Two short but infinitely weighty expressions stand forth prominently in Rev. 20; viz., “This is the first resurrection” (ver. 5), and “This is the second death.” (ver. 14.) It is as though God would make very little of the first death; viz., the death of the body, and as little of the second resurrection, which is “the resurrection of damnation.” (John 5:29.) These two events, important though they be, are of little moment compared with the two here emphasized. To have part in the first resurrection is to be “blessed and holy.” We read of none such appearing before God in the resurrection of judgment. Emphatically it is the dead who are then called to judgment.
But of whom are “the dead “composed, who shall then be summoned from the grave and from the sea to stand before God?
The last witness for God who was slain by the sword of antichrist shall have been raised from the dead and glorified with Christ a thousand years before.
At “the coming of Christ with all His saints “the grave shall have been thoroughly robbed of its victory, for not one shall be left as a trophy of Satan’s power.
After that, in the millennial earth, there will be death by the judgment of God; the sinner shall be accursed, and the man of an hundred years old shall be accounted only a child. (Isa. 65:20.) But nowhere do we read of the elect being subject to death; on the contrary, they enter into life, it may be halt or maimed, but it is into everlasting life on earth. (Compare Matt, 18:8 with 25:46.) They go to inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world.
Who, then, are the dead? Can it be shown that amid that vast resurrection company there is one saved person? It is the resurrection of judgment—judgment according to works. And if it be so, alas! who shall stand? “Enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” (Ps. 143:2.) In strict accordance with this view is the description of the judgment throne. Once there had been a throne of grace (Heb. 4:16), where mercy gloried against judgment. (James 2:13.) It was foreshadowed in the mercy-seat sprinkled with blood. In Isa. 6 the Lord is seen sitting upon a throne high and lifted up; but it was in the temple, and before it was the altar that spake of grace, mercy, and peace for the guilty. In Rev. 4 again there is a throne, and out of it proceeded voices and thunders and lightnings; but around it was a rainbow, the token of sure and covenant mercy for a sin-blighted world. But here, at the close of earth’s history, stands a “great white throne.” There is no blood, no altar, no rainbow; One sits upon it to whom God has committed all judgment. (John 5:22.) From before His face the earth and the heavens flee away; there is no shelter, no refuge from the fearful sight. God is enthroned for judgment inflexible, eternal, and without mercy; and the sinner, in all his guilt and defilement, and blackness, will stand revealed in awful contrast to the dazzling whiteness of the throne of God.
Condemned in righteousness, they are cast into the lake of fire that burneth with fire and brimstone.
Such is the inevitable doom of all who are not washed in the blood of Christ. The “fearful and unbelieving,” as well as “the abominable and murderers,” shall be there; the small and great, the rich and the poor, the young and the old, to suffer the pangs of the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched.
The prospect is intolerable. Little wonder is it that, in these last days of Satan’s power and subtlety, it should be broadly asserted by some that the second death is annihilation, and that the punishment is unconscious; or by others, that even out of the second death there will be a glorious exit into life eternal. It is not hard to understand how such theories find access to the minds of such as have never bowed their reason to God’s revelation, backed as they ever are with the seemingly plausible argument, that these views exalt the merciful character of God.
Surely, had God intended to leave one ray of hope for the unbeliever, He never would have used the language He has in speaking of this subject.
Let it be no matter of doubt in the minds of God’s children that the idea of conscious existence amid torments as of the burning of lire and brimstone, and that for ages of ages, is no fiction of man’s imagination, but God’s revelation in His own “Word of the punishment that He deems it just to inflict inevitably upon the ungodly.
It is not within the scope of these papers to enter into a discussion of the arguments adduced to prove the non-eternity of punishment. Suffice it to say that it cannot be “unconscious punishment,” for the word rendered “punishment” in Matt. 25:46 is the same as rendered “torment” in 1 John 4:18, and cannot mean that of which the subjects are unconscious.
Again, the period of punishment cannot he limited, for in Rev. 14:11 and 20:10 the expression “ages of ages” has no limit; but, as if to fix its meaning indisputably, it is applied frequently throughout the hook of Revelation to the duration of the life of God. (See Rev. 4:9; 5:14; 10:6; 15:7.)
“After death the judgment.” (Heb. 9:27.) Many a man has boldly faced the cannon’s mouth—has unflinchingly looked death in the face; but who has been so brave as calmly to ponder appearing in judgment before God without desiring another plea to trust in than his best performances can afford?
Happy are they whose judgment is past at the cross of Christ, who, because “in Him,” shall not come into judgment, but are passed from death into life!
4 So all the oldest MSS.