed to these people.
Exodus 34:5: “And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there.” Here is that anthropomorphism again – the attributing of human shape or character to God. God is pictured as though He were a person coming down in a cloud and standing there on His feet talking to Moses. He was there, and He was in a cloud, and He spoke to Moses; but I do not think that it was all done exactly as we would look on a human being as doing so. But these are the words used to describe what happened. And God did descend, and He did talk to Moses, and He was in the cloud.
As to God’s coming down, or descending, we recall that when folks were building the tower of Babel, the Bible says that “the LORD came down to see the city and the tower.” He actually came down. But was this a compression of that great omnipresent God into a size sufficient to come down to that particular location, or is this picturesque speech which attributes to God the characteristics of a human being and describes that situation in human language like this?
What I am trying to say is that every time you read of “clouds” and the “descent” of God from Heaven to earth, it is not to be taken in a literal, natural way. That just cannot be. I know there are some who try to do this, and one religious group even says that God has bodily parts!
God gave instructions to Moses about the tabernacle, and told him, “I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat.” (Leviticus 16:2). God was always appearing somewhere in a cloud.
Numbers 11:25: “And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him.”
Isaiah 19:1: “Behold, the LORD rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt.” This is symbolic language as can easily be seen by the rest of the sentence. God doesn’t choose a camel, nor a horse, to come into Egypt in His judgment against them, but the picture used is that of a cloud, which gives more a picture of His majesty and His power and His greatness.
Nahum 1:3: ” … and the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.” Ask a scientist what clouds are, and he will tell you one thing. Ask Nahum what clouds are and he will tell you that they are the dust off the feet of God. Picturesque language certainly, but not to be literally taken.
One more highly descriptive but symbolical passage is Psalm 18.
Read those verses 7-15 if you really want to see how this kind of language is used, as it talks about God’s nostrils, His mouth, His riding upon a cherub, His flying on the wings of the wind, His pavilion the dark waters and thick clouds, His voice of thunder, His arrows, and the breath of His nostrils.
God’s dealings in the affairs of men are spoken of as God descending, and His glory and majesty are depicted as clouds in the atmosphere above.
In the New Testament, Jesus predicted that “they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30). Did Jesus actually come in that same generation as He promised (v. 34). Yes, He did come in that generation, but His coming was that of intervening in the affairs of men by His judgment on Israel, which was accomplished through the Roman armies and other means. Through it all they saw the Son of man coming, and it says that this was “in the clouds of heaven.”
Look at Matthew 26:24: “Herafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” This referred to the same event just mentioned, but notice here they will see Him “sitting” on the right hand of God, while at the same time they will see Him “coming in the clouds”. Jewish people understood this kind of apocalyptic language, for they were used to it, and they knew what He meant. He spoke this to Caiaphas the high priest, and Caiaphas knew that Jesus meant by this that He was the Messiah, that He had all authority next to God, and that this would be revealed to them in some supernatural way; and it was, though God used human instrumentality to do this. So much did Caiaphas the high priest understand what Jesus was saying, that he “rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy” (v. 65). It was then that they really began to physically abuse Him. But did Jesus actually come in bodily form and shape to Jerusalem for them to see? No, He did not. But He was there. And when it all happened in 67 -70 A.D. those who were left and knew of Jesus’ statements, knew that Jesus had kept His word and came in the clouds of heaven to judge Israel.
Mark 13:26: “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.” This was the same event.
Mark 14:62: ” … and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” This referred to the same event. He would be seen “sitting” and “coming” at the same time; but they understood by this language what He meant.
Revelation 1:7: “Behold, H cometh with clouds.” Well, you say, here is one that is literal, and must mean that He is coming in our future in the clouds. Well, in the first place, why should we think that this is something for our future, when God told John in verse 1 that He was showing him “things which must shortly come to pass;” and then in verse 3 He told him that “the time is at hand.” I know that many today like to mess around with those words and try to make them mean something they don’t, but the meaning is very evident; what was predicted was to happen soon. This refers to the same coming of Christ in judgment on Israel in 70 A.D.
Look at Rev. 14:14: “And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man.” Here it doesn’t say He is coming. Here it doesn’t say He is descending. Here it simply says he is sitting on a white cloud. This simply expresses the power and the greatness and the glory and the majesty of the One who was about to see judgment fall on the earth:
So you can see what is meant by “clouds” in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament and then when the same kind of language is carried forward into the New Testament? This kind of language is used when God breaks through into human history and intervenes in great blessing or judgment. It is Biblical language. It is apocalyptic language. It is symbolical language. It is figurative language. Similes and metaphors are both used. Hyperbole is used. Could I say that God exhausts His own ability in using human language to describe to us the glories of God as He reaches out to this earth?
But let us go back to I Thessalonians 4:13-18. The Bible says that Christ descends from heaven, the dead are raised, the living are caught up with them in the clouds. Into the glorious and majestic presence of God, best described in human language as “caught up together with them in the clouds.”
To say He comes “with the clouds,” “on the clouds,” “in the clouds,” “seated on a clouds,” or in whatever variation clouds are mentioned, is the same as saying He appears in His glory and majesty and power.
Jesus is already here with us, in this life. But His “coming” will be a manifestation of that presence.
At some time in the future we are to be confronted with the awful majestic power and glory of God in Christ, and be instantaneously changed into that same spiritual condition which we shall forever share. This is really called “eternal life,” though we know it begins in this life.
Let me mention one more thing about the Rapture. I know you are thinking, that even though we have discussed the meaning of “clouds”, that it still says that “we shall meet the Lord in the AIR” where we shall EVER be with the Lord (I Thess. 4:17). Yes, it does say that. But do you think that means that you and I are FOREVER going to circulate around in the ATMOSPHERE (where air is) all the endless ages of eternity? Is that what it means? I mean, in such case we would never get any higher than several miles up from the earth, for then there would be no air!
Would it not rather seem that God is talking about the “spiritual world” that we shall be in? Is this what the Bible means when it speaks of “spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12); It is not talking about wickedness up in the air somewhere, but in the, spiritual world. (“High places” translated “heavenlies” in Bible margin). Satan is “the prince of the power of the AIR, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” (Eph. 2:2). Now surely we do not believe this means Satan’s activity is up ABOVE this earth where only the birds are! It says his working is “IN the children of disobedience.” If he is the prince of the power of the air, it must mean that he is the ruler of the evil that is in the spiritual world as it affects those in whose lives he works.
“Air” simply denotes the spiritual world. Satan works in this spiritual realm now, though after Christ comes he no longer will do so, for he will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15) – more symbolical language of course, as a spirit being would not be affected by physical fire. It means Satan would be utterly destroyed. When Christ comes, only His people will be in this spiritual world (the positive side of which is called Heaven). This is the “air” into which we are caught up when Christ comes – the spiritual world.
There WILL be a LAST day! After that there will be no more days. At that day, the resurrection of all men, both saved and lost will take place. At that day, all men, saved and lost, will experience that final judgment. At that day, all men, saved and lost, either enters into life eternal or are destroyed forever with God’s eternal punishment. There has to be a last day. Certainly all this has never taken place before. It did not all happen when Christ came in judgment of Israel in 70 A.D. And all these things will happen “at his coming” (I Cor. 15:23-25, I Thess. 4:14-17) to resurrect all men (John 5:28, 29); and judgment comes to all following their resurrection (Rev. 20:11-15).
Authors Quoted in This Book
F.W. FARRAR, The Early Days of Christianity, Funk & Wagnalls, 10 & 12 Dey Street, London, 1886.
PHILIP EDGCUMBE HUGHES, The Book of Revelation, c. 1990, Inter-varsity Press, 38 De Montfort Street, Leicester LEI 7GP, England, and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 255 Jefferson S.E., Grand Rapids, Mich. 49503.
Copyright 1991, John L. Bray 15,000 copies printed – September, 1991
This article “The Last Day of Resurrection, Rapture, and Judgment” by John L. Bray is excerpted from his tract, The Last Day of Resurrection, Rapture, and Judgment, 1991.