with Jeremy Westcott –
Important note: as with the two previous posts, we need to let you know that we have changed our view of these things in the light of further revelation from God. We now see the whole of Matthew 24 as a warning about the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.
References to ‘the end of the age’ are always about AD 70 and not to ‘the end of the world’.
Our interpretation of the word ‘judgment’ is now more about delivering a verdict (“This is Me, and this is not”) than passing sentence; about God giving people an opportunity to change, rather than about Him handing out punishment. He really is Love, and Love really does keep no record of wrongs.
But it remains true that our work will be tested with fire.
Below is the post as originally written.
On the last day, the first people to be taken will be the unbelievers, swiftly followed by the believers. If that is news to you, it is probably best to read our previous post before embarking on this one.
“Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming… For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will” (Matt 24:42, 44).
We have looked before at some of the misunderstandings which can arise from reading Thessalonians carelessly. When he writes to them about the last day, Paul is responding to a particular question which is vexing the church there. They understand very well what will happen to the believers who are alive when Jesus returns, but what about those who have died? Will they miss out?
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thes 4:13-18).
‘By the word of the Lord’ – this is not Paul’s interpretation, this is what he has received directly from Him. It is all going to happen in the same instant, and as I have said before, there will be lots of noise. His coming will be very obvious. The dead in Christ will be resurrected, and then the living believers will join them in meeting the Lord – and in the air, not on the earth. Paul offers comfort, says not to be frightened or concerned about all this. Alive or dead, you will be with Him in the age to come. All at the same time.
He says the same thing to the Corinthians:
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed (1 Cor 15:51-52).
Some will be alive, some dead, but all will be changed in a moment. All of us will receive our eternal, immortal bodies. These are bodies like those Adam and Eve had when they were created, when they had their spirit on the outside of them. The glory of God manifested on the outside. Skin was only added later when they sinned, and not animal skins: skin. Skin was not needed before that – I can’t go into all that here, but you can ask God to show you.
Resurrection and judgment
For everyone, believers included, the last day is the day of resurrection and judgment. The day of separation: wheat from the tares, sheep from the goats (Matt 25:31-46). There will be judgment for unbelievers, and we will look at that next time. But there will also be judgment for believers.
‘For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will. Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’ and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know’ (Matt 24:44-50).
At the end of the age, what will we be found doing when He comes? The servant found doing as his master commanded was put in charge of all his possessions. Here (and in other parables) there is a scale of rewards.
But what happens to the unfaithful servant? His master will return and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 24:51). Jesus says this again in Matt 25:30 ‘Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’.
This is not ‘hell’ – you don’t get dark flames.
But there will be dimensions close to the throne, and dimensions far away. The weeping and gnashing of teeth is when we realise we have let God down. When we see how much we have missed – or done in our own strength. I have been there, in the heavenly realms, at that judgment seat. There was a good deal of weeping and gnashing of teeth for me, when I saw all that I had missed. The good news is that we don’t have to wait until we die or until Jesus comes: we can all go there now, and get this dealt with. Again, you may need to ask God about that.
Paul says, For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God… So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God (Rom 14:10,12).
Scroll of Destiny
This judgment is not about sin. Sin is covered by the cross and by the blood of Jesus. This is about our life. This is about our scroll of destiny. Look at Psalm 139: everything that was written, all the vast sum of the thoughts of God that are written about us. What are we going to do about that? Are we going to fulfil that or not? We are going to have to give an account of whether our scroll matches up with the scroll of our life that God has written for us.
‘But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire‘ (1 Cor 3:10-15).
Paul is writing here about that same judgment for believers. It is a fiery place, a consuming fire. The true quality of our life will be on trial. Let’s get it sorted now, and we will be able to claim our reward. That reward consists of the things we will be doing in the age to come, in the new heavens and the new earth. Awesome things. It consists of responsibilities that God will entrust to us, because we have been faithful here.
But if someone’s work is burned up when tried with fire, he will suffer loss. This is not a long darkness – he can be assured he will be saved, but ‘through fire’. Fire purifies – that is its purpose. Even if we have messed up, we are still saved. There is no fear here. If you are a believer, and you have faith, you are not going to a fiery place for eternity. But there will be a judgment.
- Misunderstanding Thessalonians (freedomarc.wordpress.com)
- The End Of The Age (freedomarc.wordpress.com)
- An Invitation to be a Slave (imahnidawson.wordpress.com)