Studies in the Scriptures
Zion's Watch Tower
THE DIVINE PROGRAM
VIII—THE JUDGMENT SCENE BEFORE THE GREAT WHITE THRONE
BY C. T. RUSSELL
PASTOR BROOKLYN TABERNACLE
ST. PAUL DECLARES that Christian believers, when they receive the Holy Spirit, "Receive not the spirit of bondage and fear, but the spirit of a sound mind." For the long centuries of the dark ages, however, Christianity was merely a nominal affair, except with the very few. Instead of the Holy Spirit, instead of the spirit of love and of a sound mind, the world was at that time dominated by a spirit of fear. To some extent this is still true. Nevertheless, increase of knowledge is taking some of the shackles of fear from off of the intellects and permitting us to look at everything more honestly, more logically, more with the spirit of a sound mind than ever before.
We are glad of this, and purpose now to examine our subject in the light of the Scriptures and with the spirit of a sound mind, divesting ourselves, so far as possible, of the "fear which bringeth a snare." The Day of Judgment, or, as it once was called, Doomsday, had an awful significance to our forefathers. To them it brought pictures of Christ upon his throne of judgment surrounded by myriads of holy angels intent upon executing his decrees, good or bad, and to the vast majority of those decrees were supposed to mean eternal torment. A once famous preacher of this famous city of churches pictured the Judgment scene most grotesquely as represented in the public prints of about thirty years ago. He pictured the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus in his power and great glory, seated upon a cloud in mid-heaven, surrounded by angelic hosts. Before him appeared the world of mankind, brought back from heaven and hell and the dust of the earth. In grandiloquent language he pictured the earth turning upon its axis during a period of twenty-four hours, so that the entire worldful of people could see the Judge on his cloud-throne. The Judgment picture was a mere farce, for the Judge merely said to those who had come from heaven, Go back. Resume your crowns and harps. And he said to those who had come from hell, Go back to your eternal torment. This and other very similar misrepresentations of the Day of Judgment have so repulsed the intelligence of many as to turn their minds away from the Bible toward Agnosticism. It is our purpose on this occasion to, if possible, set forth the Bible presentation of Divine Truth on the subject of God’s Judgments so clearly, so self-evidently, that none possessed of a sound balance of mind could possibly object thereto.
A Judgment Day in Eden.
A totally wrong thought seems to have gotten possession of all of our minds in respect to the meaning of the Day of Judgment. It is generally understood to signify a day of condemnation. However, the expression in the Scriptures really signifies a day of crisis, a time of decision, a period of trial; —not a day of inflicting punishments for crimes previously adjudicated. The Greek word crisis translated judgment has been so frequently used in our English language that it has become an English word as well. Hence its meaning, the same in the Greek as in the English, is well known to us all. For instance,
OV38 if in our home we have a patient who has taken the fever and a doctor calls, we may inquire how soon recovery may be expected. The doctor asks the date the fever began, and answers that its crisis will come on the seventh, fourteenth, twenty-first, twenty-eighth, or some other day a multiple of the seventh day from its commencement. His meaning is, that then the testing will come, the trial, the determination whether the person will sink into death or recover from the fever. This gives us the proper thought connected with this word crisis or judgment; the proper thought, therefore, connected with the expression, Day of Judgment. For instance, there was such a Day of Judgment in Eden when God forbade our first parents to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. At that moment their testing, their trial, their judgment, began—to demonstrate their obedience or disobedience, and thus in turn to determine their worthiness or unworthiness of life eternal. In that Judgment Day, as we have already seen, our first parents were disobedient and a death condemnation came upon them, which has been inherited by all of their children in a natural way. Partaking of their flesh and blood, we partook also of their weaknesses, mental, moral and physical; hence we are a dying race—dying because our first parents failed in the first Day of Judgment or trial.
The Jewish Judgment Day
While God foreknew that the Law Covenant made with the nation of Israel through Moses would not effect a deliverance of the nation from the effects of original sin, he nevertheless, for good reasons, gave that nation a trial or judgment or testing under the provisions of that Law Covenant. It was a life or death agreement. Any who could keep the requirements of that Law Covenant might under it claim eternal life. Whoever failed of keeping the requirements of that Law Covenant would die.
This trial or test came upon that nation at the time of its deliverance from Egypt, when they passed through the Red Sea and were baptized into Moses in the sea and in the cloud—the sea on the one hand and the cloud overhead. They were baptized or buried into Moses. For nearly fifteen centuries that nation was on trial or judgment, yet the results of the judgment were not decreed until our Lord’s Second Advent, when he was declared of the Father to be the One, and the only One born under the Law Covenant who inherited its blessings of eternal life by absolute obedience to its every requirement. Not only so, but the remainder of that nation were all adjudged unworthy of any further trial, as our Lord himself expressed the sentiment, saying: "Your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord—at his Second Advent.—
. The Apostle Paul, reviewing the results of those fifteen centuries of their judgment or trial, tells us that the Law Covenant made nothing perfect; that it merely showed to be perfect the Perfect One who had left the heavenly Courts and become a man, in order to redeem Adam and his race. St. Paul, however, shows us also that, throughout that Jewish Age of trial some were found possessed of faith far beyond their fellows. He enumerates many of these, and then calls attention to the fact that they died without having received the things promised to them, but that they did receive Divine approval in that the Lord declared that they pleased him—not by perfection of works and obedience to the Law Covenant, but that he was pleased with their faith: they demonstrated that if they had been free from the blemishes of the fallen condition, blessed with perfect bodies and minds, they would have delighted to have kept the Law perfectly.
Spiritual Israel’s Judgment
The Gospel Age is represented as an epoch of trial or testing or judgment for the Church of Christ—the Body of Christ—those to be joint-heirs with Christ in his nature and his throne—"the Bride, the Lamb’s Wife." The Scriptures point out to us that during this epoch God is drawing and calling from the world of mankind a "little flock," and that he is permitting the way of response to his call to be made a narrow one and a very difficult one. This
OV39 is to the intent that the class that will hear, obey and walk in the footsteps of Jesus in this narrow way may be a very special class, a "little flock," each one of them copies of God’s dear Son, the dear Redeemer. It will be seen, then, that in a very special sense there is a trial, a testing, a judgment, in progress—not a judgment in respect to the world, but of those who have accepted the "call" and made living sacrifices of themselves in the Lord’s service, to the knowing and doing of the Lord’s will. These are required to make their calling and election sure by demonstrating their loyalty to the Lord and his Word and the brethren, under various trying conditions, of which the Apostle Peter says, "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you." (
.) The trials are necessary for the development of character and for the proving of the faithful ones; hence the overcomers in this trial must be found faithful, not only in reaching the mark of perfect love, but in maintaining their stand there, resisting the various attacks of the flesh and of the Adversary. Such "conquerors" will be granted "the crown of life," which God has in reservation for them that thus love him. With the end of this age, the trial or judgment will be completed, finished. The "little flock" of overcomers will receive the reward of joint heirship with their Lord and participation in Divine nature; while those not counted worthy of this glory, yet faithful in many respects, will receive blessings of spiritual nature without the "crown." Others still, failing entirely in the trial, will be accounted unworthy of eternal life on any plane, and will die the Second Death, as says the Apostle: "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly.gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame." (
.) Again, "For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the Truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries."—
The World’s Judgment Day
The Apostle declares: "God hath appointed a day, in which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead."—
. It will be noticed that this cannot apply to the original Judgment Day, in which our first parents failed in Eden; neither can the words apply to the judgment or trial which came to Israel under the Law Covenant, nor to the church on trial during this Gospel Age; because it is put in the future tense. The Apostle used these words in the beginning of this Gospel Age and the words apply beyond this Gospel Age to an appointed day or epoch future. The day referred to is "the day of Christ"—the Millennial Age—the thousand year day of the reign of righteousness, when Messiah shall be King over all the earth, to rescue it from the reign of sin and death and to bless all the captives of sin and death—the entire human family, already redeemed by the precious blood. The Apostle’s words clearly state that he refers, not to the church’s trial period, but to the world’s. Certain things are necessary to a righteous judgment or trial of the world.
1. They must all come to a knowledge of the Truth. (
They cannot be saved in ignorance and superstition and vice. They must all be brought to a knowledge of the redemption accomplished by the sacrifice of Christ; to a knowledge of God’s willingness to receive them back again into his fellowship. They must all be proffered assistance out of the degradation which came upon them through the disobedience and fall of our first parents, in the first trial or judgment.
2. They cannot be on trial for life everlasting without first having been judicially set free from the original condemnation—the original death sentence pronounced upon our first parents in Eden and inherited by all of their children.
These conditions have not yet been met,
OV40 and hence the world is not yet experiencing this trial or judgment or testing which, the Apostle tells us, God has appointed for them. It will come to them, however, in the time appointed of the father, called in the Scriptures "God’s due time."
Furthermore, the time for the world’s judgment or testing cannot come until the trial or testing of the church shall have been completed and the worthy ones been found, because it is the Church that is now on trial, and that is to furnish the judges for the world’s trial day. Mark the Apostle’s words to this effect: "Know ye not that the saints shall judge the world?" (
.) Nor is this thought out of harmony with the other text, "God hath appointed a day in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained." On the contrary, we have already seen that "the mystery" of this Gospel Age lies in the fact that Jesus, the Redeemer of the world, is the Head of the Church, which is his Body, and which is now being selected or tried or judged for its position in glory, only the faithful receiving the reward, or membership, in the glorious Prophet, Priest, King, Messiah, beyond the veil.
The wrong thought respecting the Day of Judgment has made of it the day of terrors to the Church and to the world—all who have heard of it. It has been supposed to seal the doom of humanity: that thenceforth the Lord will have no pity and show no mercy. But the Scriptures, consistent with themselves, point out that the coming Judgment Day of the world signifies, to it, a great day of judgment, trial and blessing; just as the Church’s judgment day signifies a great blessing to us; the privilege of becoming heirs of God and joint heirs with the Redeemer in his Kingdom glory. As to these facts, notice the words of inspiration by the Prophet David. Prophetically looking down beyond this time to the Millennial Age, the Prophet declares: "Let the heavens be glad, And let the earth rejoice; And let men say among the nations, Jehovah reigneth.
Let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof; Let the fields rejoice, and all that are therein.
Then shall the trees of the wood sing aloud At the presence of Jehovah; BECAUSE HE COMETH TO JUDGE THE EARTH.
O give thanks unto Jehovah, for he is good; For his mercy endureth forever."
To the same day the Apostle also points, assuring us that it will be a glorious and desirable day, and that for it the whole creation is groaning and travailing in pain together—waiting for the great Judge to deliver and to bless the world as well as to exalt and glorify the church.—
, a precious promise for the world of a coming judgment-trial for life everlasting is, by a mistranslation, turned into a fearful imprecation. According to the Greek text, however, they that have done evil—that have failed of Divine approval—will come forth unto resurrection (raising up to perfection) by judgments, "stripes," testings, disciplines. —See the Revised Version.
The Great White Throne
The Book of Revelation is recognized by God’s people to be a book of symbols.
One of its beautiful pictures relates to the Judgment Day. We read, "And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works."—
. This is one of a series of pen pictures of the Millennial Kingdom of Christ and the blessings it will bring to mankind—the blessed privilege of a fresh judgment or trial for everlasting life. The first judgment of the race in Adam resulted in failure and condemnation of our first parents, and we were merely included in its losses, its disasters. By Divine arrangement, our Redeemer has died, the Just
OV41 for the unjust. The application of his merit to father Adam will extend a blessing eventually to every member of his race, securing to them all a full release from the original condemnation or sentence and from all of the blight which came upon our race as a result. Setting aside the original penalty does not give either Adam or his children eternal life, but merely provides for all a new judgment or fresh trial for eternal life. Adam had perfection of life and held it tentatively on condition of his obedience. The redeemed race will come back again to Adam’s position of trial and testing, as respects worthiness of life everlasting. However, instead of bringing mankind back by instantaneous process from the tomb and from our present fallen condition of mind and body to the full perfection of human nature, which Adam enjoyed, God proposes a still better way. He will give his fallen creatures through Christ an opportunity to climb up out of the sin and death conditions into which Adam’s transgressions brought all. Some are more fallen; some less so. None could be recovered except by the Redeemer, whose death provides the ladder, so to speak, by which mankind can be raised up to full human perfection and Divine favor and all that was lost in Adam. The opportunity for thus rising up by their own exertions and by the assistance of the glorified Redeemer and his glorified Church will be during the Millennial Age. That opportunity will constitute the world’s trial or judgment.
Various offices are attributed to our Lord, in connection with his great work for the world of mankind. Thus we read that he is to be the great Prophet, the great Priest, the great Mediator and the great Judge. We have already seen that the foundation for this great Kingdom and Judgeship was laid in our Redeemer’s sacrifice of himself; but the execution of the great Plan of God, the Divine Program, was delayed to permit the selection of the Church, the "little flock," the Judge and associate judges. A gradual testing of the world by uplifting processes, by the binding of Satan and the making of the knowledge of the Lord to fill the whole earth, etc., will be much better for all concerned than if they were instantly made perfect and then put on trial as Adam was. The thousand years of uplifting influences and the striving against sin and the forming of character according to the Divine will will be helpful to the world and enable them to overcome, in the trial which will come to them in this gradual way. Help at each step and assistance out of every unintentional blunder is provided until at last all the willing and obedient shall have reached the full perfection of human nature—all that was lost by Adam and redeemed by Jesus or, refusing it, will have been destroyed in the Second Death. The "great white throne" represents the powers of the Government and the purity or fairness of the trial which will be granted to the world of mankind. When we read that heaven and earth fled away from the presence of him upon the throne, it identifies that throne with the end of this age, and the opening of the Millennial Age. Present institutions are represented thus: the heavens, the church, etc., and the earth the political and social interests of "this present evil world." As St. Peter tells us, present institutions shall "pass away with a great noise," and instead the Lord will reveal a new heavens and a new earth—that is to say, new spiritual powers, the Church in glory; and new earthly powers, the new political and social conditions—along better lines than those which now control: along lines of Justice and Love. The judgment or trial is before God in the sense that it will be along the lines of the Divine Law, though the Law Giver in this trial will be represented by the glorified Mediator. The judgment will not be along new lines, but along old lines, as our Lord Jesus declared: "My Word shall judge you in the last days." However, so far as the world is concerned, our Lord’s words are as yet hidden mysteries, words not understood. Only the Church, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, has been able to appreciate the Divine Word clearly. But when the world’s judgment or trial will be on, during the Millennium, the books will be opened—the books of the Bible—and the dead will be judged, will be tried, will be tested along the lines of teaching found in those books of the Bible. Those who give
OV42 heed to the message of the Lord, its doctrines, its precepts, will make progress from grace to grace, from knowledge to knowledge, from strength to strength. Their Restitution or Resurrection will gradually progress as the Truth tries or judges them and finds them responsive, obedient to the voice which speaketh from heaven. St.
Peter tells us that it shall come to pass that the soul that will not obey that Prophet, that Teacher, that King, will be destroyed from amongst his people. (
.) On the contrary, all who do obey the Lord’s Word will, by the close of that Millennial period, have reached a full human perfection, mental, moral and physical. They will be as perfect as was Adam, and additionally possess a wider range of knowledge, and many of them, we trust, a firm texture of developed character. Still, however, at the close of the Millennial Judgment Day a great final test will be provided, which will thoroughly demonstrate the heart loyalty or disloyalty of each one. And all the disloyal will be utterly destroyed in the Second Death, without hope of recovery of any kind.
The Sheep and the Goats.
Our Lord gave one of his parables to illustrate the world’s judgment during the Millennium, the parable of the sheep and the goats. Its location is definitely fixed by the context, which shows that it will find its fulfillment during the Millennial Age—after the present age shall have closed. We read, "When the Son of Man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats." (
.) This parable corresponds exactly to the "great white throne" picture of Revelation. It shows all nations, all peoples gathered before that throne, which will be established in power and great glory. The Son of man who will come in his glory and who will sit upon the throne has given us numerous assurances that the elect church shall sit with him in his throne. The church will not be amongst those sheep and goats before that throne, but, glorified as the Lamb’s Wife, the Church will be with her Bridegroom in his throne judging all nations—judging them, proving them; which are of the sheep nature and which are of the goat nature. The former will be blessed. The latter will be destroyed. At the end of the thousand years of the Judgment Day, the sheep found at the right hand of favor will receive the blessing: "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world"—an earthly kingdom, different decidedly from the heavenly kingdom, which will have previously been given to the church in association with her Lord. Then the unworthy will also be dealt with. As we read, He who sat upon the throne said to the goat class, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels"—his fellows, all who are of his character likeness, and who are in sympathy with him. These will include all of Adam’s restored race who, after enjoying the knowledge and favor of God, shall maintain any sympathy for sin and discord. The everlasting punishment, be it remembered, will be administered; but this does not signify everlasting torments, because the punishment for sin is not torment, but death—everlasting death will therefore be the punishment of the goat class with Satan the great adversary. From this death there will be no redemption, no resurrection, no recovery of any kind. As St. Peter declares, "They shall be like brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed." The everlasting fire is as symbolical, as parabolic, as the sheep and the goats. Fire is a symbol of destruction, and everlasting fire a symbol of everlasting destruction. An everlasting fire is one not quenched, one which burns until it shall have accomplished its purpose of complete destruction.
More and Less Tolerable
Our Lord had considerable to say about this great Day of Judgment, by and through which, in the Father’s Plan, he was to extend the blessings of his sacrifice to the entire race. Jesus upbraided the people of Bethsaida and Chorazin, declaring that Sodom and Gomorrah would have represented with contrition in sackcloth and
OV43 ashes, if they had enjoyed their opportunities. He assured them that, in the Day of Judgment, the day of trial, the day of testing, the Millennial Judgment Day, matters would be more favorable for the Sodomites than for the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida.—
. This may give a new thought to some—that the Divine arrangement for dealing with the Sodomites during the Millennium will be quite tolerable—less severe, less of an ordeal than for some of the Jews who lived in our Lord’s day. Nor are we to think of those Jews as being specially wicked and reprehensible, because they crucified the Lord of Glory. St. Peter declares, "I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers." (
.) Of those same Jews we read that the Lord will "pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications; and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son."—
. But glance at the case of the Sodomites. Our Lord shows that he had reference to those persons who lived in the days of Lot. He says, "But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all." (
Those Sodomites had no share in any day of judgment, except in the sense that they were children of Adam, and by heredity they were condemned in him and shared in his death sentence. They sinned, doubtless, against a measure of light, yet not against full light, because the Gospel lamp was not lighted and did not shine upon any until Jesus’ day. Thus it is written that Christ "brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel;" and, again, that this great salvation "began to be preached by our Lord." (
.) The death of the Sodomites, therefore, was merely the Adamic death, hastened; not the Second Death. They would have died anyway. They were taken in a manner which furnished an example for those who afterwards should live in extreme ungodliness, as they did; whether with or without the Gospel light. If we turn to
, we see how the Lord reproved Israel for unfaithfulness, under great privileges and blessings. He reminds them of how, in the days of their prosperity and pride, they disdained their sister nations, the Sodomites and Samaritans. After telling them that they were worse than either of these, he further informs them that when he fulfills his promise to them to regather Israel, to restore to Israel his favor and the light of his countenance and to make with them the New Covenant, he then will also bless the Samaritans and the Sodomites. We read, "When I shall bring in their captivity, the captivity of Sodom and her daughters, and the captivity of Samaria and her daughters, then will I bring again the captivity of thy captives in the midst of them....When thy sisters, Sodom and her daughters, shall return to their former estate, and Samaria and her daughters shall return to their former estate, then thou and thy daughters shall return to their former estate.
...Nevertheless, I will remember my Covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting Covenant."—See
We see, then, that a Divine Program, which has provided that the world shall have a Judgment Day or Epoch, as the result of Christ’s redemptive work, has set apart for it the Millennial Age, with amplest provisions that each member of Adam’s race may have a full, fair and impartial trial for eternal life or eternal death. The Divine Program is surely a good one—ten thousand times better than the miserably confused and confusing ideas of the Judgment Day which came down to us from "the dark ages," filling us with fear and dread as respects God and his gracious arrangements for the blessing of all the families of the earth through The Christ, Head and Body.