The Book of Books—Part 15

Christian Hopes and Prospects—Part 2


Christ’s return and kingdom glory … End of the “world” … New heavens and new earth

PETER addressed his second letter to those “that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” (II Pet. 1:1) There is much more to this precious faith than the fact that through Jesus salvation from death may be obtained, although this is vitally important. In his first letter, Peter wrote much about the Christian’s dying with Christ, and thus proving worthy of sharing in his glory—a very precious feature of the Christian faith. This second letter deals more particularly with the return of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom, through which his glory will be manifested. This also is part of the Christian faith.

The second coming of Christ was a very vital teaching in the Early Church. His promised return was one of the principal inspirations to faithfulness in Christian suffering. It was this blessed hope which enabled the brethren to remain steadfast, and to patiently endure, even with rejoicing, the scorn and persecution heaped upon them by the unbelieving world. In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian brethren he reminds them of the glorious fact that Christ would return, and then adds, “Comfort one another with these words.”—I Thess. 4:18

So in Peter’s second letter, he uses the hope of Christ’s return as the basis of an admonition to faithfulness in Christian growth and the development of the Christian graces. He speaks of the exceeding great and precious promises whereby we are made partakers of the divine nature, and then admonishes us to add to the faith engendered by these promises, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity. He says that if “ye do these things ye shall never fall, for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”—II Pet. 1:4-11

In verse twelve, Peter writes, “I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth.” Peter wanted the brethren to remember the things which would keep them from falling, or losing their abundant entrance into the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

This was to be a real kingdom, a powerful government, one which would fulfill all the predictions the prophets had made concerning it. “For,” he continues, in verse sixteen, “we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty … when we were with him on the holy mount.”

This is a reference to what is known as the transfiguration vision. It occurred on a mountain in Israel, now known as the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus went up into this mountain, taking Peter, James, and John with him. He was transfigured before them, and there appeared with him in the vision two of the Old Testament prophets, Moses and Elijah. It was only a vision. Moses and Elijah were not actually there, for they were asleep in death, and will continue so until the resurrection.

Peter indicates that what they saw there was a manifestation of the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ—in other words, a vision of the kingdom glory of Christ, a glory to be shared by all his followers who prove worthy of an abundant entrance into his kingdom. The appearance, in vision, of Moses and Elijah, two of the outstanding prophets of the Old Testament, would seem to suggest that the testimony of God’s holy prophets will all be fulfilled through Christ during the time of his second visit to earth—fulfilled by him, that is, through the agencies of the kingdom.

It was an exciting experience, proving that the Christian hope in the return of Christ was not a cunningly devised fable, that it rested upon a sure foundation of fact which was gloriously illustrated by the transfiguration vision. But even so, Peter explains that the Christian has something more sure than visions. He says, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.”—II Pet. 1:19

The sure word of prophecy referred to by Peter is the entire prophetic testimony of the Old Testament which has to do with Christ’s second visit to earth, as well as the prophecy of Jesus—particularly his answer to the disciples’ question, “What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matt. 24:3) The Greek word here translated coming is parousia, meaning ‘presence’, and the word world is translated from the Greek word aion, meaning ‘age’, or period of time.

The moment of Jesus’ arrival at his second coming was not what the disciples were inquiring about, but the period of his presence. How were they to know that he had returned, and that his kingdom was therefore near? It is through the sure word of prophecy that the Lord’s people obtain this information. Throughout the entire age they continued to search the prophecies, to take heed unto them, that when the time neared for the day to dawn they would know it by the events taking place about them in the world, events outlined in the prophecies.

The Bible describes the long period of the reign of sin and death as being a nighttime, a time when darkness covers the earth, and gross darkness the people. (Isa. 60:1-3) The Prophet David wrote, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” (Ps. 30:5) Sin, suffering, and death are, in the Bible, associated with darkness, while light symbolizes righteousness and health and joy.

So it is, as David foretold, “Joy cometh in the morning.” It was to this that the Prophet Malachi referred when, in forecasting the glory of Messiah’s kingdom, he wrote, “The Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings.” (Mal. 4:2) Jesus, together with the called-out ones of this age, will be that Sun of Righteousness.—Matt. 13:43

In the second chapter of this letter, Peter reminds the reader that false prophets and teachers would arise in the church, causing great damage to the faith in the minds of many. The Apostle Paul also prophesied the development of an apostasy. (II Thess. 2:3-12) Paul’s prophecy, even as Peter’s, reveals that this apostate system of counterfeit Christianity would continue until the return of the Lord, and that then it would be destroyed—destroyed because it would then be time for the establishment of Christ’s kingdom.

Peter indicates that even after the Lord’s return some of these false teachers would continue to misrepresent the truth. In this connection he calls them scoffers, who would be saying, “Where is the promise [Greek, ‘evidence’] of his coming [Greek, ‘presence’], for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” (II Pet. 3:4) It was Peter, who, in Acts 3:19-21, declared that all God’s holy prophets had foretold “times of restitution of all things.” This testimony of the prophets had been given to the fathers of Israel, but Peter implies that the scoffers would say that there is no evidence of Jesus’ presence, that all things continue as they were.

Peter then replies to the objection of the scoffers, and in doing so calls attention to a truth stated by Jesus in his answer to the disciples’ question, “What shall be the sign of thy presence, and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3) Jesus said, in describing world events at the time of his presence, “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.” (Luke 17:26) Peter explains that in the days of Noah, the waters of the Flood destroyed “the world that then was.”—II Pet. 3:5,6

This is in full harmony with a number of Old Testament prophecies we have examined indicating that the closing days of this present evil world would be marked by a condition of darkness and trouble—described by Daniel as a “time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation.” (Dan. 12:1) The point established by Peter is that the early years of Christ’s second presence would not be marked by blessings of restitution, but by destructive trouble which would bring the present evil world to an end.

The end of the world, of course, is not the destruction of the earth, but merely the overthrow of a selfish, sinful social order, described by Paul as “this present evil world.” (Gal. 1:4) In Isaiah 45:18, the Lord tells us that he created the earth and has established it in order that it might be inhabited by his human creation forever. When the church is complete, the marriage of the Lamb and his bride accomplished, and the millennial kingdom established, the earth will then be the scene of “times of restitution of all things,” and then the earth will abide forever.—Eccles. 1:4

Continuing, and basing his explanation upon the fact that a world was destroyed in the days of Noah, Peter says, “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” (II Pet. 3:10) The Apostle Paul wrote, “The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night” (I Thess. 5:1-4), but explains, “Ye brethren, are not in darkness that that day should overtake you as a thief.”

Paul adds, “Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.” (I Thess. 5:5) Agreeing with Peter, Paul also says that the day of the Lord would be one of destruction—“sudden [unexpected] destruction,” he explains, which would follow a worldwide cry of peace and safety. (I Thess. 5:3) It is the destruction of Satan’s world.

Peter’s language is mistakenly thought by some to indicate that the literal earth is to be destroyed. But he also speaks of the heavens being on fire. (II Pet. 3:12) If this were literal, it would imply the destruction of the entire universe. However, these terms are used symbolically to describe the spiritual and physical aspects of this present evil world. There is much evidence that this world, or social order, is already coming to an end.

“Nevertheless,” Peter continues, “we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” (vs. 13) As we learned in our study of Isaiah’s prophecy, the promised new heavens and new earth is the kingdom of Christ. The establishment of this kingdom for the blessing of all mankind is the main objective of Christ’s return, but first Satan’s evil world must be dissolved to make way for the new heavens and new earth. (Isa. 65:17-25; 66:22,23) That which the scoffers do not yet see will come to pass. The blessings of that new day are now near!


Walking in light … The principle of love … The test of discipleship

In addition to his Gospel account of Jesus’ ministry, the Apostle John wrote three epistles. The first is styled a general epistle because it is not addressed to any particular group or individual. “These things write we unto you,” he says, “that your joy may be full.” What are these things? One of them is his reaffirmation of the fact set forth in the first chapter of his Gospel that Jesus was the “Word,” or Logos, of God, that he had been “made flesh.” See the three opening verses of the letter.

In verse five of this opening chapter of his first epistle, John writes, “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” Light is used in the Bible as a symbol of truth and righteousness, and the joys which result from being in harmony therewith. The word truth, as used by John, embraces the entire divine plan for the redemption and restoration of a lost race. Every feature of this plan is prompted by love, and designed to assure all the willing and obedient of mankind an eternity of peace and joy and life.

“He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, … but he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness.” (I John 2:10,11) Love, then, is another manifestation of light, of truth. In John 3:16, we read that it was God’s love which prompted him to send his Son to rescue the world from sin and death.

John also says that love gives “boldness in the day of judgment.” (I John 4:17) This is not a reference to the world’s future day of judgment, for Christians will not then be on trial—they will not pass into that judgment. (John 5:24) Instead, together with Jesus, they will be the judges of the people at that time. The Christian’s trial, or judgment day, is now. He is tested along various lines, and one of them is in his willingness to confess the truth. John wrote, “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.”—I John 4:15

For anyone in John’s day to make this confession required great courage, or boldness. We recall that one of the charges the religious leaders brought against Jesus was that he claimed to be the Son of God. Jews who later espoused his cause and confessed their belief that Jesus was the Son of God would also be hated and persecuted by their countrymen. Gentiles, already in disrepute with the Jewish people would, when making this confession, be looked down upon more than ever.

John had the proper understanding of Christian love. He saw that it is a principle of unselfish devotion to God and to the divine cause which would not permit compromise of any kind. For example, he admonishes Christians to “try the spirits”—that is, doctrines or teachings—which are presented to them, and then adds, “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.” (I John 4:1-3) This must be understood in keeping with John’s own explanation of this great truth as set forth in the opening chapter of his Gospel. If Jesus had not come in the flesh, he could not have given his flesh for the “life of the world.” (John 6:53) If he had not given his flesh for the life of the world, then the world would not have been redeemed from sin and death, and there would be no hope that anyone will ever be raised from the dead.

Parts of I John 5:7,8 are spurious, not being found in the oldest Greek manuscripts extant of the New Testament. They represent the effort of someone during the Dark Ages to establish a scriptural foundation for the erroneous doctrine of the trinity. These two verses are the only ones in the Bible which even remotely suggest the idea of three gods in one, and that part of these verses relating to the trinity, as generally understood, is in reality no part of the Bible. These verses, with the elimination of the spurious portion, read: “For there are three that bear record, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”


How to deal with false teachers

John’s second letter was written to “the elect lady and her children.” (II John 1) We have no certain knowledge who this person was. Verse thirteen indicates that she had a sister, and the main purpose of the letter seems to have been to caution this sister against allowing her kindness and generosity to work injury to the cause of Christ and the truth.

False teachers were plaguing the church, the called-out class of that early period. One of their heresies was their denial that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh. This was a serious error, for it meant a denial of the very foundation of Christian faith and hope. So John wrote, “If there come any among you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him Godspeed: for he that biddeth him Godspeed is partaker of his evil deeds.”—II John 10,11


Further applications of love

This third and last letter of the Apostle John is very brief. It was addressed to “the well beloved Gaius, whom,” John wrote, “I love in the truth.” The main purpose of the letter seems to have been to request Gaius’ cooperation in caring, at least temporarily, for some brethren who were moving into the territory where he lived. (III John 6-8) According to tradition, Gaius was a wealthy man, one whom the Apostle John knew to be well able to make the temporary provision he was asking.

John gave his personal recommendation of the brethren for whom he was asking asylum, and said, “Ye know that our record is true.”(vs. 12) To assist these brethren in their time of need would be a manifestation of Christian love. In Hebrews 13:2 Paul wrote, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” It might well be that Gaius, in befriending the brethren recommended by John, became acquainted with some of the Lord’s “angels.”


Contending for the faith … Example of Sodom and Gomorrah

This is another general letter, not being addressed to any particular congregation or individual. Jude, or Judas—not the Judas who betrayed Jesus—was one of the twelve apostles. His purpose in writing the letter is stated in verse three, which reads, “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”

The letters of Paul, Peter, James, and John, all reveal that in those early days of Christianity the truth of God’s Word was being attacked by enemies who sought to destroy the faith once delivered unto the saints. Jude’s letter reveals the same thing. What was that faith for which Jude urges the brethren to earnestly contend? It was the fact that Jesus had come in the flesh to suffer and to die for both the church and the world. Also, that the work of God during the present age is to call out from the world a people willing to suffer and to die with Jesus, inspired by the promises of God that, if faithful in this, they would live and reign with Christ when he returned to establish his long-promised kingdom.

After the death of the inspired apostles, these enemies of the truth continued their attacks, and finally the faith which was once delivered unto the saints was almost entirely lost to the professed followers of the Master. Instead of being inspired by the hope of Christ’s return and the establishment of his kingdom, they adopted the view that the kingdom was already established, and that the military might of civil governments should be employed to enforce their manmade decrees, which they claimed to be the laws of the kingdom.

Throughout his epistle, Jude is very outspoken against those who oppose the truth. He spares no words of condemnation, but at the same time tempers his remarks with the admonition that the brethren should deal with the situation in keeping with the love and mercy of God. He realized that there were some who had been ensnared by the Devil, and were not willful opposers of truth and righteousness. So the brethren, in contending for the faith, were to recognize a difference, and endeavor to save with fear by pulling out of the fire those who gave the slightest evidence of wanting to do right.

In presenting his exhortation against evil and evildoers, Jude uses various Old Testament examples, one of them being the wicked people of Sodom and Gomorrah. He speaks of these as “set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” (vs. 7) Some have endeavored to use this statement to prove the erroneous doctrine of eternal torture for the wicked. But this is poor reasoning. In the first place, the fire referred to by Jude is not hell-fire. Besides, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were not tormented by it, but destroyed.

However, they were not permanently destroyed, because Jesus taught that in the day of the world’s judgment (a thousand years long) it would be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for the Jewish cities which rejected him. (Matt. 10:15) Sodom is mentioned by the Prophet Ezekiel, who gives assurance that her people will be restored to their “former estate” of life. (Ezek. 16:55) What Jude tells us is that the Sodomites were used by the Lord as an example of those who will suffer everlasting death. We know that the Sodomites themselves were not everlastingly destroyed, because both Jesus and Ezekiel clearly teach that they will be raised from the dead and be given an opportunity to obey the laws of Christ’s kingdom then in force, and, if obedient, live forever.

In verse six, Jude speaks of the “angels who kept not their first estate, but left their own habitations.” In II Peter 2:4 we read about these angels, that God spared them not, but cast them down to “hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.” Peter indicates that this occurred at the time of the Flood. In Genesis 6:2,4 we read about “sons of God” who took unto themselves “daughters of men,” and that giants were born to them.

The combined testimony of these texts is that just before the Flood certain of the angelic hosts materialized as men and illicitly united with the daughters of men. Their offspring were destroyed in the Flood, and the unholy angels have since been restrained—Peter says cast down to hell. This simply refers to a state of imprisonment. It is not the condition of death described elsewhere in the Bible by the word hell. It is, doubtless, these fallen angels who are referred to as demons and devils who were cast out of afflicted persons by Jesus. They have, in a restricted way, plagued mankind throughout all the ages.

It is these fallen angels, restrained from materializing as they once did, who now misrepresent themselves as the disembodied spirits of the dead, and through mediums attempt to prove that the dead are really more alive than ever. In this respect they have effectively served Satan’s purpose in attempting to prove that God falsified when he said to Adam, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Gen. 2:17) To mother Eve, Satan said, “Ye shall not surely die,” and his constant effort throughout the ages has been to prove that he told the truth, that there is no death.*—Gen. 3:4

*For further details on this subject, we suggest reading the booklet entitled, “Spiritualism—Its Claims”.

In verse twenty, Jude speaks of “building up yourselves on your most holy faith.” This is the same faith referred to in verse three—the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. It is holy because God is its Author. It is the divine plan, through Christ, for the salvation of both the church and the world; the church—those called to be saints—during the Gospel Age, and the world of mankind in general during the kingdom age now approaching.

Christians are built up in this faith through study of the Bible, and obedience to its precepts. Thus they keep themselves in the “love of God,” as mentioned by Jude in verse twenty-one. The better we understand the most holy faith, the greater should be our appreciation of the love of God; and the more blessed will be our own hope of life through Christ, and the brighter our prospects for the kingdom blessings of restitution soon to flow out to all the families of the earth.

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