The Doctrine of the Last Things and the future coming Kingdom of God are among the most debated topics in Christianity. When theologians refer to the Doctrine of the Last Things, they are talking about the final things of the Bible which the Revelation addresses so beautifully and clearly. Hearing the words “the book of Revelation” and “clear” in the same sentence might be a bit of a stretch for you, but the Bible really is straight forward when it comes to Jesus’ return to the earth and the Doctrine of the Last Things. People say that God is boring to which I respond “no, you’re boring”. God is wild, crazy and full of energy. In fact He has never gone to sleep.
The same thing is true when it comes to looking at the scriptures. It’s not God that has overly complicated them, but us who work to understand the Bible through a human grid instead of the Holy Spirit. I personally don’t have much time for most television preachers. I say this respectfully, as I don’t dislike them, it’s just not entirely my thing. I especially struggle though, watching television preachers who work to solve all the mysteries of the Book of Revelation and Jesus’ return. The reason I struggle with this group of television ministries is because they don’t appear to be anything other than fortune tellers. Instead of looking into a crystal ball, they use a book, the book of Revelation for that matter. It’s important that we understand, beyond everything that we are about to discuss, the doctrine of the last things isn’t so much about times, dates and locations as it is about the unveiling of Jesus Christ in His resurrected glory. Something that John says, the Father gave to Jesus, to show His servants things which must shortly take place.
This book is about Jesus! We love the return of Christ, not because we can solve the eschatological storyline, but because we will finally dwell with God, forever, even ever and ever. In this final session, we are going to learn about what the Kingdom is, what happens when Christians die, what happens when sinners die, and about heaven and hell. If you have avoided the Book of Revelation, I would encourage you to dust it off, open it up and start reading while talking to the Holy Spirit about His feelings for that book.
What Is The Kingdom of God?
We have covered various subjects during the past fourteen weeks and it’s important that we don’t mix the Jesus of Revelation 19 with the Jesus of Calvary. What I mean isn’t that Jesus has changed, Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever and because He is the same He has just shown us a new face in the Revelation. This new face that He shows us isn’t one of suffering, but of victory. It’s not one of ridicule but of praise. It’s not one of defeat but of overcoming. Jesus is pictured in the Revelation as the One who has overcome all things earthly and demonic. At its simplest form, the Kingdom of God is His mission to rescue and redeem His sin marred creation through Jesus the King, establishing His rule and reign over all creation, defeating human and angelic evil powers, bringing order to all, enacting justice and being worshipped as Lord over all. That’s the Kingdom of God, in a nutshell.
I encourage you to take a minute to look at Psalm 2 to get an understanding of how Jesus’ coming Kingdom relates to the human Kings of the earth. When David was penning the 2nd Psalm, he is being moved under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as he looks into the future of Jesus’ coming and how He will be crowned as the Lord above all lords and the King above all kings. When Jesus was resurrected, after His death on the Cross, He poured out the Holy Spirit upon the Church which was the release of the Kingdom of God.
This means the Kingdom of God has been given to humanity. What we must remember is that we haven’t received the Kingdom in fullness, only in part. When we see this, we understand that the Kingdom of God is both a journey and a destination. We are called by God to operate in the now Kingdom of God as we long for it to come in fullness, at the return of Christ in the second coming. Yes, we have been given the Kingdom now and when Jesus comes the second time He will bring the Kingdom in fullness. Many people view the Kingdom of God and the return of Christ as something happening to us, not something happening through us. 2nd Peter 3:12 says;
“…looking for and hastening the come of the day of God…” .
If Peter is telling us we can hasten that coming day of Christ, then by inference we can also slow it down. Listen, Jesus isn’t returning to the earth in a vacuum; He is returning to the earth in response to the Church calling out His name, universally, corporately and in unity. Jesus will return to the earth, when the Church as a whole, including many yet unconverted Jews asking for Him to come. Revelation 22:17 says;
“The Spirit and bride say, “come.” And let him who hears say, “come.” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the waters of life freely.”
John tells us here that both the Spirit and the bride will be saying come. It won’t only be the Spirit and it won’t only be the bride, but both in unity will be crying, come! It’s in response to this cry that Jesus will actually come back to the earth.
The reason the Church has so eagerly longed for the coming Kingdom of God and Jesus’ second coming is because of what comes along with that Kingdom, not to mention Jesus! When Jesus’ Kingdom comes, He Himself will replace injustice with righteousness. He will replace devastation with forgiveness of sin, healing for sickness, and life for death. If money and education could fix our current situation in the west then it would’ve been done decades ago. If the Church could totally fix the problem of sin we would have done it long ago. Christians will not be perfect until the age to come in the fullness of the Kingdom and that means the Church won’t be perfect until Jesus returns and sets His foot back on planet earth.
Some pastors don’t want Jesus to return to the earth because they think that they can do a better job putting life back together. The Church at one level is like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dam, working to hold back the water that’s springing out at every crack. We only have so many fingers and we will do our best, stay busy, continue exercising the power we’ve been given over the works of darkness, but we need Jesus to come. When Jesus comes, that which the Church does in part, He will do in fullness. He will bring an end to the madness and usher in a new life, a new earth, a new city and a new heaven. This is what we are longing for, this is what we are hoping for and this is what we are reaching for; the yet coming Kingdom of God. The Church will mature into the fullness that God has intended for her, but so also will sin and corruption in the generation of the Lord’s return. He is the answer to the human problem and that’s why we long for His yet coming Kingdom.
What Happens When Christians Die And Are Resurrected?
I have personally met many Christians that aren’t concerned about their death and what takes place afterwards. They often say it doesn’t really matter, we will be with Christ and that’s what is most important. It’s my opinion, but I think it’s also a biblical one, that what happens upon death for the Christian is of the utmost importance to every person alive today. The reason it’s so important is because of two primary things. One, there is finality in death, meaning that you can’t change anything when you’re dead. When you’re dead, you are dead.
And secondly, death is imminent for all of us; it’s surly where every person alive is headed at one point or another, unless you are alive when Christ returns. This means that there is coming a day that is the second most important day of your life, second to the day you give your life to Christ. This is what we call the judgment seat of Christ. The judgment seat of Christ is a day that we are called to live in light of as we walk the earth. Orthodox Christian belief about death is that it is a separation of the body and the spirit. Upon death, our spirit goes to be with Jesus and our body rests in the grave (Acts 7:59; Rev. 6:9-10).
Paul gives us the confidence of knowing that upon death we are present with Jesus, just without a physical body (1st Cor. 5:1-10). There are some Christian groups that emphasis something called soul sleep, but this isn’t a biblical idea in the way that they explain soul sleep. Now, Paul uses the word sleep, asleep and have fallen asleep when speaking about Christians dying and upon Christian death. But what Paul doesn’t say is that in death we are not with Christ. Paul makes it very clear that when Christians die our body is in the grave and our spirit goes to be with Christ. Eternity is not in question upon death for the Christian; it is rather fully secured and established.
So, everyone who has died in Christ from history past and all those that have yet to die in Christ, are and will be with Christ in their spirit, but not with a physical body. It’s not until the sound of the seventh trumpet (1st Cor. 15:51-53; Rev. 11:15-18), or what Paul calls the final trumpet (1st Thess. 4:17) is blown that the dead in Christ rise first (1st Thess. 4:16-17) and then followed by all those who are alive when Christ returns (1st Thess. 4:16). It’s at this time, directly following what we call the rapture of the Church, that all Christians throughout world history will stand before Jesus at, what Paul called, the Judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:10). It’s important that you understand something when talking about the Judgment seat of Christ.
Christians are not standing before the Judgment seat of Christ to find out if they are going to heaven or hell. This has already been established at the cross when we gave our lives to Christ. Paul makes this point very clear in (1st Cor. 3:11-15). What Paul is telling us is that all Christians are still going to stand before the judgment seat of Christ to receive judgments and rewards, based on how we lived our lives and stewarded what God had given us. Paul tells us through that passage that some people will have their entire life’s work burned up and they will lose their reward but they themselves will be saved. The reason this is so important is because you have this information now, you are reading this because you’re alive and you can make the changes that are needed so that you don’t lose anything. Jesus doesn’t want you to lose anything; He wants you to receive a full reward and He is willing to help you but you must ask!
Following the Judgment seat of Christ, the Church will return with Christ back to the earth for the final battle (Rev. 19:19), as Jesus slays the dragon, casts the false prophet and the living anti-christ into the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20-21) and ushers in the millennial reign of Christ (Rev. 20:1-5). The Church doesn’t go away to be with Jesus in the clouds forever and spend eternity there. We are only going into the clouds to meet Him, but from there we return back to the earth to rule and reign with Him here on earth as literal kings and priests to our God and Father. This is truly a glorious life and a hope that should cause us to be full of joy, passion and longing.
What Happens When Sinners Die And Are Resurrected?
Just like Christians, when sinners die their body goes into the grave (Luke 16:23) and their spirit goes to hell awaiting final judgment for their life. In the same way that Christians are still waiting for the fullness of the Kingdom even in death prior to the second coming of Christ, so also are sinners waiting their final judgment and sentencing. This may come as a surprise, but there is actually no-body in the lake yet including sinners who have died without Christ. Something else that may catch you off guard is the reality that hell isn’t the final destination for the non-believer; the lake of fire is (Rev. 20:14-15). This means that all sinners are in a place called hell right now awaiting the final judgment of their lives as they stand before what’s called the Great White Throne of Judgment (Rev. 20:11). As we have already discussed, Christians and sinners will all stand before the same Judge, just different judgment seats. The Christian is standing before the Judge to receive rewards and judgments about what we did with our lives, not if we got into heaven or not. Sinners, on the other hand, are standing before the same Judge as Christians, but the judgment is a judgment sentencing them to the lake of fire forever.
The Church must be very careful how we present the message of what happens when sinners and Christians die. We don’t want to over exaggerate the realties or lessen their blow in anyway. We must stand in the middle of the road and speak about what the Bible says is truth concerning both of these realties. God is faithful and He is just and there is no reason that anyone should end up separated from Him in death. It doesn’t have to end that way.
What Does The Bible Teach About Heaven?
Heaven is not where believers spend eternity. Contrary to popular misconception, we do not spend eternity off somewhere in space floating around on a cloud, naked and playing harps like some disembodied spirit. And for this we praise the Lord. I guess even a place like what I just mentioned would be better than here on earth, but not that much better. What Jesus has prepared for us is beyond anything we could ever imagine or even conceive in our minds if we tried really hard. The Bible tells us that our new home will actually be on a new earth and in a new city, one that has yet to come. Hollywood and much of western Christianity has worked hard to sell us something other than what the Bible has to say about eternity with Christ. Many of you have heard that the earth is going to be blown up and everyone on it will die and then we will be floating around in clouds with Jesus forever. The Bible doesn’t actually use the words “end of the world” but end of this age and the age that is yet to come (Matt. 12:31-32; 24:3). What is going to happen is this present evil age will come to an end and the age which is to come will begin. It’s a transition from one age to another age.
Here is how I see this transition taking place through the Word of God.
First, the Church will be raptured which includes the dead in Christ throughout out world history and all Christians that are alive when Jesus comes (1st Cor. 15:52; 1st Thess. 4:16-17).
Second, the Church will then meet Jesus in the air and receive her rewards and judgments in the sky with Christ (1st Thess. 4:17-18).
Third, we then return back to the earth with Christ riding on white horses, where we will spend 1,000 literal years serving with Christ to restore the nations to there original design (Rev. 19; 20).
And last, after the 1,000 years is expired, then the devil will be in the lake of fire along with the false prophet, the antichrist, all those who received the mark of the beast and all sinners throughout world history (Rev. 19 & 20). And it’s then that the new city, the New Jerusalem, the new heavens and the new earth come down out of heaven for us and it’s here on this new earth that we live forever and ever (Rev. 19, 20 & 21). This is a wonderful story and it’s important we understand it because it changes how we live our lives right now. We live differently now when we realize where we are going.
There are lots of questions about heaven that the Bible doesn’t answer. We don’t know how old we will be, if we will know one another, if there will be gender, nor if there are animals. What we do know is that Heaven is a place where everyone who has ever loved Jesus will be. It’s a place of bright colors, amazing sounds and a place where God Himself will be. All of this is totally real! Heaven will be more real than earth, because earth has come forth from God. The Creator is greater than His creation. Heaven is a place that you want to be, if you love Jesus.
What Does The Bible Teach About Hell?
In this Doctrine series we have already discussed in length the generosity of Jesus Christ and His passion to have all people with Him where He is forever. Because of this passion for His creation, Jesus spent much of His time warning people about hell and talking to them about the eternal judgment of sinners, or those that say no to Him. In fact, 13% of Jesus’ conversations were about hell and judgment and more than half of all His parables relate to the eternal reality of hell and the judgment of sinners. Jesus did all this because He is the kindest Man who has ever lived, and He doesn’t force anyone to be with Him that doesn’t want to, but He makes powerful pleas to the human heart to turn and follow Him.
Not only did Jesus spend ample time talking about hell and the judgment of sinners but so, also, did the other Bible authors. Some scholars have said that you can actually find a reference to hell and or judgment in all 260 chapters of the 27 books in the New Testament. If you were to take those 260 chapters and make them into signs that sat alongside the roadway over a distance of 17 miles and somebody was traveling at a speed of 60mph that person would pass a sign every 6 seconds. That means every six seconds for 17 miles you would pass a sign. Now these are documented statements but the idea is that there is a pile of information about Hell for the purpose of making sure nobody ends up there.
Though the Bible doesn’t give line upon line information about hell, it does have specific things to say about it. We know that hell is a place of fire (Matt 13:42), darkness (Matt. 25:30), punishment (Rev. 14:10-11), exclusion from God’s presence (Matt. 7:23), restlessness (Rev. 14:11), a second death (Rev. 2:11), a place of weeping (Matt. 13:41), and it’s eternal or forever and ever (Rev. 20:10). There are teachers and pastors in the body of Christ that throughout history, and even today, work to say that these truths about hell aren’t to be taken literally. To those that say that, I would respond by saying, “these are only signs, or indicators trying to explain the unexplainable.” It’s not that these signs are literal; it’s that they are describing something that is indescribable. These truths are pointing to a realty that is far worse than we could ever imagine.
I have heard people say the following statement during my time as a Christian, and I might have even said it myself before I met Jesus a time or two. Often when we share Jesus with people that don’t know Him, they say, hell is better for me because all my friends will be there. It will be like a reunion and a giant family get together. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The devil must love the mess that we have made about his eternal destination. Revelation 20:10 says;
“The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
Jesus tells us that the devil himself, along with the false prophet and the antichrist will be thrown into the lake of fire for their eternal punishment. The devil understands that his eternal destination is a place of torment forever and ever and this is why he works so hard to bind Christians and ensnare the earth to steal people away from Jesus. The devil knows where he is going and he is now working to steal from Jesus that which belongs to Him, His bride, His body.
The Doctrine of hell has become a hot topic in the Church today with many pastors and leaders shrinking back from the full truth of what the Bible says about it. Here are two main objections to the Doctrine of hell from both outside and within the Church.
1) A loving God would never send anyone to a horrible hell. This is truth. Everybody who is in hell will have made a choice to be there. Jesus isn’t forcing anyone to go there against their will. He is simply giving them what they have asked for, a life without Him. God will allow humans to serve the god that they want. So if they choose to serve the devil by rejecting Jesus they will go to hell and if they reject the devil and serve Jesus then they will spend eternity in heaven.
2) A loving God would be more tolerant. Those that judge God need to really consider if they would be more pleased if God were tolerant of rapists, pimps, pedophiles and those who sin against us most terribly. God is not tolerant of sin. He is patient, but never tolerant. A loving Father protects His children from sin by separating them from it. God is intolerant of sin just like we are intolerant of those who drink and drive, steal, rape and murder. Therefore we separate them from society in prison so that they don’t harm others. God is doing the same thing.
After reading all this you might be asking what the conclusion is. The conclusion is that we need a Savior to arise now and scatter His enemies, and we really need Him to return in the sky for His Church and set all wrong things right. It’s not until Jesus returns that true rest will take place for the Church. So as Christians we work today so that we can rest in eternity and for sinners they rest now and will have eternal restlessness in the age to come in the lake of fire. All you have to do is say yes to Jesus. You just have to ask Him into your heart, lay down your rights and hand over everything to Him. You do this by telling Him that you are sorry for making a mess out of your life and you’re not your own savior, He is. If this is something that you have never done before, I would encourage you to say a prayer right now or repentance and ask for the Holy Spirit to come and fill you up right now so that you will resist the enemy. Jesus is coming back for His Church and it’s for that Day that we long and yearn, but until then we will live as those who are ready for the appearing of their Master! In Jesus Name, come!