The Great White Throne
E. J. Strange, Bridgwater
OUR subject for this paper is one of the greatest solem¬nity. It is the consideration of the final judgment as recorded in Rev. 20. 11-15. We shall consider first of all the throne and its Occupant, we shall look at the people who are judged and the nature of the judgment, and finally the doom that is pronounced and executed.
The Great White Throne. The description is graphic, portraying the majesty and the purity of God's throne. The edicts from that throne will be in perfect justice, and with all the authority and power of God to enforce them. The Occupant of the throne has a face of such indescribable majesty that from before it the heaven and the earth flee away. The heavens are not clean in God's sight; how much less this sad earth which has been defiled by centuries of man's sin and which has been stained with the blood of God's Son. Who then is this One before whose fearful aspect the final cataclysm of the universe takes place, when " the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat " (2 Peter 3. 10) ? There can surely be one answer only. It is the Lord Jesus Himself, for, as we have been reminded in an earlier paper, " the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son " (John 5. 22). At the same time it should be remembered that, as in all else, so in judgment, there is perfect oneness between Father and Son. The throne in The Revelation is always the throne of God and the Lamb.
The Dead. " I saw," says John, " the dead, small and great, stand before God." The Lord Jesus had said, " The hour is coming in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice (the voice of the Son) and shall come forth ; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life ; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection evangel lie had heralded among the Gentiles. This was a private meeting (Acts 15. 6-11), before he addressed the full assembly (Acts 15. 12). He had put these things before those of whom the Galatians thought so much now, lest he should be wrong in his teaching, for example, concerning circumcision.
Verse 3. Instead of folding fault they agreed with his teaching, and did not compel Titus to be circumcised, even though in the heart of Judaism. Titus was received by the church at Jerusalem without this rite, which the Judaizers said was compulsory there.
Verse 4. Another reason why Paul sought a private interview. Some unbelieving Jews, desiring to undermine Christianity, came in alongside of the true believers to inspect for a sinister purpose their freedom to worship God as they would, the opposite of being bound by the law. This freedom believers have by reason of their union with Christ, who frees them from the law (Rom. 7. 4-6). The jews wanted to reduce them again to the slavery of the law.
Verse 5. Not for an hour did Paul permit himself to be ordered under bondage to the law by these false brethren, lie maintained his ground so that the truth of the gospel should continue, as opposed to the "different" false gospel, ch. 1. 6. The test case was such that it established for ever the true way for other Gentiles.
Verse 6. From the apostles, those who were reputed to be well-thought-of I had nothing laid up before me, i.e., presented to me. Their reputation may mean either (1) how they were thought of by men, or (2) as R.V., what they once were, referring to their association with the Lord on earth. It made no difference to Paul.
Verse 7. Instead ol them needing to instruct Paul as an inferior they recognized his equality with them, when they saw the results of his work. They realized that he had been entrusted by God with the gospel as addressed to the Gentiles, as Peter was with the gospel as addressed to the Jews.
Verse 8. The God who had energized Peter with a view to preaching to Jews (Acts 2), energized Paul also for the Gentiles. Thus Paul and Peter got their enabling from the same source equally.
Verse 9. When they had grasped the significance of the divinely-bestowed gifts and qualifications of an apostle given unto Paul, James (ch. 1. 19, here put first, as the president of the council, Acts 15. 13) and Cephas and John gave to Paul and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. These three supported and bore the responsibility for the church. This act was a visible pledge of agreement and a public expression of recognition as fellow-labourers on equal terms, one to the Gentiles and the other to the Jews.
Verse 10. They had only one request to make of Paul and Barnabas, that they should remember with a view to helping the poor Jewish believers of Jerusalem and Judaea, who had suffered persecution (1 Thess. 2. 14). This was the only part of the Mosaic law the apostles saw lit to remind them of (Deut. 15. 7). Which very thing Paul was in a hurry to do.
PAUL'S CONTROVERSY WITH PETER (Verses 11-21)
Verse II. Following his assertion of equal authority with the chiefest apostles, Paul goes on to show that when Peter came to Antioch, the capital of Syria, chief centre of converted Gentiles (Acts 11. 19-26), Paul stood out against him as an equal, because he did something Paul knew to be wrong (v. 12).
Verse 12. Before certain Judaizing teachers came from James in Jerusalem (possibly after Paul's visit there. Acts 15), Peter ate freely with the Gentile converts. But when the Judaizers came Peter put himself under them, and separated himself from the Gentile converts. He feared the circumcision party at Jerusalem, those converted Jews there who said circumcision was necessary to salvation ; he was afraid he would lose face with them when he went back. The question at issue was not the admission of Gentiles to the Christian covenant—that had been settled at Jerusalem— but social intercourse between Jew and Gentile converts.
Verse 13. The rest of the Jewish converts at Antioch were involved with Peter. Even Barnabas was led away with their dissimulation.
Verse 14. But when Paul saw that they did not walk straight according to the truth of the gospel, that is, justification by faith alone, v. 16, he said to Peter in a full meeting of the church (1 Tim. 5. 20), " If you, a Jew from birth, live like Gentiles rather than like Jews, especially in the matter of food restrictions, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews." Peter was doing this by his new example and new teaching, contrary to what he knew to be the truth, even compelling the Gentile converts to accept Judaism.
Verse 15. Paul now appeals to Peter's reason. They two were Jews by birth, and not sinners of the Gentiles, a term by which Jews were wont to refer to Gentiles.
Verse 16. Notwithstanding these privileges no man, either Jew or Gentile, is made right by doing the things in the law, to which the Judaizers were attaching so much importance. Faith in Christ alone justifies. They, Jews though they were, had believed in Christ, and were justified on that sole ground, and not through law-keeping. This was an axiom of the gospel, that by works of the law no flesh is justified (Rom. 3. 20).
Verse 17. Paul shows the fallacy of the Judaizers, who reason that faith in Christ is not enough. Jews who sought justification in Christ learned that they as well as Gentiles were sinners, v. 15, even though they had tried to keep the law. Did that mean that Christ was serving sin, and made sinners of those to whom He revealed their sinful condition ? Let it not be considered.
Verse 18. To build again the Mosaic law, which was renounced as a means of justification, makes a man a transgressor. If he goes back again to the law as a means of justification he is acknowledging he was wrong in ever leaving it.
Verse 19. Paul now leaves his controversy with Peter, and speaks in general terms. He sees that (or himself he has passed beyond the law's demands, as have all believers. The law led him to Christ (ch. 3. 24), and in Christ lie died to the law, passed from under its condemnation and compulsions, to live to bring forth fruit unto Clod (Rom. 7. 4).
Verse 20. He explains how v. 19 works out, by showing his position in the sight of God. I am so identified with Christ in His death that His death is mine. As He satisfied the law in His death, so have I in Him. Yet now I live unto God. As Christ was raised from the dead, so was I, yet not my old self that lived in legalism. Not only did Christ kindle life in me, but He Himself is that life. The present aspect of that eternal life lived in my fleshly body is lived really in the element of faith. It was received by faith, and is maintained by faith, in the Son of God, v. 16. His eternal Sonship is the source of life. He loved me and gave Him¬self up for me, as a proof of His love (John 3. 16).
Verse 21. I do not, as the Judaizers, set aside as of no account the free, unmerited favour of God. If righteousness came through law-keeping, then Christ need not have died. But the grace of God, and the death of Christ leave me nothing to do.
(To be continued)