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A study of Revelation 20-22. This is book 8 of an 8 part book series.
Category - Bible Commentaries
John says nothing about life in the millennium, except for the fact that the resurrected ones will “reign with Christ” during that time. He passes quickly over a thousand years, eager, it seems, to speak of the climax of history—the great judgment of all mankind. I, on the other hand, am not in such a hurry, for I believe it is important for us to understand something about life on earth during this final “day” in the history of man.
In my early life in the church, I received a very good Christian education in a mission school. However, when it came to the topic of the Millennium, my teachers seemed short on knowledge and long on confusion. At times I was told that we would receive eternal life when we died and went to heaven. At other times I was told that we would receive our reward at the resurrection of the dead.
Likewise, we were taught that all souls were immortal, so our reward was not really immortality as such, but the quality of immortal life—either as eternal bliss or eternal torment.
The one thing we were never taught is the difference between eternal life and immortality, for this alone would have cleared up much of our confusion. We will deal with that topic shortly.
Immortality is a deathless condition. Most people believe that the body dies and that life as we know it is the process of dying. The Greeks, who were dualistic, believed that the body dies and that the soul is immortal. To them, the soul was spiritual, and so they used the terms soul and spirit interchangeably. The Hebrew view, however, says in Ezekiel 18:4,
4 Behold, all souls [nephesh] are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.
God claims ownership of all souls by right of creation, for Adam was made a living soul (Gen. 2:7). However, the soul is also responsible for sin, as we read here and in Num. 15:28. Hence, when Paul says, “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23), he means that every soul has sinned—not just the people in general, but specifically their souls. For this reason, divine judgment for sin is meted out against the soul, not merely upon the body, and because “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), therefore, it is the soul that dies as a judgment for sin.
The Hebrew view is developed clearly in the law and its view about the use and purpose of blood. “The nephesh (soul) of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11). The NASB translates Lev. 17:14, “For as for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life.” Both times the word is translated “life” but it literally means “soul.” The translators take it upon themselves to reinterpret nephesh to mean life itself, as if to imply that immortality resided in the soul, whereas the Scriptures teach that the nephesh has been sentenced to death because of Adam’s sin.
The Greeks linked soul and spirit; the Hebrews separated soul and spirit (Heb. 4:12) and, instead, linked the soul to the body. The Greeks clearly separated the body from the soul, but the law of God linked them together, making both body and soul mortal. The phrase “the soul of the flesh” in Lev. 17:11 should be understood as “the flesh’s soul” or simply “the fleshly soul.” In other words, the soul is fleshly, or carnal as well as mortal. The soul is not spiritual, as the Greeks imagined.
The Apostle Paul found it necessary to expound on this to the Corinthian church in order to change their Greek mindset. In 1 Cor. 2:10-16 he shows the distinction between the soul and the spirit, saying,
10 For to us God revealed them [the revelations of God] through the spirit; for the spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God.
In other words, the source of revelatory knowledge is “the Spirit of God,” which speaks to “the spirit of the man.” Paul continues in 1 Cor. 2:14, saying,
14 But a natural [psykikos, “soulish”] man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
The Greek word psyche (soul) is the equivalent of the Hebrew word nephesh in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint). Hence, when Paul speaks of the “natural man” (NASB), it more literally refers to the “soulish man” and is the equivalent of the “old man” or Adamic identity of our own soul. That “old man,” Paul says, is supposed to be “crucified” with Christ (Rom. 6:6), or put to death. That would not be possible if our souls were immortal.
In fact, The Emphatic Diaglott renders psykikos as “animal,” saying, “an animal man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:14). Those translators recognize that the soul is part of the animal nature—that is, the flesh. The animalistic nature of the human soul is also the origin of the beast systems which have arisen in the world and which are described by both Daniel and John. Its selfishness and its survival instinct prevents the animalistic soul from hearing, obeying, or understanding spiritual things.
Paul sets forth the spirit of man in unity with the Spirit of God as being the “new man” or the new identity by which revelatory truth is communicated to us. Our spirit is capable of understanding spiritual things, while our soul is not. Hence, there are two “men” (or beings) in us: soul and spirit. These are distinct, for the soul is fleshly, while the spirit is spiritual. So Paul continues in 1 Cor. 2:15, 16,
15 But he who is spiritual [that is, our spirit-self] appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.
Most people misunderstand Paul’s teaching, because they think he was referring to Christians vs. non-Christians as such. But Paul was personifying the soul and spirit, calling each a “man” (KJV) or “self” (NASB). The soul, being carnal, or fleshly, is incapable of receiving or of understanding spiritual things.
Hence, the source of revelation by which we commune with God is through our spiritual man.
Paul says in 1 Thess. 5:23, 24,
23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.
Clearly, we are a tripartite being, having spirit, soul, and body. Greek dualists thought that man was a physical body surrounding a spiritual soul. Hebrew revelation links the body and soul and distinguishes the spirit from them.
But Paul prays that all three parts of us would be “preserved complete,” that is, guarded, kept, so as not to escape or be lost or thrown away. In one short statement, Paul reveals the final reward of the righteous: all three parts will be “preserved.” This is the goal of the New Covenant, for it is based upon the One who calls us and has promised to accomplish this. Paul affirms that “He also will bring it to pass.” In other words, it is His responsibility to fulfill His word (vow) as expressed in the New Covenant.
Paul calls Him “the God of peace,” implying that spirit, soul, and body must ultimately be reconciled in order to be “complete” and “without blame.” This is a very Hebrew view, for it restores all three parts of man that were damaged by Adam’s sin. The great inner “war” (Rom. 7:23) must end in reconciliation and peace.
Whereas the Greeks had no hope for the body, seeking to separate the spiritual soul from the body and live immortally in a purely spiritual (soulish) existence, the Hebrews saw God’s creation as “good” and had received the revelation of a bodily resurrection. Whereas the present form of body (as we know it) will pass, a new body and a new soul await us that will be at peace with the spirit.
Scripture teaches us that death is a return to an original state. Breaking this down into its component parts, the body returns to dust, the spirit returns to God, and the soul returns to “hades,” a state of unconsciousness that is usually referred to as “sleep.”
This is most evident when we study the death of Jesus Himself. Joseph of Arimathea buried His body in his own tomb (Matt. 27:58-60). Jesus’ soul went to hades (Acts 2:31). His spirit went to God (Luke 23:46).
James 2:26 tells us that “the body without the spirit is dead.” The body dies. Neither does the soul go to heaven, but the spirit. It is not the soul that is immortal, but the spirit. Both body and soul are said to die, but nowhere do we read that the spirit dies. Paul makes it clear that the spirit (i.e., the “spiritual man”) has a conscious mind that is distinct from the soul’s conscious (carnal) mind. Hence, the spiritual part of man returns to God in some state of consciousness, but the soulish mind dies with the body (Eccl. 9:5).
The separation of the three parts of man at the time of death begins to be reversed by the resurrection. Resurrection is a re-creation, a coming together again of spirit and body, even as God breathed into Adam’s dust body to create a living soul (Gen. 2:7). However, the quality of one’s life at resurrection will depend upon one’s relationship with God. As Jesus said in John 5:29, some will receive “a resurrection of life,” while others “a resurrection of judgment.”
Since both groups come back to “life,” it is obvious that it is their quality of life that is different. Furthermore, with two resurrections, each having believers raised to life, it is obvious that there is also a distinction between believers and overcomers. There are, then, three main groups that we must consider: overcomers, believers, and unbelievers.
The idea of a Messianic Age has been ingrained in Judaism for thousands of years. It was also called “The Age” and was identified with the great Sabbath Millennium, the seventh thousand-year period in earth’s history. It was to begin with the coming of the Messiah, and it was said that during that time, the glory of God would fill the earth.
Revelation 20 reflects this belief, though modified by Christian interpretations. One of the most misunderstood terms in the New Testament is the Greek term aion (“age”) and its adjective, aionian (“age-abiding, pertaining to an age”). It is usually translated “eternal” or “forever” or “everlasting,” but the word itself speaks of an indefinite and unknown period of time. It is best translated “age.” In fact, our English word eon comes from the Greek word aion.
The point I want to make is this: when you read “everlasting” or “eternal” in the Bible, you cannot take these translations at face value. The Hebrew word olam and its Greek equivalent, aionian, properly mean “an age, an indefinite period of time.” In fact, in the end, it hardly matters how the Greeks used their word aionian, because (in the Septuagint translation) it was simply the word which the rabbis chose to express the Hebrew concept of olam. Hence, when we read aionian in the New Testament, we ought to assign to it the definition of the Hebrew word olam.
The word olam comes from the root word alam, which means “to hide, to conceal.” When applied to time, it indicates a hidden, unknown period of time.
In other words, the length of time involved is indefinite, because the time may vary according to the context. It might mean a few days, as in Jonah 2:6, or a few centuries, as with the “perpetual priesthood” given to Phinehas in Num. 25:13. (The line of Phinehas was replaced by Zadok during the time of Solomon. See 1 Kings 2:27, 35.)
When applied to God, the Hebrew text normally uses the word ad (as in “everlasting Father” in Isaiah 9:6, KJV) or qedem (“eternal God,” as in Deut. 33:27). Yet ad comes from the root word adah, “pass by, advance.” And qedem means “ancient, eastward.” While these words may imply an eternal quality, this was not their primary meaning. Nor do these words really matter to us, because the key Hebrew word to study is olam and its root alam. Everywhere in the Septuagint, the rabbis used aionian as the equivalent of olam.
Indefinite time is not the same as infinite time. To insist that olam must always refer to infinite time is to limit its meaning in Scripture. In fact, this confusion has served to hide the very important prophecy of the Messianic Age and the reward of immortality during that Age.
Hebrew thinking in Jesus' day looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, in which He would rule the earth with His people in a Great Sabbath millennium. This idea was expressed in the phrase, “The Age” and “The aionian Kingdom” (2 Peter 1:11), i.e., the Kingdom Age.
There are at least four modern translations that render the word aionian properly. Young's Literal Translation renders it “age-during.” Rotherham's The Emphasized Bible renders it “age-abiding.” Wilson's Emphatic Diaglott and The Concordant New Testament leave the original Greek word intact: aionian.
A good example is found in Matt. 25:46 (KJV), which says,
46And these shall go away into everlasting [aionian] punishment; but the righteous into life eternal[aionian].
Both “everlasting” and “eternal” here come from the Greek word aionian. The Cambridge Bible Commentary, by A.W. Argyle, comments on this verse, saying,
“46. eternal punishment, i.e., punishment characteristic of the Age to come, not meaning that it lasts for ever.
“eternal life, i.e., the life that belongs to the Age to come, the full abundant life which is fellowship with God.”
I show this so that no one thinks that I am pulling these things out of thin air. The word means an indefinite period of time, which, as Dr. Bullinger says in Appendix 129 of The Companion Bible, “may be limited or extended as the context of each occurrence may demand.”
For more quotations from the scholars, see chapter 5 of my book, The Judgments of the Divine Law.
One of the most tragic casualties of this mistranslation of aionian has been the understanding of the Ages and specifically “The Age,” a reference to the Messianic Age to come. We read often of “the age to come” or “in the ages to come” (Eph. 2:7). Of particular note is Mark 10:30, where Jesus says, “and in the aion to come, aionian life.”
The age to come is what they called the Messianic Age. Those who receive aionian life are those raised in the first resurrection, because they will enjoy immortality during The Age. The rest of the dead, however, will not be so fortunate, but will have to wait until that Age is completed. In other words, they will not have aionian life (during the thousand years), but will instead be given immortality afterward.
Hence, the Bible everywhere urges us to attain life in “The Age.” Unfortunately, this phrase is usually mistranslated “eternal life,” as if to say “immortality.” Thus, we miss the real significance of the phrase. Scripture admonishes us to strive to be an overcomer so that we may receive immortality in the first resurrection. That way we have immortal life during “The Age” to come and do not have to wait for an extra thousand years before receiving this reward.
In short, aionian life specifically refers to TIMING, while immortality refers to a QUALITY of life. The reward of aionian life does not limit the overcomers’ reward, nor does their immortal state conclude at the end of the thousand years. Rather, their reward comes earlier than for others, and then continues beyond the Kingdom Age.
The condition after the Kingdom Age is expressed in the Hebrew phrase olam va'ad, “to the age and beyond” (used in Exodus 15:18; Psalm 9:5; Psalm 10:16; Psalm 45:6; and Dan. 12:3).
As we have already shown, the Sabbath Millennium is designed to give the earth a rest from its labor—specifically, from its bondage to Mystery Babylon. This release, however, must be enforced by our Redeemer-King, because the Babylonian rulers “have refused to let them go” (Jer. 50:33, 34).
The coming of the rightful King of the earth changes the international order of things. First, He must secure a foothold in the earth. At least one nation must declare Him to be their King so that He may rule territory by His laws. He will not force Himself upon the nations, but yet the Holy Spirit will be poured out in order that whole nations will desire Him to be their King. His laws will then replace the laws of men, wherever there are disagreements and discrepancies. True justice will be the order of the day.
Isaiah is perhaps the main prophet who revealed the conditions in the Messianic Age. As farmland is purified of man-made chemicals, and as genetically modified crops are banned, health will be restored to the earth. Over time, the earth will be restored to its original pristine condition, and as health improves, life spans will increase. Isaiah 65:20 says,
20 No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his days; for the youth will die at the age of one hundred and the one who does not reach the age of one hundred shall be thought accursed.
In other words, if a man dies at the age of 100, it will be said that he died too young—perhaps because he was “accursed” in some way.
As far as international relations is concerned, Isaiah 2:2, 3 says,
2 Now it will come about that in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it. 3 And many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways, and that we may walk in His paths.” For the law will go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
We see from this that people from other nations will not be forced to come and learn. They will desire to come and learn the ways of God, as revealed in His laws. This motivation is already prevalent among the true believers even today. Those who have no desire to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18) are probably religionists of Christian persuasion, but not genuine believers. Growth is evidence of life, and if there is no growth, how can there be life?
Isaiah 2:4 continues,
4 And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war.
It will be an age of peace, as the nations conform to the image of Christ, the Prince of Peace. Any disputes between nations will be settled justly and peaceably by the wisdom of the law.
Perhaps the important thing to understand is that it is not until the Great White Throne judgment that all men are summoned for judgment. Only then will Christ’s jurisdiction be granted over the whole earth. Every knee will bow at that time, for no one will have any choice but to submit to the King and the judgment of His law.
Only then will men from the beginning of time be held accountable for the sins that they committed during their life time on earth. Only then will the judgments of the law be enforced fully, and all who failed to claim Jesus Christ’s death as payment for their sins will be sentenced to be enslaved to the righteous.
This will inaugurate a New World Order. Every tongue will confess allegiance to Christ (Isaiah 45:23, 24). Hence, even though all who are sentenced to slavery will have to pay or to work off their debt, they will not be abused, for it is unlawful to abuse a slave (Exodus 21:26, 27). Instead, the righteous will rule over them as Christ would rule, having His character and love for all men. They will teach their slaves by words and by example. Isaiah 26:8, 9 says,
8 Indeed, while following the way of Thy judgments, O Lord, we have waited for Thee eagerly; Thy name, even Thy memory, is the desire of our souls. 9 At night my soul longs for Thee; indeed, my spirit within me seeks Thee diligently; for when the earth experiences Thy judgments, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.