31 May 2008, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
Long before VE Day that signalled the end of World War II, Allied leaders issued a number of public pronouncements. These declarations were to make clear that after the war was won, those who were responsible, not only for its outbreak, but for the ensuing deprivation, suffering and atrocities, would be dealt with as 'War Criminals'. They would be put on trial for 'Crimes against Humanity' (Grossmith, 1988: 12).
On August 8, 1945, three months after the termination of hostilities, Britain, America, France and Russia signed the London Agreement, giving birth to the International Military Tribunal (Ibid).
As early as 1943, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin had agreed that those responsible, by act or consent, for committing crimes against peace and the atrocities in occupied countries, would be handed over to their respective Governments as soon as Hitler's Germany was squashed.
However, at the end of the war, the four major powers, in an endeavour to highlight the evils of the Nazi Regime and its perpetrators, considered that the prevailing climate amongst the nations was now to provide a window of opportunity. It was not only decided to stage a public examination and exposure of leading Nazis against whom all the Allied Powers wished to bring charges, but it would be taken before a single court. This move would then obviate the real possibility of these men facing trial in twenty-three different courts throughout the world. It would also obviate varying kinds of justice and other obvious complications, especially as the process could drag on for many years (Ibid: 13).
It was approximately six months after Germany's surrender that the ancient city of Nuremberg that boasted a history dating back almost one thousand years, was to be chosen as the venue. As an aside, it is also interesting to note that in this city's history there has been past recognition by its founding fathers of the prophetic fall of nations as shown by the Beasts of Daniel chapter 7. This discovery can be seen in the sculptures found on the exterior façade of the old Council Rathause.
However, while this city had been the hub of Nazi rallies, along with all of their massive pageantry and ceremony, it was not chosen for this particular reason. It was chosen because it was to be the only city with an undamaged court and a prison large enough to cater for the hundreds of people who would be involved in the trial.
This city, where it was often declared by the Nazi Regime that the Third Reich would last a thousand years, was now to become the centre of world attention. It was here in this ancient place that all these war criminals were to be accommodated under one roof for the trial of the century (Ibid: 17).
It is important to understand that what was happening here was to be similar to the process God was preparing for a fallen Angel by the name of Lucifer and his evil confederates for crimes, not only against Himself as the Creator, but for all crimes against humanity.
I would like to share a little of that story with you this morning.
In 1981, a Bible scholar by the name of Bernard Seton made the following comments.
He declared that humans are short sighted in respect to the future. He says it is difficult for them to even see one day ahead while a year, a decade or a century become increasingly foggy as time stretches ahead into the future.
Consequently, he says, it becomes very easy to go off on a tangent and wander far from Biblical truth. However, he reminds us that 2 Peter 1: 19 tells us that we do have '…a more sure word of prophecy…' as 'a light that shineth in a dark place.'
In describing the general features of the future, he continues by suggesting that they stretch out before us. Sometimes they loom as mountain peaks, sometimes wrapped in mist, other times lighted by the setting sun. Between those peaks lie extensive valleys of which we see nothing and of which we should say nothing apart from that information that comes from Him who sees the end from the beginning.
The subject of the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of time and the resurrection of the saints that accompanies this event initiate a journey that will lead us far into the future. It will lead us to the threshold of eternity, into a land of which we know little, and into which the Word of God gives but a few entrancing glimpses.
Revelation 20 picks up the story and endeavours to give us one of those glimpses.
This chapter is the only one in all the Scriptures that refers to a period of 1000 years wedged in between two resurrections. These are referred to as the first and second resurrections - the resurrection of the righteous and the resurrection of the wicked. It tells us that during this time frame the earth will remain in a desolate state.
Though not a Biblical term, the word 'Millennium' almost always refers to this one thousand year period as described by the Apostle John. This interval of time takes us from the Second Coming of Jesus through to the establishment of the new earth and involves three very important features.
It outlines for us what happens at its beginning.
It tells us what happens during this time period and
It tells us what happens at the end.
What is the first event to take place? Let's read Rev 20: 1-3
'And I saw an Angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.'
Dear friends, the fact that the angel of God holds the key shows us that heaven has complete control of these events. Satan and his activities are now brought to an abrupt halt. He has been declared guilty of all the crimes he has committed and, as with the Old Testament scapegoat with the sins of the people placed on it was sent into a land not inhabited, so it is with him.
For crimes against God and Humanity, the Devil and his angels are now given time to ponder their loss amongst the ruins of a depopulated earth. The earth becomes their desolate prison, sealed and locked over them. Their human victims are all dead.
The Righteous, as noted in Rev 19, have all been taken to heaven at the Second Coming of Jesus who is referred to in these verses as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Those who refused God's offers of mercy remain in the grave while those who remain alive when He comes are destroyed. Satan now stands exposed for what he really is, a deceiver, a liar and a treasonable usurper (White, 1907: 145).
Author Ellen White describes this scene by suggesting that 'The earth looked like a desolate wilderness. Cities and villages, shaken down by the earthquake [at Christ's coming], lay in heaps…Here is to be the home of Satan and his angels…Here he will be confined, to wander up and down over the broken surface of the earth [where he can see and reflect on] the effects of his rebellion against God's law (White, The Story of Redemption: 415).
It is interesting to note that throughout the Old Testament there are many references to this final global destruction on the day of the Lord as a result of sin. These passages also show this to be followed by a period of desolation, then a time of restoration.
In speaking of this desolation the Prophet Isaiah says in Is 24: 1-3 'Behold the Lord maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof…the land shall be utterly emptied and utterly spoiled: for the Lord hath spoken this word.' (KJV)
This is followed again by his words in Is 66: 22 (NIV) where the Prophet provides the Israelite people with the promise that 'As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me…so will your name and descendants endure.'
How does John describe those who were now taken to heaven and would be with the Lord for the 1000 years? Let's read his words in Rev 20: 4-6.
'I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshipped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. [Why?] The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.'
According to Jesus' last words to His disciples in John 14: 2, 3 where He says: 'I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also', Let me tell you that place is in heaven.
It is here that the saints live and reign with Christ for a thousand years.
All conversions have taken place before the millennium, for when the one thousand years begin, all destinies will have been fixed.
One thousand years in the atmosphere of Heaven and living in the Holy City would now be a fitting counterpart to the years of sin experienced on the earth.
What takes place during this time?
The apostle John sees a vivid tableau in Heaven when He says in Rev 20: 4, 'I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgement was given to them…'
Thrones are usually seen as symbols of kingly and judicial power and we are told that those who sat upon them are the ones who have remained faithful to the Lord, many even unto the point of death. To them was to be given the responsibility of judgment as they participate in heaven's government while in their father's house.
This scene appears to be the occasion foreseen by the Prophet Daniel in Dan 7: 22 where He says that 'Judgement was given to the saints of the most high.'
Paul in 1 Corinthians 6: 2, 3 also makes it very clear when He says: 'Do you not know that the saints will judge the world and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels?
The book of life and the book of death are opened for individual scrutiny and compared with God's statute book, the Bible, and it is on that basis that men are to be judged.
What is the significance of this millennial judgement?
We need to understand that this judgement does not decide who will be lost or saved. That decision has already been made. According to the Scriptures, those who remain in their graves during this one thousand year period are irretrievably lost (Maxwell, 1985: 498).
The opening of these heavenly books is an opportunity to re-examine the evidence on which God has made his decisions. By examining 'the record of the lives of everyone about whom they may have questions, the righteous will be assured that God's decisions concerning the destiny of the wicked are totally just' (Blodgett, 1984: 111).
Not only those we have loved, but also the lives of the Devil and his angels will be open to our scrutiny. You just imagine what this would be like.
To witness the origin of evil before it spread to the Earth.
To view Satan's original questioning of God's authority, his discussions with the heavenly angels, his work to undermine their trust, and their transferred loyalty to his government.
To behold almost firsthand the great battle in heaven between Satan and his angels and Michael and his angels (Rev 12: 4, 7-9, 13).
Bu using methods far beyond anything we have ever thought of, we will be able to view the great struggles for human minds: Those of Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel and many others.
We will witness anew the circumstances surrounding Christ's incarnation, His birth, His life on earth, His trial, His crucifixion.
We will be able to see the angel from heaven roll back the stone from in front of that tomb on that Sunday morning 2000 years ago and see Jesus step forth in victory from the bonds of death.
We will be able to follow and study the great plan of Salvation as it was to unfold through the interrelated line of human beings.
We will not only be able to see the lives, struggles, and victories of our ancestors but, for many, they will see this in the lives of their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren (Blodgett, 1984: 111, 112).
We need to understand that many of those who are saved will miss their loved ones. We know that individual husbands and wives will grieve for those who are lost and also parents for their children. Therefore it is essential that those who reach the Holy City MUST know why many of their loved ones are not there.
It is suggested that tears will not be wiped away till the thousand years are closed and it becomes crystal clear that God's actions have been vindicated as fair and just. As each case is examined it will be seen how God provided every opportunity for their redemption.
This phase of judgement is of vital importance to God's people, as it will remove all doubts in reference to his mercy and justice.
We need to understand that a merciful God will not bring down the final curtain until the nature of sin is fully revealed.
The records of the great controversy will ultimately show that He is a God of infinite love.
It is only then that John in Rev 19, 1, 2 hears the sounds of singing coming from a vast multitude with the words vibrating through the universe: 'Alleluia; Salvation, and glory and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God: for true and righteous are His judgements.'
What now happens at the close of this one thousand year period?
Let's read Rev 20: 7-10
'When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth - Gog and Magog- to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God's people, the city He loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever' which in this context means finish or complete.
Rev 20: 5 had already told us that: 'The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.'
If the resurrection of the just is called 'the first', the one that follows becomes the second. The second death presupposes a second resurrection. There is no room for doubt as to when this occurs. It is at the end of the thousand years.
As John 5: 28, 29 makes clear 'they that have done evil' shall hear Christ's voice 'and shall come forth…unto the resurrection of damnation,' that is judgment.
Author Ellen White in Spiritual Gifts Vol 3: 84 tells us that 'At the first resurrection all come forth in immortal bloom, but at the second, the marks of the curse are visible upon all. All come up as they went down into the grave.'
What a spectacle this is going to be. What a scene.
Although the descent of the New Jerusalem is not mentioned until Rev 21, it is apparent that the city has already descended by the time Satan prepares for War. He marshals his armies made up of all those who have chosen sin and rejected divine mercy and they now surround the holy city.
All who have ever lived upon the earth who are either inside or outside the city will behold the Son of Man. What a moment this will be as the prophecy found in Phil 2: 10, 11 is fulfilled when '…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the father.'
Those outside the city recognise God's divinity and justice and acknowledge that they are unfit to enter the Holy City of God. We are told that even Satan himself will fall on the ground prostrate before Jesus (Blodgett, 1984: 119).
However, it is now that Lucifer, recognising that all is lost, makes his final attempt to overthrow the government of God and seize His throne.
We need to remember that this attempt is no different from what he has done all through history, accusing and warring against God, attacking Christ, and deceiving people into worshipping himself and the evil powers through whom he has worked.
Dear friends, we need to be inside that city as Rev 20: 15 makes clear, 'If any one's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.'
We know that this lake of fire burned briefly at the beginning of the thousand years destroying the beast and the false prophet causing complete desolation on the earth. Now at the end of the thousand years it flames up again to receive Satan and all who follow him - all those who came back to life in the Second Resurrection. When the flames die out, all sin will die with it and never exist again. This will be a total annihilation and as Rev 20: 9 says 'they will be consumed.' [finish, complete] Sin and sinners will be no more.
Sin has always been destructive. It blights everything it touches, and, if uninterrupted, will finally cause death. The manner in which sin is destroyed may be seen in Ezekiel's prophecy foretelling Lucifer's death. This shows us that his judgement comes not from a vengeful God, but as Ezekiel 28: 18 says: It comes from, 'a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee.'
When God's protecting hand is withdrawn from Lucifer, the sin he has so long cherished and shared with his deluded followers, will be as a fire within him, and will bring him 'to ashes upon the earth.'
Why is our understanding of the Millennium so important?
It is important because it enhances our understanding of the final vindication of God's character at the end of the Great Controversy. It shows that God is a God of love and that he is fair and just.
Similar to what took place at Nuremberg, this period of judgement was to expose the depth of crimes committed by Lucifer, not only against God's government, but also against the inhabitants of planet earth.
We also need to understand that a correct understanding of the millennium protects us from unscriptural teachings, such as the premillennial rapture and the theory of a 'second chance' during the millennium. We need to know where we stand. Our understanding of the Millennium also makes clear to us the reward of the righteous and their work in heaven after the second coming of Jesus.
However, it would seem that human language is inadequate to describe the reward of those found within the Holy City. This experience will be known only by those who behold it.
The apostle John in Rev 21: 1, 2 says: 'And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.'
Dear friends, we stand on the threshold of eternity.
Eternity is within our grasp and it is on the new earth that '…God will provide an eternal home for the redeemed and a perfect environment for everlasting life, love, joy and learning in His presence. For here God will dwell with His people, and suffering and death will have passed away. The great controversy will be ended, and sin will be no more. All things animate and inanimate, will declare that God is love, and He shall reign forever…' (General Conference Ministerial Association, 1988: 374)
I would like to finish with the words of the blind hymn writer Fanny Crosby where she says:
'Someday the silver cord will break,
And I no more as now shall sing
But, the joy when I awake,
Within the Palace of the King.
My prayer for you this morning is that we be faithful to the grace given us by Jesus so that we will one day have the privilege of entering into eternity where we will be with Him forever.
Blodgett, R. (1984) How Will It End - Hope Beyond the Headlines. Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association
General Conference Ministerial Association (1988) Seventh-day Adventists Believe…A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines. Hagerstown, Maryland: Review & Herald Publishing Association.
Grossmith, F. T. (1988) 'The Cross and the Swastika'. Milton Keynes Ltd, UK: Word Publishing.
Maxwell, C. M. (1985) God Cares Vol 2. Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association
White, E. G. (1907) Early Writings. Washington DC: Review & Herald Publishing Association
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