People often ask, why did evil arise in the first place? Central to the answer is freedom. True freedom, true moral freedom, involves risk, because if persons (or beings) are truly free, then they must have the option to do wrong.
Fair enough, but the next question arises: Why then didn’t God just blot them out when they did wrong and spare the rest of us the horrible results of rebellion?
The answer gets to the heart of the great controversy. As we will see this week, the Lord runs a kind of “open” government, and though much about Him and His ways are mysterious, He will resolve the great controversy in a way that will forever end all questions about His self-denial, goodness, justice, love, and law.
Indeed, we will be given a thousand years to get answers, at least answers regarding the fate of the lost (we’ll have an eternity for the rest). After the Second Coming, the redeemed will live and reign with Christ for a thousand years. And, even more incredible, they will have an active role in judgment. Let’s look at the final steps in the long-playing drama of the great controversy.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, March 26.
Binding or being bound is used in a number of ways in the Bible. On the simplest level it applies to a prisoner. Jesus loosed many who had been bound by Satan. Furthermore, the act of binding is used to describe the power that God gives the church over evil, making it a symbol of judgment.
When dangerous criminals are captured, it is necessary to bind them. However, many times in the Bible when people are bound, they are hardly criminals. John the Baptist was put in chains because he denounced the moral evils of the king (Matt. 14:3, 4). Jesus was bound in the Garden (John 18:12), at His trial (John 18:24), and in death (John 19:40). Paul (Acts 21:33) and Peter (Acts 12:6) were both bound.
Jesus also spent a lot of face-to-face time with people whom Satan had bound. There was a demoniac bound with broken chains on his wrists and ankles (Mark 5:3, 4). Before Jesus released him from demons, nobody could restrain the evil. He met a woman whose back had been bent over, and He released her (Luke 13:11, 12, 16). He also released Lazarus from the tomb and from his grave clothes (John 11:43, 44). Then there was Barabbas, who, although chained, was released so that Jesus, not he, would be crucified (Mark 15:7–15). In all of these instances, we see Satan either trying to keep people imprisoned with affliction or binding the innocent in order to allow evil to flourish. But we also see Jesus breaking the bonds of death in order to bring release and freedom to a world hopelessly imprisoned by Satan. In the end, Satan is bound and cast into outer darkness (Rev. 20:1–3).
Also, part of Jesus’ mission to free those whom Satan bound was to empower His followers. He assured them that Satan (“the strong man”) could be bound and his house plundered (Matt. 12:26–29, NKJV). In other words, Satan has no power against Christ and Christ’s followers because Christ has released His people from the bonds of Satan.
As Paul observed, “the word of God is not chained” (2 Tim. 2:9, NKJV). It is the means whereby Jesus silenced Satan (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10), and we can use the same power to resist him, as well.
Genesis 1:2 describes the earth as being “without form, and void.” This same phrase is repeated by Jeremiah to describe the earth after its destruction by the seven last plagues and the Second Coming, with every city on earth “broken down at the presence of the Lord”(Jer. 4:26, NKJV). In Jeremiah’s account, there is no man (Jer. 4:25); in John’s account, Satan is unable to deceive anyone (Rev. 20:3).
The dramatic and universal effects of the Second Coming explain what is happening here in Revelation. First, Jesus promises to take His followers to a place He left earth to prepare (John 14:1–3). Paul adds the detail that those followers include the living and those who have been resurrected from their graves (1 Thess. 4:16, 17). John adds another detail: after the first resurrection at the Second Coming, the remainder of the dead will stay dead until the thousand years end (Rev. 20:5).
Read Revelation 20:4. What is being described in this text?
“Judgment was committed to them” (NKJV). How could they judge without getting more information than they have now? Before the final destruction of the wicked, the saved are given the opportunity to get many of their “why” questions answered. Even more amazing, the redeemed even play a role in judging the lost.
“In union with Christ they judge the wicked, comparing their acts with the statute book, the Bible, and deciding every case according to the deeds done in the body. Then the portion which the wicked must suffer is meted out, according to their works; and it is recorded against their names in the book of death.”—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 661.
During this time of opening the records, we will see the countless times that God’s still small voice beckoned the lost with words of kindness and love. How patiently He persisted, only to be repeatedly drowned out by the clatter of the things that this world flaunts as desirable. Silently He waited, longing for an opportunity to be recognized as the One who paid an infinite price so they could have life, but instead they chose death. Is there anything in your life that is keeping you from hearing His voice? He is still patiently waiting for you. Choose life.
In Bible times, there were two places for judgment: the city gate and before the king’s throne. The elders at the gate decided all the small cases, but the king decided all the large issues. His was the final word in ensuring justice. Similarly, the Bible pictures God enthroned as King of the universe, guaranteeing that justice is finally done (Rev. 20:11–15).
Revelation 20 is all about the thousand years; so, this particular judgment occurs in that time frame. It is not the same scene that is described in verse 4, where there are many thrones, because in verse 11 there is only one. Rather than being at the beginning of the thousand years, it is at the end, after the second resurrection (Rev. 20:5), and after Satan convinces the hosts of the unsaved to surround the Holy City (Rev. 20:7–9). God’s great white throne is seen above the city at that point. Present is every person ever born; some inside the city, some outside. This is the time that Jesus spoke about when He said that there would be some people who ask God why they did not make it into God’s kingdom (Matt. 7:22, 23). It is also the time that Paul spoke of when he said that one day every knee shall bow down before Jesus, “of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and . . . every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:9–11, NKJV).
The purpose of judgment is not to teach God anything that He doesn’t already know, for He already knows everything. The purpose is to ensure that everybody knows exactly why God has judged the way that He has. Every person, every angel, will be able to say, “ ‘You are just in these judgments, O Holy One, you who are and who were’ ” (Rev. 16:5, NIV). The saved and lost, both among humans and angels, will see the justice and righteousness of God.
The final act in this drama is the destruction of “Death and Hades,” plus those not “written in the Book of Life” (Rev. 20:14, 15, NKJV). Jesus holds the keys to Death and Hades (Rev. 1:18). Neither of these has any reason to exist any longer. Rather than facing eternal torment, as is so commonly taught, the lost are destroyed. They cease to exist forever, the opposite of eternal life.
Sin and rebellion have been unwelcome intruders. They were never meant to be here. They inflicted incredible damage, but now that the cause of that damage no longer exists, it is time to restore everything to perfection. Not until that happens will the great controversy be completed.
When John describes a new heaven as well as a new earth, he is repeating what Peter said: “The heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat” (2 Pet. 3:10, NKJV). As we know so well, the earth is in desperate need of more than just a makeover. Everything here is going to be completely destroyed in order to make way for a whole new existence.
John also talks about no more sea (Rev. 21:1). He wrote this from a prison island (Patmos), where the sea prevented his escape. Even in a modern boat, it takes hours to reach the island where John wrote these words. In the earth made new there will no longer be any form of barrier that prevents the redeemed from moving freely or seeing their loved ones.
The New Jerusalem sounds incredibly spectacular. It is described in terms of a city from Bible times because that is all John knew about. However, artists’ impressions that depict it with first-century Roman architecture do it a major disservice because this is a city “whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10).
Our minds can barely grasp these descriptions. How fun it is to let our imagination dwell on what is in store for us though. We can barely begin to imagine it. Also, the huge dimensions of the city inform us that there is no shortage of space. There is room for everyone.
We are all experienced with what it means to cry. We are also familiar with the action of wiping tears from another’s eyes: a mother comforting a child; a close friend comforting a companion; or one parent comforting the other in the midst of tragedy. We also know we do not allow many people to touch our face. So, what does it mean that God touches our face other than that we will have an intimate tie with our Maker?
It is hard to imagine a world without death, sorrow, or crying. Pain, sweat, tears, and death have been the norm for humankind ever since the Fall (Gen. 3:16–19). Yet, from that time on God has assured the human race that failure and loss are not all there is to look forward to. God has given little indicators along the way that He will one day redeem us and bless us with His presence.
God does so first with the promise of a Redeemer (Gen. 3:15); then with the assurance of His presence in a tabernacle (Exod. 25:8); then with the reality of the Word becoming flesh and tabernacling among us (John 1:14); and finally, by placing the throne of the universe in our midst (Rev. 21:3).
Many Bible verses give a summary of this covenant assurance, using such words as, “I will be their God,” “you shall be my people,” and “I will dwell among you.” One example is: “ ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people’ ” (2 Cor. 6:16, NIV).
Jesus came the first time to neutralize the effects of the broken covenant. Jeremiah described the consequences of the broken covenant this way: “ ‘ “Why do you cry about your affliction? Your sorrow is incurable. Because of the multitude of your iniquities, because your sins have increased, I have done these things to you” ’ ” (Jer. 30:15, NKJV). Thanks to Jesus, that is now history. Revelation 21:3 gives us the climax of the Bible. Perhaps the tears are what we shed over the final annihilation of the lost, but God Himself wipes them away, and sorrow and suffering are forever “passed away.”
Further Thought: Think about the millennium, and about our understanding of it. Though we are not told a lot, we are told enough to know a few things. First, the millennium occurs before the final destruction of the lost. Second, before that final destruction, the saved spend this time getting a lot of questions answered. So much so that they themselves get to help partake of that judgment. That is, they themselves are judging. “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” (1 Cor. 6:2, NKJV). And: “Do you not know that we shall judge angels?” (1 Cor. 6: 3, NKJV). Also, as we read this week, during this thousand years “judgment was committed to them” (Rev. 20:4, NKJV); that is, the saints. Thus, these two points together reveal an important truth: none of the lost will face final judgment until after the millennium, until the saved not only understand why the wicked are lost but will also play a role in passing judgment upon them. Think about what this tells us about the character of God and the openness of His government: before a single person faces the ultimate fate of the lost, God’s people will get to see very clearly the justice and fairness of God’s final judgment upon them. It’s going to be painful, for sure; but when it’s finished, as we have already seen, we will shout: “ ‘You are just in these judgments, O Holy One, you who are and who were’ ” (Rev. 16:5, NIV).