A Resurrection Of Judging

Death and Judgment

 CONCORDANT STUDIES

IN FURTHER CONSIDERING the theme of the day of judging even as that of the second death which follows, let us first of all note that there are those who will “not [be] coming into judging” (John 5:24). Instead, under the evangel of the Circumcision, those who do good shall go out into a resurrection of life (John 5:29). This “resurrection of life,” will be the impartation of vivification, of life beyond the reach of death.

This marvelous event will occur one thousand years prior to the great white throne day of judging. This is “the former resurrection” (Rev.20:5). That is, this “resurrection of life”, in which its partakers live and reign with Christ a thousand years (Rev.20:4b), is the former of the two resurrections spoken of in Revelation 20:4,5. “Happy and holy is he who is having part in the former resurrection! Over these, the second death has no jurisdiction, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will be reigning with Him the thousand years” (Rev.20:6).

“Those who have suffered death for their loyalty during the great persecution of the end time are especially included in the former resurrection. This is the time spoken of by Daniel (7:22) when the kingdom is safeguarded by the saints. This is the resurrection of the just (Luke 14:14) and the resurrection of life (John 5:29), in contrast to the resurrection of judgment (Rev.20:12). But those who suffer martyrdom or who endure to the end will have the added privilege of reigning with Christ and will be His priests for the thousand years. Their trials have wrought an eonian weight of glory for them. They will be happy and holy indeed”.[1]

“The rest of the dead [however,] do not live until the thousand years should be finished” (Rev.20:5). This is the latter of the two resurrections considered in Revelation 20:4,5. After the thousand years, “the rest of the dead” will be returned to life. This will occur so that they might be judged. Their judgment, the experience of judging which they undergo, will transpire in association with “a great white throne” and in the presence of “Him Who is sitting upon it” (Rev.20:11), the Son of God, into Whose hands God has committed all judging (John 5:22, 27).

JUDGing (krisis) is the process or carrying out of a judgment. Judgment (krima, JUDGment-effect) is the effect or result of a judicial decision; it is the judicial sentence. To “judge” simply means to decide or make a conclusive decision. “Condemnation” (katakrisis, DOWN-JUDGing) speaks of a judgment in which adversativeness comes upon those who are the judgment’s objects.

God’s “judgments” always entail doing right with a view toward setting right. This is because God is love, and all His ways are righteousness. Due to His goodness, wisdom, and benignity, His judgments must always conclude thus (cp Rom.11: 32). This is due to His character or nature; it is not inherent in the word “judge” itself.

The Concordant Version is criticized by some for the rendering “condemned” in Revelation 20:13b (“And they were condemned, each in accord with their acts”). Yet even if we could be certain that the original reading of this verse was simply “JUDGEd,” not DOWN-JUDGEd, in any case, with respect to the general sense of the passage, the context is concerned with the resurrection of the unjust and the irreverent for the day of judging. It seems likely that, in any event, the entire phrase in question is in reference not to what follows the day of judging, but to the day of judging itself”.[2] That day will be a day of chastening (2 Pet.2:9), more tolerable for some than for others (cf Matt.10:15; 11:22; 12:41,42).

Even as all are “condemned” (Rom.5:18a) to this present mortality, it would not be surprising to find the unjust being spoken of as those who will similarly be “condemned” to their experience of chastening in the day of judging. Katakrino, itself, simply speaks of a judging that, in some sense, is adverse. Any theological concept of “condemnation” to death (or, certainly, of “damnation” to “Hell”) is a usage of the term, not its meaning. So the reading “condemned” (that is, “adversely judged”), may have been that of the Original. We find it only in Codex Sinaiticus, the most ancient complete Greek manuscript (fourth century), not in Codex Alexandrinus (fifth century) or in Vaticanus (which does not include the book of Revelation).

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JUDGING AND DESTRUCTION

Though we read that “death and the unseen were cast into the lake of fire” (Rev.20:14a), it is evident that “death and the unseen” can hardly be hurled into the lake of fire, or anywhere else. “Death” is a condition not an object, and “the unseen” refers to the state to which human sentient phenomena (“soul”) returns when a man dies, not to something that can be cast into a fire. Therefore, this phrase must be interpreted elliptically; it is a figure of association for those associated with death and the unseen, namely, the unjust dead (cp John 5:29b). Here (Rev.20: 12a) “the dead” is figurative; it is used in reference to those who are herein associated with death. Literally, they now live again, when appearing before the great white throne. They will be cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death.

This appears to be the main revelation in this context. Following their return to life for judging (“chastening” judging, 2 Peter 2:9), the unjust and irreverent will be cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death. That is, after their judgment, they will be subjected to that agency from which the loss of life will result. Thus, to them, the lake of fire is the second death, for this is what it holds, or “means” to them.

Their loss of life, by means of the lake of fire, however, should not be looked upon as a punishment for their sins or wicked acts. Not at all. God’s judgment of their acts is before the great white throne. His judgment of their very being—what they are—is in the second death, by means of the lake of fire.

The old humanity is corrupt in its very constitution (cp Eph.4:22; Rom.5:19); hence, in itself, it is fit only for death. It should not surprise us, then, that those judged before the great white throne must first be put to death, before, in God’s appointed time, as members of the new humanity, they can be vivified.

It is not God’s purpose, however, for most men to live during the eon of the eons, prior to the consummation. It is simply not their place to live during that period, any more than it was ours to live during the twelfth century. It is no disgrace upon them, concerning anything they have done, that they will not live in that day. Instead, in the day of judging, following the thousand years, they will be judged for what they have done; subsequently, by means of the lake of fire, they will die because of what they are, members of the old humanity which is corrupt in accord with its seductive desires. It is solely because of God’s choice in grace that we are exempted from these judgments ourselves.

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THE SCROLL OF LIFE

In the eon of the eons (cp Eph.3:21), those written in the Lambkin’s scroll of life will partake of the water of life “gratuitously” (Rev.21:6,27; 22:1,17). In that day, the grace of God will be fully apparent to all. Consequently, boasting in man will be obviated.

It is perfectly false, then, to present a position which represents God as giving the life of that eon to many who will, ultimately speaking of themselves, qualify themselves for it. Then they could never drink of the water of life “gratuitously”, in an uncalled-for-way, without any warrant whatever (cp John 15:25; Gal.2:21). Then conditions could hardly be such that no flesh at all should be boasting in God’s sight (cf 1 Cor.1:29).

Essential antecedent obedience (e.g., Rev.21:7) is just that. Antecedent obedience, however, is not antecedent, “freewill” obedience. Qualification is a relative truth. The gratuity of life eonian is an absolute truth. One cannot qualify for a gratuitous gift; and, salvation is of the Lord.

Nevertheless, there are those who claim that a great many will yet succeed in qualifying themselves for this blessing by finally becoming obedient to God during the day of judging, most even saying that this will be accomplished by means of man’s free will.

The truth is, however, that “[those of] death and the unseen [will be] cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death—the lake of fire” (Rev.20:14). Therefore, none remain alive following the day of judging. Revelation 20:13a and 14a are parallel. All came out of literal death; all are returned to it.

All references to the scroll of life appear to be concerned exclusively with Israel, not with humanity at large. In the metaphor, God gave this scroll to His people long ago and inscribed the names of each of His holy ones upon its surface. It is a scroll from which a vast number of the names originally written there have been removed, because of disobedience (cp Rev.3:5). The Scriptures know nothing of any adding of names to its contents, much less of including the names of gentiles within its compass.

Besides, the solemn words, “if anyone was not found written in the scroll of life, he was cast into the lake of fire” (20:15), are not declared in order to imply that some great number of names have recently become written there. Instead, these words serve to show that, apart from those who are enrolled in this scroll, who by this time have long been enjoying eonian life and glory, the second death is simply the inevitable and suitable end to the old humanity.

“Does not [this concluding statement] seem to imply that some who appear before the great white throne escape the second death? By no means. There is another and better reason why the matter is put thus. The scroll of life seems to have reference only to God’s earthly people. Moses seems to refer to it when he pleads with God for Israel. He asks to be blotted out of His book to save the sinners (Ex.32:32). But Yahweh said He would blot out those who had sinned. It seems as if almost all who came out of Egypt were blotted out, and will not be found in the book of life when they stand before the great white throne. The same thing seems to occur in this judgment era. The conquerors will not have their names erased from the scroll of life (3:5). But all who are not conquerors, who worship the wild beast, do so because their names are not written in the scroll of life of the Lambkin Which has been slain from the disruption of the world (13:8). It is especially the Israelites whose names are not thus written who will marvel at the wild beast (17:8). And Daniel says those written in the scroll will be delivered (Dan.12:1; cp Luke 10:20; Isa.4:3).

“All of this points to the fact that this scroll is not a register of those who receive life, as we do today, as a gift of pure grace apart from law, but as it was in Israel, with a mixture of works. The name might be erased as a result of wrong conduct. This seems the best explanation of its presence here, and of the negative way in which it is presented. We might put it thus: The other scrolls [Rev.20:12b] contain the acts of all mankind who are not in covenant relationship with God. But the scroll of life deals with those of Israel, most or many of whom had their name in this book. That is, literally, they came into vital contact with Yahweh through His dealings with the nation. But with many of them, God was not well pleased and their names were erased from the scroll. As the Psalmist says (69:28), ‘Let them be wiped out from the scroll of life, and let them not be written with the righteous.’

“The parallelism of the Psalmist shows that righteous conduct is demanded of all whose names are inscribed in this scroll and that wickedness may lead to erasure.

“As only those who are written in the scroll will be entitled to millennial life, those whose names have been erased from the scroll, or those in the nation who never made a vital contact with Yahweh, must stand before the great white throne and be judged for their acts like the nations. Thus we have two classes, those without law, who are judged without law [cp Rom.2:11-13], and those under law, who, notwithstanding their nearness to Yahweh and a knowledge of His works, failed to find life, or were erased from the scroll for their evil conduct. It is especially with these in view that the negative is used. Their names were once there, but now they are not. Under these circumstances, it is clear that the scroll of life must be consulted before anyone is cast into the lake of fire”.[3]

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A CENSUS OF THE CIRCUMCISION

“Some of Paul’s fellow workers are described in Philippians as those ‘whose names are in the scroll of life’ (Phil.4:3). In Colossians is a similar passage, ‘who are of the Circumcision’ (Col.4:11). It is evident that the apostle continued to associate with his brethren according to the flesh, especially if they received the special revelations given to him. Not all believers were of the Circumcision, or had their names written in the book of life, or it would be quite pointless to mention the fact in connection with particular individuals. In writing a letter to the gentile ecclesias at Philippi and Colossae, however, seeing that the union of the Circumcision and the Uncircumcision is so vital a part of the truth set forth in Ephesians, it would be most fitting to make special mention of the practical effect of this teaching, by recording the fact that certain of Paul’s fellow workers belonged to the Circumcision. That would not necessarily imply that they still held with the nation in flesh, but rather that they came from them. They were still circumcised. Their names were by no means erased from the book of life because they had become members of Christ. But as those of the nations who believed did not have their name in the book, this fact became a special token by which they were distinguished.

“The most conclusive evidence, perhaps, is furnished us in connection with the holy city, new Jerusalem, the bride, the wife of the Lambkin (Rev.21:9-27). At the close of its description, we are told, under no circumstances may anything contaminating, or one who is making an abomination and a lie be entering into it, except those written in the Lambkin’s scroll of life. These alone may enter in. On the portals of this city are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel (Rev.21:12). It seems needless to find further evidence that this is indeed the home of the favored nation. That the other nations are not within its walls is further shown by the statements that the nations will be walking by means of its light and that their glory and honor will be carried into it (Rev.21:24,26). The situation here seems very clear. Israel within the city, the nations without. One written in the scroll of life, the other kept out by the lack of such an honor.

“Israel is to give birth to a son, a male, who will shepherd all the nations with an iron club (Rev.12:5). As the woman is figurative, so also must be her travail and the son which she bears. The epithet ‘male’ seems to connect this company out of Israel with the celibates, the one hundred forty-four thousand. The twelve apostles, seated on twelve thrones, will rule in Israel (Luke 22:30), but here we have the rule of Israel over the other nations, by means of delegates who will have a prominent part in fulfilling the promise that they will reign with Him during the thousand years (Rev.20:6). Although the priestly functions of Israel cease on the new earth, their rule continues, for they reign for the eons of the eons (Rev.22:5). Hence we should expect to find Israelites among the nations, attending to the administration of the kingdom, even in the last eon. And this seems to be confirmed by the fact that the kings of the earth carry the glory of the nations into the city. They could hardly enter its portals if they were gentiles. Their names are also in the Lambkins book of life, for they are not gentiles, but kings over them.

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THE MENACE OF WORKS

The scroll of life is not a list of those whom God has chosen by His grace according to His present activities, for then no name could possibly be taken from it. On the negative side, it has a close connection with conduct. If anyone whose name is in it sins grievously, his name is expunged. It is therefore, to some extent, a record of men’s deeds, hence must be consulted at this judgment, in which all are judged according to their acts. Positively, as a register of the living, for life comes not from men’s deeds but God’s power, it has no place here; but negatively, its evidence as to those who are not living, and especially those who have forfeited life, is the necessary complement of the other scrolls. Men are able to kill but are not able to give life. Thus we see the necessity for the negative statement, ‘if anyone . . . not’, for the evidence is negative, not positive.

“The scroll of life has to do with service and conduct as connected with the Circumcision. Paul, when he refers to it, evidently has in mind those who were associated with him from the Circumcision. To come down to a specific case, we may assume that all those in the ecclesia at Sardis once had their names in this scroll. Yet the promise to the conqueror, that his name shall not be erased therefrom, seems sufficient to suggest that some who do not conquer will have their names wiped out. Surely none of these who conquer will stand before the great white throne; hence there will be no search to see whose names are written. But some of the others, whose names were once written, will be present, and it is important to search and see that their names are not still there.

“The peculiar position of the people of Yahweh corresponds closely with the figure of a scroll in which names are provisionally inscribed, with the condition that nothing be done to cause their erasure. There is a mixture of mercy and demerit. God writes their names in the scroll because of His promises to Abraham and Israel. They do nothing to deserve this. Indeed, they do nothing, in reality, to keep their names in the scroll. But their works do avail to blot them out of the book! Such is the actual place of works, even when they are mixed with grace and faith. They are negative and a menace, even when they appear to bring blessing. It is not that those who do well manage to get their names inscribed. Quite the contrary. Those who have done nothing are enrolled. Life comes alone from God. Man cannot impart it. But he can destroy it. So some, perhaps many, in Israel, lose the life which they inherited, for, at their physical birth, all were given life, and their doings only led them into death.

“The scroll of life did not keep anyone in Israel from the first death. It seems rather to be connected with the second. Those whose names are not blotted out are the family of faith, who are vivified at the presence of Christ. But the names which are expunged are the subjects of the second death. If anyone was not found written in the scroll of life, he was cast into the lake of fire (Rev.20:15). Viewed from this standpoint, the negative statement is the only one possible. Those whose names are written are not in view, for they have long since become immortal, and they could not possibly be among the ‘dead’ who appear before the great white throne. Only the evildoers, those who have forfeited their place in the book, can have any place there. These are distinguished from the rest of mankind in judgment, even as Israel is always distinct from the nations in blessing. Their case is quite exceptional and calls for special procedure. The scroll is examined, in their case, to certify to the fact that their acts have condemned them.[4]

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THE DIVINE DEFINITION

In approaching the question of the meaning of the words “die,” “dead,” and “death”, it is important to note the fact that the Hebrew has only one word family for all of these ideas: the term muth with its prefixes, suffixes, and differing vowels to indicate the various forms of the verb or the noun. The translator will seek to reflect this usage in his translation. Even as English versions use “death”, “dead”, and “die” to reflect the Hebrew muth, the Greek Septuagint version (c. 200 B.C.) uses both thanatos and nekros, as well as forms of the verb “die” apothnêsko to do the same. Thus it is practically certain that the Greek did not intend to suggest any sharp distinction between thanatos, nekros, and apothnêsko. One is simply a noun, another an adjective, while still another a verb; each is used in reference to the same literal concept, which, in the Hebrew, is expressed by muth. This alone is a very strong indication that the essential distinction claimed by some between thanatos and nekros is an artificial one.

Some have concluded, however, having committed themselves to a position which entails the second death being a second life, that the “first death” must therefore be a lifetime as well, namely, this present lifetime. Then, through circular reasoning, it is said that since this present lifetime is the “first death”, it is only being consistent to affirm that the scriptural expression “the second death” refers to a future second lifetime, following the thousand years. Thus those holding this view conceive the second death to be essentially the same as the first death, yet they affirm that both refer to periods of mortal life. Consequently, having conceived it thus, they speak of this present lifetime as being “the first death”, even though, as is acknowledged, the Scriptures nowhere use this expression.

Others, even though they too affirm that the second death is a second lifetime since they judge that any thought of a “first death” is not to be identified with this present life but only with the time following it which precedes resurrection, view the second death as essentially different from the first death. That is, they say that while the first death was devoid of all life, the second death will nonetheless be a long second lifetime. They explain that their position is not actually inconsistent but only seemingly so by pointing out that while there is a great difference between Adam, “the first man” (1 Cor.15:45), and Christ, Christ is still called “the second Man” (1 Cor.15:47).

This illustration concerning Adam and Christ, however, is not parallel to the case at hand. Consequently, being illogical and therefore invalid, it does not at all remove the inconsistency inherent in the position which affirms that while in the first death, men are dead, in the second death they are alive. It is not that there cannot be any difference between objects of the same kind, but that there cannot be any essential difference between objects of the same kind. In matters of language, “essence” speaks of basic meaning, of that which is within the boundary, or definition, which distinguishes one word from another.

It is the function of adjectives (e.g., “first”, or “second”) to limit or qualify the nouns of which they are adjuncts, not to change their essence. Thus, if the case allows for it, while any object or entity which is said to be the first, second, or some other number of its kind may be quite different than other such objects, the difference can never be one of essential nature but only of variety within kind. While in many respects a second man can be very different from a first man, even as a second book can be very different from a first book, a second man must be of the same species as the first and a second book must be a printed or written volume; it cannot be an unpublished, spontaneous speech.[5]

Similarly, any reference to actual death, whether that death should be a first, second, or otherwise enumerated one, is a reference to the absence of life, for this is what death is, by definition. If death is the absence of life, then the second death is just as much the absence of life as is the first death, and cannot possibly speak of a second presence of life, that is, of a second lifetime.

James Coram

[1] A. E. Knoch, THE CONCORDANT COMMENTARY, p.404.

[2] This is similar to the words of the preceding verse, “and the dead were judged . . . in accord with their acts” (Rev.20:12). Though not identical in its revelations, it would seem that verse 13 is essentially a restatement of verse 12, made for the purpose of introducing the first application of the figure “death and the unseen”, which finds its counterpart when these words appear again in verse 14.

[3] A. E. Knoch, THE UNVEILING OF JESUS CHRIST, pp.521-523.

[4] A. E. Knoch, UNSEARCHABLE RICHES, vol.35, pp.145-147,153-158.

[5] For example, while a second illness could be more or less severe than a first illness, it could not be a second experience of good health. This is because one cannot be both sick and well in the same way at the same time. Even as, literally speaking, there is no such thing as a pleasurable agony, neither is there any such thing as a period of death in which those concerned therein are alive, be such a period a first death, second death, or seventeenth death. A second death, conceivably, could be of shorter or longer duration than a first death, but it could not be of a different, essential nature. A second death could no more be a period of life than a second drought could be a period of torrential rain.

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