The Lake of Fire
The lake of fire is described in Revelation 20 as the final judgment of God upon sinners when they are “judged according to their works.” The scene is also described in Daniel 7, where the prophet saw it as a “river of fire” in verse 10. Daniel saw the legal process as judgment flowed from the fiery throne to the people. John saw the process completed, as the river turned into a lake. Yet both seemed awestruck by the throne.
There are two primary questions that must be resolved in studying the lake or river of fire. First, what is the nature of this fire? Is it literal or symbolic? Secondly, what is the duration of this fiery judgment? Will it last for all time, or will this period of judgment come to an end?
Judgment According to Daniel’s Vision
In Daniel 7:9, 10 the prophet was shown a vision of the final judgment. This came in the context of his vision regarding the judgment upon the succession of beast empires that God had given to rule the world for a season. The Kingdom of God, represented by the throne of David in Jerusalem, had ended as a national entity in 586 B.C. when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem.
While a captive in Babylon, Daniel had a series of visions and revelations that foretold a lengthy captivity by a series of empires, one after the other. The Babylonian phase of that captivity, depicted in Daniel 7:4 as a winged lion, was only the first seventy years of a much longer captivity. After Babylon rose Medo-Persia, depicted as a bear. The next dominant beast empire, Greece (Macedonia) was depicted as a swift leopard. Rome came next, depicted as an indescribable beast with large iron teeth.
In Daniel 7:8 out of this iron-toothed beast then came “horns” (that is, powers) and a “little horn” boasting of great things. (Rev. 13:5 interprets this as “blasphemies.”) From history it is not difficult to see this as the Roman Catholic Church, which derived power from Rome but came after the fall of Imperial Rome. It is after this “little horn” ends its dominance that the judgment of God comes upon these beast empires. With that context in mind, let us read about the Ancient of Days and His fiery throne:
9 I kept looking until thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow, and the hair of His head like pure wool . . . .
The description of the One taking His seat upon the throne is similar to what John saw in Revelation 1:14,
14 And His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire.
Since God is spirit (John 4:24) and can manifest to us in whatever form He wishes, we must ask why He chose to manifest Himself in such a manner to Daniel and John. Why should He be called “the Ancient of Days” and portray Himself with white hair? Keep in mind that this is a court scene, where the dead are being raised to stand before God at the bar of justice. Part of the answer is to be found in the law in Leviticus 19:32,
32 You shall RISE UP before the grayheaded, and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.
The law is not merely a command to stand up before an elder in authority. It is also prophetic of what will happen when the Ancient of Days comes to be seated upon His throne. The dead will “rise up” and stand before Him. Therefore, He is pictured as having white hair. It is part of the prophecy of the resurrection of the dead. We continue now with the description of the throne in Daniel 7:9, 10,
9 . . . His throne was ablaze with flames, its wheels were a burning fire. 10 A river of fire was flowing and coming out from before Him; thousands upon thousands were attending Him, and myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; the court sat, and the books were opened.
The source of the fire is shown to be the throne itself. Thrones symbolize authority and law, or more specifically, the administration of the law by one in authority. To be seated upon a throne signified that the king was issuing decrees or judgments in an official capacity according to the laws of the nation. In America, where we have no king, we have a separate judicial system, and the judges sit “at the bench.” When the judge enters the court room, the people “all rise.” The “bench” indicates that the judge will now judge matters according to the law of the land.
Compare Daniel’s vision to that seen by John in Revelation 20:11, 12,
11 And I saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.
It is plain that Daniel and John both saw the same final judgment of sinners before the great white throne. Because the dead are judged “according to their deeds,” it is plain that they are being judged by the law, which is the divine standard of right and wrong. The divine law measures the deeds of all men to see what is a sin and what is righteous. Paul says in Romans 3:20, “through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” And in Romans 7:7, “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, You shall not covet.”
In other words, the divine law defines sin and is the standard by which all of men’s deeds are judged. As John says so simply in 1 John 3:4, “sin is lawlessness.”
The Fire is the Judgment of the Divine Law
In the case of the Great White Throne in Daniel and Revelation, God judges all men according to His own law. The “fire” that proceeds from the throne is the judgment of the divine law according to their works. A common view is that this “fire” is literal and that it will last forever on the grounds that the people will be immortal and fireproof, but will be able to experience pain. Others say that the fire is literal, but that it will simply “burn up” (annihilate) the sinners. In both of these views, God metes out punishment, but justice itself is not done.
Our view is taken from the divine law itself, for this is how God defines justice. Nowhere does one find in the divine law a provision for burning anyone alive for ANY sin. The only use of fire found in the law is where a dead body might be burned (cremated) for the purpose of preventing an honorable burial. Leviticus 21:9 says that the daughter of a priest who becomes a harlot was to be burned with fire. The same judgment was to be administered to a man who married a woman and her daughter (Lev. 20:14).
Such judgments have been interpreted in the Middle Ages to justify burning people alive. But the justice in the divine law would not have anyone burned alive. They were executed first, often by stoning, and then their bodies were burned. We see this in the example of Achan, whose greed caused 36 Israelites to be killed in the battle of Ai. Joshua 7:25 says,
25 And Joshua said, Why have you troubled us? The Lord will trouble you this day. And all Israel stoned them with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones.
This is what we call today “case history,” showing us how the law was actually implemented. The value of case law is that it shows us how we ought to interpret the law. This is the only case we are given in the Scriptures where the divine law was properly administered. Babylon, of course, had a fiery furnace, and this was used against Daniel’s three friends in Daniel 3:11. But Nebuchadnezzar did not follow biblical law, but rather the law of Babylon.
There are some who have argued that the burnt offerings in the law are types of “hell” as a payment for sin. However, no priest ever set fire to a burnt offering before actually killing the animal. Furthermore, Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of all of these burnt offerings and sacrifices of all kinds. Jesus was not burned at the stake, but crucified for our sins. Nor did Jesus have to enter a burning hell in Hades to pay for our sins.
One specific burnt offering in the law is found in Numbers 19. The law of the red heifer speaks of the manner in which men were to be cleansed from touching a dead body. This typically prophesies of the manner in which we are cleansed from mortality (our own dead body). A red heifer was to be killed outside the camp by the high priest (19:3). Its blood was to be sprinkled seven times before the sanctuary (19:4). Then the dead body of the heifer was to be burned totally, as in a burnt offering (19:5).
Jesus fulfilled the law of the red heifer and was, in fact, crucified “outside the camp” (Heb. 13:12) next to the place where its ashes were kept at the top of the Mount of Olives. He bled from seven places: two hands, two feet, head, back, and side. But the crucifixion itself fulfilled the burnt offering by fire. Jesus did not have to be burned at the stake to fulfill the law of the red heifer. The fire was not literal, but represented the divine law. And when we apply the death of Christ to our hearts, even as the ashes were sprinkled upon the unclean, the life of Christ also is imputed to us (Rom. 6:3-11).
To burn people alive as a judgment for sin was also practiced by the pagans in and around Canaan who worshipped Molech and Baal. These pagans believed that burning their children would atone for their own sins and satisfy God’s justice. Israel and Judah often adopted these same doctrines, and the prophets condemned them for it. God told the prophet about this practice in Jeremiah 19:5,
5 and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind.
Some no doubt will argue that the only thing wrong with such a judgment was the fact that they were executing innocent children in this manner. Certainly, it was a travesty of justice to sacrifice innocent children for the sins of another, for only the Son of God could lawfully sacrifice Himself for the sin of others. But even Jesus Himself did not have to be burned with fire to pay for the sin of mankind—because that was not the penalty for sin. If the divine law had demanded “hell-fire” to pay for any sin, then Jesus would have had to be burned in hell when He went to Hades.
Moreover, if the judgment for sin were unending torture in fire, then a mere three days in Hades would have been insufficient to pay for the sin of the world, and we would yet be in our sins and without hope of salvation.
Judgment upon the Great Harlot of Revelation
The only other possible example of “case history” in the Scriptures is where the great prophetic harlot of Revelation 17 and 18 is burned with fire in the judgment. In Rev. 17:5 she is identified as a prophetic “Babylon,” and thus John applies prophecies of the old city of Babylon to this prophetic Babylon. In her judgment we see more than one aspect of biblical law. Revelation 18:6 says,
6 Pay her back even as she has paid, and give back to her double according to her deeds; in the cup which she has mixed, mix twice as much for her.
This sentence is according to the law found in Exodus 22:4, which says,
4 If what he stole is actually found alive in his possession, whether an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double.
God gave His people (sheep) into the hands of Babylon for just seventy years (Jer. 25:11), and so Babylon was divinely authorized to take possession of Judah and Jerusalem during that time. The prophet says in Jeremiah 50:6, 7,
6 My people have become lost sheep. . . 7 All who came upon them have devoured them; and their adversaries have said, "We are not guilty," inasmuch as they have sinned against the Lord who is the habitation of righteousness, even the Lord the hope of their fathers.
God did indeed sell Judah into the hands of Babylon, but more specifically, God sold Judah’s LABOR to Babylon for seventy years. Judah’s land was also sold to Babylon, but the law says that God owns all the land, and so the land cannot be sold for ever (Lev. 25:23; Jer. 27:5). The terms of the Divine Court limited their authority over Judah for seventy years, during which time they could treat the Judahites as they would any other sheep. If Babylon had agreed to release them after that time was completed, they could have avoided God’s judgment. However, we read in Jeremiah 50:33, 34,
33 Thus says the Lord of hosts, The sons of Israel are oppressed, and the sons of Judah as well; and all who took them captive have held them fast; they have refused to let them go. 34 Their Redeemer is strong, the Lord of hosts is His name; He will vigorously plead their case, so that He may bring rest to the earth, but turmoil to the inhabitants of Babylon.
Because Babylon refused to release God’s sheep at the end of their sentence, God enforced the lawful mandate, using the Medo-Persian armies.
So also is it with the prophetic Babylon of Revelation 17, 18. They, too, have refused to release God’s sheep after seventy years. “Mystery (secret) Babylon” became a secret empire in 1913-14 with the passage of the Federal Reserve Act. This occurred precisely 2,520 years after the original city of the Babylonian Empire had been established in 607 B.C. This prophetic time cycle is “seven times” of prophecy (7 x 360 years). Mystery Babylon has ruled supreme since the bill was passed in 1913, when President Wilson signed the bill into law in 1914 without even reading it. We and the whole world have repeated the Babylonian captivity in our the past century, for once again God sold all nations into their hands.
But when their appointed time came to an end, beginning in 1983-84, they refused to release us once again. For this reason, God has begun to undermine this great economic and religious empire and will shortly bring it to an end.
The judgment that Babylon must restore double what it has stolen shows that the Babylonian system, both ancient and modern, is a system of legalized theft. While this might have been lawful during the time that God had sold His people into their hands for their sin, it suddenly became unlawful when our divinely-mandated captivity ended.
God’s plan allowed Babylon to retain control for a season beyond their allotted time in order that He might have legal cause against Babylon, for it was in His plan to strip Babylon of the wealth that it obtained from its captives. If the Babylonian world system had released the people, its wealthy money barons could have kept their wealth. But in their pride, they thought that they could continue reaping indefinitely the benefits of God’s judgment upon His people. They were wrong, of course. But it is not within our scope to pursue that topic further. We have written this much to establish that the divine law is the basis of Babylon’s judgment.
The other main judgment against Babylon is more relevant to our study of the use of fire in God’s law. It is found in Revelation 18:8,
8 For this reason in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her is strong.
This judgment shows that the harlot of Babylon is in some way the daughter of a biblical priest, for that is how the divine law reads in Leviticus 21:9. This identifies the great harlot of Babylon to be (at least in part) a false bride of Christ and a system of priesthood as well. Perhaps that is why verse 16 describes this harlot as “she who was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls.” The Levitical priests were to be dressed this way, as we read in Exodus 28:4-6,
4 And these are the garments which they shall make . . . 5 And they shall take the gold and the blue and the purple and the scarlet material and the fine linen. 6 They shall also make the ephod of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen, the work of the skillful workmen.
The precious stones, of course, were part of the ephod that the high priest wore as a breastplate. On this breastplate were twelve precious stones listed in Exodus 28:15-20, and these are said in verse 21 to represent the twelve tribes of Israel.
Yet there are no pearls in the garment of the high priest. Why would John mention pearls in his description of the great harlot? It is because pearls have a similar symbolic meaning as the precious stones. In Revelation 21:19-21 the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem are the precious stones, while the GATES of the city are twelve pearls. On these gates are written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (Rev. 21:12). Thus we see that the precious stones and the pearls both represent the twelve tribes of Israel.
In Isaiah 60:18 we read, “. . . you will call your walls salvation, and your gates praise.” On page 67 of The Struggle for the Birthright, we wrote about this:
“Isaiah 60:18, quoted earlier, tells us that the gates are ‘praise.’ This is a play on words, because Judah means ‘praise.’ Judah was to be the leading tribe of Israel. And so in this case Judah represents all the tribes, for in that day the King of Judah—Jesus Christ—will rule over all the tribes in one nation, as well as over the entire earth.”
Even though pearls were not used in the garments of the high priest, we do see pearls in the book of Revelation. Their use, then, on the garments of the great harlot are part of her identifying marks. Even as the precious stones on the ephod of the high priest identified him as a priest of the twelve tribes of Israel, so also do the pearls on the garment of the great harlot identify her as the daughter of a priest of Israel. All of this goes to show the judgment of the great harlot to be in accordance with divine law.
The final judgment factor relevant to us here is found in Revelation 18:21,
21 And a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, Thus will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer.
The question here is if the millstone represents Babylon itself being cast into the sea, or if this is a picture of the stoning (execution) of the great harlot prior to her being burned with fire. The text could be understood either way. But we do know that the great whore is found sitting upon many waters (Rev. 17:1). It would be no stretch to see that the millstone was being cast into the sea, because that is where she was sitting while being stoned in judgment. If so, then this great millstone would seem to sink her throne beneath the waves of the sea.
The Biblical Use of Fire as a Symbol of Judgment
Getting back to the judgment of the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7, we see that the fire comes from the throne, which is a universal symbol of law and authority to judge the people. Deuteronomy 33:2, 3 (KJV) says,
2 And he said, The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto Paran, and He came with ten thousands of saints; from His right hand went a fiery law [Heb. esh dath] for them, 3 Yea, He loved the people; all His saints are in Thy hand; and they sat down at Thy feet; every one shall receive of Thy words.
Note that it is not merely the law, but a “fiery law.” Esh is the Hebrew word for fire, and dath means decree, command, or law. Take special note also that this law is said to come from His right hand—and then it says that “all His saints are in His hand.” As we will show later, His saints are the ones called to administer the law, because they are the ones in whose hearts the divine law is written. That is why both the law and His saints are identified as being in the hand of God. But for now it is enough to see that the law itself is characterized as FIRE.
When God appeared on Mount Sinai to give the people the divine law, He was also visible only as FIRE. Deuteronomy 4:36 says,
36 Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire.
In other words, the law was spoken and went forth from the midst of the fire on the mount. This is the meaning of the fire going forth from the throne of God as a river of fire upon the people. David used this same terminology in Psalm 18:7, 8, referring to the day at Mount Sinai when God gave the law to the people:
7 Then the earth shook and quaked; and the foundations of the mountains were trembling and were shaken, because He was angry. 8 Smoke went up out of His nostrils, and fire from His mouth devoured; coals were kindled by it.
How does fire come from God’s mouth? Is it not by means of His Words? These passages were not meant to portray a literal fire in Moses’ day, nor in Daniel’s day, nor in John’s day. The prophet tells us in Jeremiah 23:29,
29 Is not My word like fire? declares the Lord, and like a hammer which shatters a rock?
One can, of course, find many biblical passages where the “fire” is to be taken literally. This is especially the case when the text deals with judgment and destruction of literal cities or nations on earth. But the literalness of the fire in these biblical passages do not carry over into the final judgment at the Great White Throne. There are two kinds of fire: earthly and divine. The earthly type of fire burns the flesh-body. The divine fire burns “the flesh” in our souls, as it purifies us by means of discipline.
The Hebrew word for fire is esh. It is spelled with two Hebrew letters, aleph and shin. The aleph literally means an ox and is a symbol of strength. The shin literally means teeth and indicates the idea of devouring or consuming. Thus, the Hebrew word for fire literally means “the strong devourer” or “the strong consumer.” Moses uses a play on words to describe God’s appearance in the mount in the form of fire, saying in Deuteronomy 4:24,
24 For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
The Israelites thought that God’s fire would burn and consume their literal flesh, and so they refused to obey Moses when he told them to draw near to God (Exodus 20:18-21). Forty years later, Moses reminded them of that day where they said in Deuteronomy 5:25,
25 Now then why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer, then we shall die.
They did not understand the difference between literal fire and the character of God. They did not see that a literal fire burns the bodily flesh, but the all-consuming fire of God only destroys “the flesh” that we ought to submit to Him for destruction anyway. Are they not like so many Christians today, who still do not know the difference? We think the fire of God is for the purpose of destroying US, when in fact, its purpose is to destroy our carnality by way of divine discipline.
Isaiah 26:9 says,
9 At night my soul longs for Thee, indeed, my spirit within me seeks Thee diligently; for when the earth experiences Thy judgments, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.
The purpose of God’s judgment is to teach the world righteousness, not to burn them to ashes. The fire motif is to show us that even as earthly fire burns literal flesh to ashes, so also does the divine fire burn “the flesh” to ashes. We understand spiritual things by their earthly counterparts. But we should not confound the two.
This leads us to our next question: how long is the judgment of God? Will God judge sinners endlessly with no hope of a Jubilee that would ultimately bring forgiveness of their debt to sin? If the purpose of the law is really to burn “the flesh,” then it is designed to correct men and teach them righteousness, not to destroy them or torture them for eternity.
Judgment and Punishment
Man punishes; God judges. In our Roman law system, the primary concern is not justice, but deterrence, which they try to accomplish by mandating longer and harsher sentences for crime. Two centuries ago in England it had progressed so far that men were being hanged for stealing a loaf of bread. Punishment is man’s way of resolving the crime (sin) problem; justice is secondary. But in God’s law the priorities are reversed: justice is primary, and deterrence is secondary.
When men punish according to the traditions of men, sinners are either punished too much or too little. God does not over-discipline anyone. The judgment always fits the crime. If a man steals $1000, he must restore precisely double to his victim. Not a penny more without the consent of the sinner; not a penny less without the consent of the victim. Divine justice may not align with man’s standard of right and wrong, but I myself will always defend the Word of God wherever the two disagree.
Burning people alive in hell is not justice—it is punishment. True justice is never fully accomplished until all the victims of injustice have been recompensed and the sinner restored to grace. This cannot happen in man’s prison system, nor could it happen by torturing sinners forever, nor could it even happen by annihilating all sinners in fire. All of these alternative methods represent punishment, not divine justice.
Only the justice of the divine law found in the Bible is true justice. Its purpose is not only to repay all victims for their injuries, but is also designed to work toward the sinner’s forgiveness and restoration to the congregation (Church).
It is true, of course, that the law is weak in some ways. Paul says in Romans 8:3 that the law is “weak through the flesh.” That is, if a man committed murder, the law cannot restore the victim back to life, and so restoration is not possible because of fleshly weakness. If a married woman is raped, the sinner does not have the power to un-rape her. Because of human, fleshly weakness, then, the law is weak. This is why in such cases, the sinner was put to death. Whenever the crime was such that there was no possible way to restore the lawful order, the sinner was to be put to death.
Putting the sinner to death was only partial justice, for no man can give two lives for the one stolen. In fact, the law says that double restitution was mandated for sheep that were found ALIVE in the thief’s hand. If the sheep had been killed, the thief owed four sheep for a sheep and five oxen for an ox (Exodus 22:1). Since no man can give more than his own life, it is apparent that the death penalty was not the full penalty that could satisfy the law.
Neither does the death penalty do anything to compensate or restore the victims of injustice. The relatives of the murdered man still grieve. The raped woman remains emotionally scarred. The death penalty is not justice—it was the law’s way of deferring judgment to the Great White Throne, where justice could be completed, where there was no longer any fleshly limitation in the law’s power to restore the losses incurred by the victims.
At the Great White Throne, God Himself, who has the power to raise the dead and heal the broken-hearted, has the power to make all things right. When the fiery law is administered to the sinners, the murderer may owe his victim, say, fifty years of life, during which time he might be sentenced to serve his victim. All sin is reckoned as a debt, and therefore all sinners are the debtors of their victims. That is divine justice. I am not wise enough to know how God will judge every case, but I have confidence that He has the capability and the will to make all things right.
There may be cases where the judgment of God will call for a sinner to be burned quite literally. Ex. 21:23-25 prescribes,
23 But if there is any further injury, you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 BURN FOR BURN, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
Hence, at the Great White Throne judgment, it is likely that those who tortured others during their life time will, in turn, receive the same identical torture at the hands of the Law. Those responsible for burning people at the stake could find themselves judged in like manner. If they committed these sins multiple times, they might find themselves raised from the dead (as it were) multiple times in order to equal the amount of torture they inflicted upon others.
However, it should be stressed that such a judgment would fit the crime exactly. It would not be unending punishment, but neither will it be a pleasant experience. But the use of fire or burning as a one-size-fits-all punishment for any and all sin is a clear violation of the Law, where all judgment must fit the crime.
We should also say here that if a murderer places his faith in Jesus Christ, then His crucifixion (death) will satisfy the law at the Great White Throne Judgment.
Law and Forgiveness
The function of the law is not to forgive sin, but to do justice by enforcing various penalties, depending upon the infraction. Forgiveness is something that only victims can do. Neither the law nor the judge has the authority to forgive sin (crime). If a man steals $1,000, the law says he must repay his victim double, or $2,000. The judge cannot reduce the sentence without violating the rights of the victim, nor can he increase it without violating the rights of the law-breaker. But the victim may reduce or cancel the debt as he wishes, for he alone has the power of grace to forgive what is owed him.
At the same time, the law mandates forgiveness once the law-breaker has obtained grace. That is, once his debt has been paid, he is under grace, and no one has the right to hold his former sin against him. Leviticus 19:17, 18 says,
17 You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
In other words, no one has the right to exact more from the law-breaker than the law allows. When the debt is fully paid, forgiveness is mandatory. Loving your neighbor means that one cannot treat anyone as an ex-convict. He is a forgiven sinner under grace.
The Laws of Redemption
Another provision in the law by which such debts can be paid is found in the laws of redemption. In such cases a near kinsman may act as the debtor’s redeemer, paying the debt on his behalf (Leviticus 25:47-49). The redeemer, in essence, purchases the debt note of the debtor. The debt is transferred to the redeemer, and the redeemed debtor now must work for the redeemer until the debt is paid (Lev. 25:53).
Jesus came to earth as a near-kinsman (Heb. 2:11) in order to have the lawful right of redemption. He purchased our debt note, for Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:23 that “you were bought with a price.” Paul also says of redeemed people in Romans 6:22, “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” In other words, the debtor-sinner has been freed from the old taskmaster (sin) in order to serve his Redeemer. The Redeemer teaches him how to be law-abiding rather than lawless and how to be led by the Spirit for his sanctification.
Jesus did not redeem us to give us the right to continue serving sin. In other words, He did not purchase for us the right to be disobedient to His law. He purchased us in order that we might serve Him and learn righteousness, “resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.”
During that final age of judgment upon the sinners, the believers will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). These believers are the Body of Christ. They are the sons of God, who manifest Christ fully in His character and in His works. As such, they will receive a sacred responsibility of doing what He did. At the Great White Throne, the Judge of all the earth will sentence all unbelieving sinners by imposing upon them the debt incurred for every sin they ever committed. All sinners will be held fully accountable according to their deeds, as Revelation 20:12 and 13 clearly tell us.
However, the law also mandates that there must always be provision for redemption of the land or any portion of it. Leviticus 25:23, 24 says,
23 The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me. 24 Thus for every piece of your property, you are to provide for the redemption of the land.
All men are made of the dust of the ground, beginning with Adam (Gen. 2:7). God owns all the land, including us, by right of creation. And so, the law above applies to all mankind. There must always be a provision for redemption of the land. God’s only justification for this law is on the grounds that He owns all the land and therefore has the right to set the terms of men’s inheriting His land.
Since God will judge the whole earth according to His law, this provision is very important. It gives us the basic outline of what life will be like during that final age of judgment. Redeemers will purchase their debt note and thereby receive authority over the sinners. This sheds light on Jesus’ parable in Luke 19, where He spoke of the righteous receiving authority over ten cities, or five, or even just one city. Who will they rule? What will be the basis of their authority?
The answer is in the law, which prophesies that which shall be. The righteous will be given authority over debtors to the law—those who did not avail themselves of Jesus’ provision to pay their debt. The sinners will be placed as servants of the sons of God.
The sons of God will receive authority, but also the responsibility to teach them righteousness. As we saw earlier in Romans 6:22 in Paul’s application of the laws of redemption, the purpose of redemption was “sanctification and the outcome, eternal life.” Thus, each believer who inherits the earth will act as a redeemer (under Christ, of course) and be given authority over a certain number of judged sinners. These will serve out their sentences as “slaves of righteousness.”
The believers’ responsibility will be to teach the sinners the love of God and His ways. Isaiah 26:9, quoted earlier, says, “When the earth experiences Thy judgments, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.” How will they learn? The believers will teach them through discipline when necessary, but always in love. In many ways it will be like parents training children by combining love with discipline.
These debtors, the law says, must serve their redeemers until their debt is paid, or until the Jubilee. In past times when the Law of God was enforced in the land of Israel, the sinner was held accountable for what he did overtly. The sinner was then restored to grace insofar as the nation was concerned, but such judgment did not address the underlying heart problem that all men received from Adam. Thus, the judgment was limited in its scope, and so also the grace and forgiveness that the sinner received.
But in that final age of judgment, God will address these deeper issues. The judgment must address not only the sins of the individual sinners, but also the debt of their fathers all the way back to Adam. Romans 5:12 tells us that because of Adam’s sin, death (mortality) passed into all men—which means that all men are paying for Adam’s sin and not merely their own sins. We are born mortal because of something Adam did. This is the deeper issue that puts us all in need of a Redeemer.
Those who did not take advantage of Jesus’ redemptive work on the Cross must yet find redeemers at the Great White Throne, for there is no way they will be able to pay the debt that they owe. Theoretically, perhaps, some good people might be able to pay their debt, especially if they died young without doing much wrong to their neighbors. Will such people be able to pay their debt to the law within a few years? Yes—however, they will also still be liable for the original sin of Adam, even as we see today. This debt is unpayable, and so they will have to serve their redeemers until that final Jubilee mandates the cancellation of all debt. Hence, the Jubilee law mandates in Leviticus 25:54,
54 Even if he is not redeemed by these means, he shall still go out in the year of Jubilee, he and his sons with him.
The unbelievers are still the children of the first Adam, who received this liability for sin that resulted in mortality. Only believers have become the children of the Last Adam, Jesus Christ. And so, all unbelievers will have to remain under the authority of the sons of God until the year of Jubilee. Then all creation—Adam and his sons with him—will be set free into the glorious liberty of the sons of God (Rom. 8:21).
The Jubilee occurred every 49 years (Lev. 25:8-17). However, on this highest level, I believe that the Jubilee will occur at the end of 49,000 years of human history. (We are currently at the end of just 6,000 years and awaiting our first millennial Sabbath-rest.)
The Creation Jubilee will set all men free, for all debt to the law will be cancelled. Until that time arrives, however, they will have to remain under authority until the Jubilee. During that time, the saints in authority will teach them righteousness.
The Jubilee law was designed to limit all debt to the law for sin. Men’s traditions are thus not as merciful as God’s law. Men would have sinners punished harshly, and many Church traditions would have sinners pay their debt perpetually in fiery torture with no possible end. God’s law, on the other hand, includes mercy and forgiveness. All debt incurred by sin ends at the Jubilee.
The law of Jubilee applies to more serious crimes where a debt is so large that it cannot be paid. The same spirit of the law applies to lesser offences, for we read in Deuteronomy 25:1-3,
1 If there is a dispute between men and they go to court, and the judges decide their case, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked, 2 then it shall be if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall then make him lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of stripes according to his guilt. 3 He may beat him forty times but no more, lest he beat him with many more stripes than these, and your brother be degraded in your eyes.
Jesus referred to this law in Luke 12:42-49. There we are told that God’s faithful stewards will be made rulers over all His possessions (12:44). But the unjust servants who oppressed their fellow servants will be beaten according to their guilt. Those who sinned in ignorance will be beaten with few stripes; those who sinned with full knowledge of what they were doing will receive many stripes—that is, up to forty.
What is of interest to us here is that once the judgment has been administered, the sinner is to be set free—not burned in hell. In fact, Jesus concludes His parable by telling us that this judgment of the law is a FIRE. Verse 49 says,
49 I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled.
Let us not think that Jesus wished to bring people into the torture hell-fire as many understand it. His wish was to restore the earth by means of lawful judgments, but that time had not yet come.
Incidentally, in the passage in Luke 12 above, Jesus was not referring to unbelievers being judged in the lake of fire. He was referring to believers who will be “saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15). As we have shown in The Barley Overcomers as well as in The Laws of the Second Coming, there are two resurrections. The first is at the beginning of the thousand-year Sabbath millennium (Rev. 20:1-6) that is the time that the overcomers will receive immortality and eonian life (life in “The Age”). The general resurrection at the end of that thousand years will include all the dead who did not attain to that first resurrection. This second resurrection will include both believers and unbelievers, as Jesus taught us in John 5:28 and 29,
28 Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, 29 and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
Jesus was NOT describing the first resurrection, wherein we see a resurrection of only the few who will rule and reign with Christ during the thousand years (Rev. 20:6). He can only be referring to the second, general resurrection, which will empty Hades. In this resurrection, Jesus says, some will receive life (immortality), while others will receive judgment (the lake of fire). Paul affirms this in his testimony before Governor Felix in Acts 24:15.
Christian believers who are “saved yet so as through fire” will not be cast into the “lake of fire,” but they will be judged on some level according to the fiery law. Since it is the same law that will judge both the believers and the unbelievers, both are said to be a “fire.” But the believers will be judged by the “few stripes” or “many stripes,” and this is of short duration. God treats them as disobedient (lawless) children who need some discipline because they refused to be obedient to His law after Christ had redeemed them.
The unbelievers, however, will be judged for more serious crimes. Theirs is the “lake of fire,” which will only end at the Jubilee when all creation comes into the glorious liberty of the sons of God (Rom. 8:21).
The Discipline of God’s Children
The Bible clearly teaches that the purpose of the law’s judgments is first to obtain justice for the victims, and secondly to obtain forgiveness for the sinner. Too often this secondary purpose has been lost in men’s zeal for punishment. Psalm 130:3 and 4 says,
3 If Thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared [respected].
Those of us who have brought up children can understand David’s statement very well. Discipline is necessary in order to bring children to maturity and teach the difference between right and wrong. The law (rules of the household) is their schoolmaster to bring them to Christ. With each judgment, there must be forgiveness at the end of the time of discipline. Forgiveness after discipline is what causes a child to respect the parent. This is the healthy “fear” that David mentions. Over-discipline will cause the child to develop an unhealthy kind of fear, and he will soon lose respect for the parent.
God is bringing forth children in this world. That is why we are called “the sons of God.” That is also why God is said to be our Father. He is the perfect parent. He brings discipline to His children, because the undisciplined ones are illegitimate. Hebrews 12:6-11 says,
6 For those whom the Lord loves he disciplines; and He scourges every son whom He receives. 7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
The problem is that men so often have an unhealthy fear of their heavenly Father, because they have been taught that He over-disciplines His children. In fact, many Roman Catholics have been taught as a matter of course that Jesus Christ is unapproachable and would burn us alive if we ever tried to get too close to Him. For that reason, they are taught to pray to Mary, imploring her to intercede for them. Mary is less threatening, but “everyone knows that a good son will listen to his mother.”
It is sad that men have been frightened away from Jesus. During His ministry on earth, men were attracted to him—even children—because of His great love and tenderness toward them. But the traditions of men have reversed this, and many now do not really know Him at all. As a parent myself, I know how it would feel if my own children thought I were so frightening.
In fact, it is usually the Church denominations that want to frighten people into submitting to their Church leaders. This is an unhealthy fear, but the leaders justify their behavior by claiming to be a reflection of Jesus Christ. Thus, if Jesus Christ is such a fearful God, then men ought to fear the Church which supposedly represents Him. But how often does the Church really reflect the character of Jesus Christ?