Interacting with “the End” Part 2: Are There Two Resurrections/Judgments?

A Review of Craig Groeschel’s “The End”, Part 2

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A few weeks ago I wrote a review of Craig Groeschel’s first installment in a series called “the End” about the end times. While I agree with the essentials of his message, that Christ is returning and this should be a cause for hope and rejoicing for believers, it is with the secondary (but still important) interpretive matters that I take issue. Primarily his view that 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 refers to a secret rapture. Such is simply not present in the text, and in fact the text seems to suggest otherwise. Also we discussed briefly his view that there will be two resurrections and two judgments. He addresses these issues more fully in his second message.

In his second message Groeschel speaks of two judgements. The first is the “Judgment Seat of Christ (Bema),” and it is the judgment of believers only. The second is Revelations “Great White Throne Judgment,” at which, according to pastor Craig, believers will not appear.

Rather than review his message in full, much with which I agree, I would like to examine his claims regarding the resurrection and final judgment(s). He basically discusses 3 passages in this regard: Luke 14:14, 2 Corinthians 5:10 and Revelation 20:12. Therefore, we’ll discuss each passage and then decide if we ought to conclude from them two separate resurrections and two separate judgments.

The Judgment of the Righteous

First, Luke 14:13-14 states,

But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Because it says that that believers will be repaid at the resurrection of the just, and last week Groeschel argued for a resurrection of believers at the rapture at Christ’s secret coming, then naturally the “repaying” spoken of here will take place at the rapture, according to Groeschel. While this is certainly a possible reading of the text, it is unlikely for two reasons. First, the only place in Scripture where two separate resurrections are mentioned is Revelation 20, neither of which, as we saw in our last post, can possibly take place at the rapture. Further, we discovered that 1 Thessalonians 4 most likely refers, not to a preliminary secret coming, but to Christ’s final coming. Therefore, there is no need to posit an earlier resurrection of only Christians. Second, if one compares this passage to other passages in the gospels which speak of resurrection, it is most likely that Luke is simply highlighting one facet of a resurrection which includes both the righteous and unrighteous (see Acts 24:15). For instance,

Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.(John 5:28–30 ESV)

Here we have a description of the resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous, when all in their tombs will here his voice, some to life some to judgment.

But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. (1Cor 15:23-24).

Here we find a description of resurrection and final judgment, which both seem to take place when Christ returns. He will resurrect the righteous unto life, and then destroy all who oppose him. While the resurrection of the unjust is not mentioned, it is implied in their judgment.

And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:39-40).
Here the resurrection of the righteous is mentioned, and it takes place at the “last day.” In the New Testament, as discussed in a previous post, the last days refers to the time between Christ’s first and second coming. The last day, therefore, refers to that time when Christ returns and makes all things new, i.e. the day of the Lord, the last trumpet. In order for the timetable that Groeschel argues for to work, one would have to argue that the “last day” here encompasses both a resurrection at the rapture, a resurrection when Christ returns after Armageddon, and a third resurrection after the millennium. This seems unlikely.

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sew good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”…“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 13:29-30; 47-50)

Finally, these two parables seem to indicate that in the Kingdom of Heaven, both the unrighteous and the righteous will exist side by side until the final resurrection/judgment, where they will each receive Christ’s righteous judgment.

The Bema Seat

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.(2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV)

The next argument we should look at is the one Groeschel basis on the Greek word “Bema” (βημα). Groeschel states,

“Most scholars believe that the judgment seat of Christ is a judgment for Christians only and at the judgment seat of Christ you’re not judges for salvation or damnation…but this a judgment for rewarding you for all the works you’ve done on heaven” (sic). – he means on earth.

He goes one to argue the basis for this satement:

“The Greek word for judgment seat is the word Bema…it was not the seat where the judge sat to issue a verdict, guilty or innocent, but instead it was the throne where the judge would sit to issue rewards…”

This is surprisingly a common argument among those who would want to distinguish between the judgment seat of Christ and the great white throne judgment of Revelation. The problem is, there is no evidence for this in the New Testament. In fact, the evidence points to the opposite conclusion. What do I mean? The Greek word Bema is used 12 times in the New Testament. Once it is used as a measuring unit, and is thus irrelevant to our discussion (Acts 7:5). The other instances are worth looking at individually:

Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat (Bema), his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat (Bema) at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha.(Matthew 27:19; John 19:13 ESV)

In these two passages, the word Bemai is used of the seat Pilate sat on during Jesus’ trial. It is where he ordered Jesus’ flogging as well as his crucifixion. It is obvious that here it does not refer only to a place of reward, but a place where punishment, indeed the death penalty, is dealt.

Next,

On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne (Bema), and delivered an oration to them.(Acts 12:21 ESV)

Here it is apparent that the word is used as the throne of Herod, where he addresses his subject. There is no indication that it is a place of only dealing out rewards.

Also in Acts,

¶ But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal (Bema), And he drove them from the tribunal (Bema). And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal (Bema). But Gallio paid no attention to any of this. ¶ After he stayed among them not more than eight or ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day he took his seat on the tribunal (Bema) and ordered Paul to be brought. But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal (Bema), where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. So when they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal (Bema) and ordered the man to be brought.(Acts 18:12, 16–17; 25:6, 10, 17 ESV)

In these passages in Acts, the word Bema refers to the tribunal of Gallio and of Caesar, where in both cases Paul is brought by an angry mob to receive judgment, which could be a judgment of either life or death.

And finally,

¶ Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat (Bema) of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” ¶ So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.(Romans 14:10–12 ESV)

Here in context Paul is focusing on the judgment of believers, yet there is no mention of rewards. The point is that we ought not to pass judgment on one another, for it is God who ultimately knows our hearts and will reveal the secret things within. While rewards could be a part of this account, there is nothing to explicitly suggest so, and as we have seen, the word Bema itself should not lead us to that conclusion.

Therefore, out of the 11 relevant uses of the word Bema in the New Testament, none of them explicitly demonstrate that it was a place for only receiving rewards, and 9 of them actually say the opposite, it was a place where judgment was rendered, often judgment of the severest sort, as was the case with Jesus before Pilate. In fact, the judgment Pilate rendered unto Jesus is the same judgment of condemnation, in which he endured the full wrath of God, that unbelievers will receive at the final judgment. Thus, the argument that the Bema seat judgment is one of rewards based on the Greek would should be set aside.

Finally, a closer examination of 2 Corinthians 5:10-11 itself should give us pause before making any hard and fast statements about it referring to simply a judgment of rewards. Again, it states:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. ¶ Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.(2 Corinthians 5:10–11 ESV)

Verse 11 helps us here, for if this were only a judgment of rewards, why speak of the “fear/terror of the Lord” being the basis for our good deeds? No where in Scripture are we told to fear the Lord because we might receive fewer crowns, rather, we are told to fear not the one who can destroy the body, but the one who can destroy both body and soul in Hell (Matthew 10:28). The idea of the fear of the Lord is most often understood in the context of his righteous wrath (see Hebrews 12:28-29). In other words, fear the Lord for he will one day judge all people, either unto life or eternal death. This seems to be the sense here.

Conclusion

While Groeschel discusses the Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation, our discussion will end here. Two things should be apparent. First, while Scripture does distinguish the just and the unjust at the final judgment, it does not indicate that there will be two, let alone 3 or 4, separate judgments. There will be one judgment of both the just and the unjust, those who have believed in Christ and those who have rejected him. This will all take place at the final trumpet, the resurrection, and Christ’s second and final coming. Second, we should not be quick to base a theological argument on the meaning of a Greek word. Languages are fluid, and each word must be examined in the context the author gives it. In this case, the Greek word Bema more often refers to a judgment seat of punishment/pardon, rather than reward. This is the Bema of Christ, the Great White Throne and the final judgment.

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Early Fragment of Romans Discovered

English: manuscript of the Epistle to the Roma...
English: manuscript of the Epistle to the Romans (fragment) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over at his blog Dan Wallace has posted an article regarding an early manuscript of Romans dated to the early third century. The text it contains is Romans 9:18-21, a cherished text by those who love God’s sovereignty. A great discovery which only strengthens the Christian’s confidence that the Bible we have today accurately represents the word of God given to the apostles. Also, for you text critical nerds he briefly discusses some of the variants. Check it out:

New Early Fragment of Romans « Daniel B. Wallace.

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Weekly Round Up Nov. 13: Marriage, Religious Freedom, Alcohol, Free Pdf’s, and the Hobbit Soundtrack

Should we abandon fight for marriage? – Patrick Schreiner discusses an interesting and thought provoking article concerning the marriage battle, which ponders whether it should be abandoned in light of recent defeats

Obama already narrowing religious freedom – Obama administrations responds to Hobby Lobby suit with some telling statements. Apparently, once you open a “secular” business, all your religious freedom goes out the window!

Is this the end of America? – Here is a helpful article in light of the recent election by our friends over at the Credo House.

The Bible and Alcohol – And again from the Credo House, yet absolutely unrelated, is the helpful and balanced article regarding the Biblical view of alcohol.

Free Spurgeon PDF – From our friends at Monergism.com Who cares what it is..it’s by Spurgeon!

Another Free Pdf – Again from our friends at Monergism: “The Practical Implications of Calvinism” by Albert N. Margin

Finally, listen to the complete Hobbit soundtrack here!

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Interacting With “The End”

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The End – LifeChurch.tv.

My brother recently pointed me to a 3-part series that LifeChurch.TV is undertaking on the end times. Let me say first that I appreciate much of what Craig Groeschel in this message. He is absolutely correct that the return of Christ should be a topic of extreme encouragement and joy for believers. On this point pastor Craig and I agree, and as brothers in Christ we both hold in common this essential and unifying truth.

The primary text for the message is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. It reads:

“¶ But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1Thessalonians 4:13–18 ESV)

Groeschel divides the passage into three parts: 1) The Return of Christ; 2) The Rapture; 3) The Reunion

1. The return of Christ: According to Groeschel, verses 13-16 refer to the second coming. This is no doubt true. Christ will return with a “shout of command”, the “voice of the archangel” and the “trumpet of God.” This is a loud and highly visible event. Christ will return and the dead will rise. Groeschel also rightly connects this to John 14.3, where Christ promises that he is going to prepare a place and will return for his people.

With regard to the resurrection of the dead, Groeschel indicates his view that there will be two resurrections and two judgments. The two resurrections are those of believers at the rapture, and unbelievers later. The two judgments are the Bema seat of Christ (Christians) and the great white throne judgment (unbelievers).

With regard to resurrections, he appeals to Revelation 20, where you have the first resurrection and the second death. “Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection, the second death has no power over them.” The problem with this reference, however, is that it cannot refer to the resurrection at a pre-trib rapture. If Revelation 20 is talking about a future millennium, the resurrection mentioned is a resurrection after the battle of Armageddon just before the thousand years. More likely, the first resurrection in Revelation 20 actually refers to those who have died in Christ and are seated with him in heaven, having received the “crown of life.” Whatever the case, the first resurrection of Revelation 20 cannot be the pre-trib resurrection of believers at the rapture.

Groeschel will discuss his view of the two resurrections in more detail in his second message, so we will address it then. Suffice it to say that the New Testament seems very clear that there is only one judgment and one resurrection, which both happen at the second coming of Christ:

“¶ “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.” (Matthew 25:31–33 ESV)

Even in 2 Thessalonians in a context very close to the passage under discussion, only one coming and judgment is indicated. It states,

“¶ This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.”(2 Thessalonians 1:5–10 ESV)

It is when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his angels that he will BOTH judge the ungodly and grant relief to believers. Only one coming and judgment is indicated. Groeschel’s second point has to do with the rapture.

2. The Rapture. Groeschel defines the rapture as that moment when “living Christians are taken away.” He says that the one of the primary reasons he believes in a pre-tribulational rapture has do to the Greek word “harpazo” (caught up), which he contends primarily carries the idea of being rescued. Harpazo is used 14 times in the New Testament, and in the vast majority of cases it simply means to snatch away (often in a violet sense; see Matt 11:12; 12:29; 13:19; John 6:15; 10:12, 28–29; Acts 8:39; 23:10; 2 Cor 12:2, 4; 1 Th 4:17; Jude 1:23; Rev 12:5). The closest use to the present passage is that of 2 Corinthians 12:2, 4, where Paul says he was “caught up into the third heaven/paradise.” The idea of rescue is not present here. In two instances (Jude 23 and Revelation 12:5) where the idea of rescue is present, it is not the word itself that carries that connotation, only the context surrounding the word. In 1 Thess. 4, however, there is no mention of a tribulation to be rescued from, rather it is a joyous occasion when Christ returns for his people. Thus there is no need to force the word to mean rescue. It simply means what it always means, to take up or snatch away. The when and the why are not found in rescue from tribulation, but rather in the final and global (not secret) coming of Christ.

Another passage Groeschel uses to support his view of the rapture is Matthew 24; however, it seems apparent that this passage is referring to Christ’s final coming at the last judgment. Verses 23-45 say:

“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.
For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. ¶ “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. ¶ “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

¶ “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:23–45 ESV)

Thus, this is a time of judgment as in the days of Noah. It is the time when the son of Man’s coming will be as lightning across the sky AFTER the tribulation of those days. Also, it is also more likely that those who are “taken away” are parallel to those “swept away” in judgment during the days of Noah. It was actually Noah and his family who were left, and the ungodly being judged who were “taken away.” In any case, most commentators rightly hold that Matthew 24 cannot be about a pre-trib rapture, but rather describes Jesus’ final coming. In the same way, 1 Thess 4 is not about a secret rapture of the church (after all it involves a loud cry, the voice of the archangel and the final trumpet!), but about the second coming of Christ where all will be judged, some to everlasting punishment and some to everlasting life.

One more thing should be said. Those who are “caught up” are also said to “meet the Lord” in the air. This idea is “meeting” is not an uncommon term. It was used of Jesus’ parable of the 10 virgins who went out to meet the bridegroom (Matt. 25.6; see also Acts 28:15). When they met him, did they go away with him, or return with him to the city? The word often refers to the processional that would meet a someone important on his/her way into the city, and then to return with him in celebration. This seems to be the most likely sense here. God’s people are caught up to meet him, and then return in victory with all those who have died in Christ.

3. the Reunion. Groeschel’s final point demonstrates the essential commonality we hold as believers. Christ will return. He will make all wrongs right. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and we will be reunited with him forever. These are certainly words we as Christians can and should encourage one another with.

In the meantime, however, let us seek diligently to understand the details of Christ’s return, as John promises in his Revelation, “blessed is the one who reads and those who hear the word of this prophecy, and those who keep all the things which are written in them, for the time is near” (Rev. 1:3).

Christ will return, and upon his return he will judge the living and the dead. All will be raised, some to everlasting life and some to everlasting torment. Yet the one who endures to the end will receive the crown of life and be saved. Let us endure. Maranatha!

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Thoughts on the Election

Vote Jesus Christ

I’ll be voting for Mitt Romney tomorrow. I believe as a responsible Christian this is my only choice. I disagree with those who refuse to vote for Mitt Romney because of his Mormonism (see here). And I think it is absurd to write Jesus into the ballot. Christ is king whether you write him in or not, so don’t waste your vote (see here).

In my opinion we have two options: one who opposes any restrictions on abortion or one who opposes abortion in almost every case; one who would re-define marriage or one who would uphold the biblical definition of marriage; one who leans toward socialism or one who believes in a free-market; big government control or less government control. For me the choice is clear. I choose the latter every time, and a vote for a third party or a failure to vote is in essence a vote for Obama, and such is unacceptable.

Having said that, I fundamentally disagree with a statement Mitt Romney recently made: “America is the hope of the world.” Likewise, there are those who right now consider a particular candidate the hope of America. Neither one is true. Alpha and Omega: Rev 1:7-8The only hope of this world and of America is Jesus Christ, and regardless of who wins tomorrow his command remains the same: repent and believe the gospel. Christ will return and judge all of humanity.

Also, regardless of who wins tomorrow, Christians can rest in the absolute sovereignty of God over all things. We must remember, it is God who causes leaders to raise and fall, and the hearts of kings are in his hand.

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” – Romans 13:1

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” – Proverbs 21:1

This should be of great comfort to believers. No matter what happens tomorrow, we can be confident that God is working all things together for the good of his people to bring about his perfect will (Romans 8:28). And above all, let us pray without ceasing for our country, our leaders and for God’s will to be done on earth as well as in heaven.

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