The Eternal State
R. Catchpole, London
It is noticeable how few passages in the Bible give details concerning the eternal state, or, as it is called in scripture, ‘the day of God’. The absence of such information is perhaps of some significance, suggesting that such will be the glory of that day, human language is either too impoverished to be able to adequately describe it, or, if it could be described, we would, in our present state, be unable to comprehend it. Broadly speaking, there are just three passages of scripture that develop in any detail truth relative to that day, and in each passage we should notice the very definite emphasis upon ‘God’.1 The first is in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 verses 24 to 28, and at the end of verse 28 we read ‘that God may be all in all’. Next 2 Peter chapter 3 verses 10 to 14, the apostle referring to ‘the day of God’ in verse 12. Finally, Revelation chapter 21 verses 1 to 8, where some six times John mentions ‘God’.2
The presentation of the kingdom to the Father, 1 Cor. 15. 28
1 Corinthians chapter 15 is the great chapter on resurrection. We know that at Corinth there were those who denied the fact of resurrection, v. 12, while others questioned the manner of the resurrection, v. 35, hence the teaching of Paul in this chapter. Verses 21 to 28 form something of a parenthesis, covering the whole history of man, from Adam’s fall, v. 21, to the eternal state, vv. 24, 28. Paul indicates that if there is no resurrection then God’s prophetic programme will come to nought. In describing the order of the resurrections Paul says in verses 23 and 24, ‘Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming’ embracing, from the period of the rapture through to the Revelation in glory, the resurrection of both Old and New Testament saints, and those martyred for their faith during the tribulation, ‘Then cometh the end’. The Greek word for ‘then’ carries the idea of ‘next in a sequence, or after an interval’, while the word for ‘end’ denotes the ‘ultimate, absolute end’, bringing us to the threshold of eternity. We might ask why the apostle, at this point, moves on to speak of the absolute end? The answer is that then the final resurrection takes place, when the unregenerate will be raised to stand before the Great White Throne; the order of resurrection will then be complete, Rev. 20. 11-15. But Paul does say, then after an interval cometh the end so now we might ask ‘what comes in the interval’? Two things are mentioned in verse 24 indicated by the repetition of the word ‘when’, ‘Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power’. The final end cannot come until the kingdom has been delivered to God, the Father. But that will happen only when, in consequence of His millennial reign and governmental power, all things have been made subject to Christ, in accordance with the purpose of God. This will be the character of the kingdom the Lord will deliver into the hands of the Father and ‘when all things shall be subdued under him, then’ and now the Greek word denotes ‘then at that time, then immediately’, expressing Christ’s willingness and delight in handing the kingdom to His Father. ‘Then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him, that put all things under Him’, 1 Cor. 15. 28. this is not a denial of Christ’s essential deity, nor of His oneness with the Father, but rather the position that He will voluntarily take in the outworking of the Father’s counsel and purpose, with the object ‘that God’, God and the Godhead, ‘may be all in all’.
The promise of new heavens and a new earth, 2 Pet. 3. 13
Believers are viewed as ‘looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God’, v. 12, the idea is literally ‘looking for and desiring’, for we certainly cannot hasten what has been set in the counsel of God, though we should have desires and longings for it. In verse 13 Peter says, ‘We according to His promise look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness’, and three things might be considered in light of this verse:
1) Where do we have that promise? Some believe that the day of God is not anticipated in the Old Testament, even though two passages speak of ‘new heavens and a new earth’, Isa. 65. 17; 66. 22. While in both chapters it must be acknowledged that the millennial kingdom is being primarily described, we should nevertheless appreciate that the millennium culminates with the day of God, hence the references in Isaiah. Likewise, in 2 Peter chapter 3 the apostle brings the two days together, speaking of the ‘day of the Lord’, v. 10, and of ‘the day of God’, v. 12, and in connection with both he mentions the dissolution of all things, that event marking the conclusion of the day of the Lord, and the introduction of the day of God.
2) In what sense will the earth and heavens be new? The Greek word denotes not only new in time but also fresh in character, something entirely different from anything previously known. Will God create them totally afresh, or will He re-create them out of the existing material of this present world? While scholars are divided on this point, the language of Hebrews chapter 1 verses 11 and 12, ‘They all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed’, and Revelation chapter 20 verse 11, ‘The earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them’, as well as the words of 2 Peter chapter 3 verses 10 to 12, ‘The heavens shall pass away with a great noise’, and ‘the elements shall melt (Gk. ‘be loosed’) with fervent heat . . . the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved (Gk. ‘be loosed’)’, and ‘the elements shall melt (Gk. ‘to liquify’) with fervent heat’, all suggest this is more than a mere renovation of the old, but the introduction of something completely new.
3) What will be the distinctive feature of the new heavens and earth? Peter says ‘wherein dwelleth righteousness’. The word ‘dwelleth’ has the idea of ‘settling down in a dwelling, to be at home’. At present, ‘grace reigns through righteousness’, Rom. 5. 21; in the millennium there will be a reign of righteousness, Isa. 32. 1, but in the eternal state righteousness will dwell, be perfectly at home, undisturbed in a universe of bliss.
The primary character of the eternal state, Rev. 21. 1-8
1) ‘No more sea’, at present the sea is essential for the maintenance of life upon the earth, and for its sanitation. The sea today divides and separates peoples. It was not so in the original creation; then the waters were ‘gathered together unto one place’, Gen. 1. 9. But the situation that pertains on earth today is, of course, a product of the flood, but there will be no such divisions or barriers in the eternal state.
2) ‘The holy city, new Jerusalem’, the dwelling place of the church and the city for which Abraham looked, ‘which hath foundations, whose builder (designer) and maker is God’, Heb. 11. 10. While in relation to the new earth it is viewed as a city, a centre of administration, it is also called the ‘tabernacle of God’ marking it out as His dwelling place. God will dwell with men upon earth, not merely visiting men, nor even ruling over men, but dwelling with them. That has ever been His desire and, as the various ages and dispensations give way to eternity, that desire is realized, God is dwelling with men, and ‘God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes’. It does not mean that there will be weeping in eternity, but rather that God will have removed everything that currently causes tears.
3) ‘He that overcometh’, i.e., those born of God, believers, 1 John 5. 4, and a twofold promise is given to them. The first concerns their possessions: ‘shall inherit all things’. In Hebrews chapter 1 verse 2 the Lord Jesus is the appointed heir of all things, and here He is pleased to share that inheritance with those who have believed. Then, as to their position, ‘I will be his God, and he shall be my son’;3 in his writings John reserves the title of ‘son’ for the Lord Jesus alone, until this verse, when he uses it in respect of each individual believer in their relationship to God, to convey something of the intimacy of their closeness to, and fellowship with, God.
4) ‘The fearful and unbelieving, and the abominable and murderers and whoremongers and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone which is the second death’, there will be an eternal separation between the saved and the lost. The Lord Jesus said, ‘Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God’, John 3. 3. Here warning is given that without the new birth men will be subject to the second death.
May our daily conduct be consistent with our anticipation of the new heavens and earth, and, touched by the plight of those who are lost, may we ‘by all means save some’, 2 Pet. 3. 11, 14; 1 Cor. 9. 22.
- There are a few individual verses that likewise concern the eternal state, e.g., Matt. 25. 46; Eph. 3. 21.
- There is disagreement between very able Bible teachers as to whether the whole of chapter 21 through to 22 verse 5 relates to the eternal state, or whether chapter 21 verses 1-8 describe the eternal state and then verse 9 through to chapter 22 verse 5 reverts to a description of the city in the millennium. But whatever view is subscribed to we can say that all agree that throughout it is the same city, and, at the very least, the first eight verses of chapter 21 describe eternal conditions!
- Rev. 21. 7.