From Studies in the Statement of Faith
ONE of the joys of believing Bible teaching is to discover how all teaching holds together as a single structure, inter-dependent and interlocking. To disturb one part is to disturb the whole. This holds true for our basic doctrines and for the life in Christ: each is a unit and both are bound together in the life of faith.
When it became clear to our early brethren of the nineteenth century that man is mortal, a whole series of other doctrines were brought into true focus. Immortality, no longer taken for granted as a gift from God at birth in an immortal soul, would be bestowed on the faithful when Christ returned to the earth; therefore the dead would require a resurrection, and both living and dead would stand before the judgment seat of Christ; those found faithful would be clothed upon with immortality, and those found unacceptable would perish in the second death.
Key verses of Scripture made this abundantly plain:
“We must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
“The Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:1).
“God, who will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil . . . in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ” (Romans 2:5, 6, 16).
“For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then shall he reward every man according to his works” (Matthew 16:27).
“Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power” (Revelation 20:6).
Who Will be Raised from the Dead?
But, what determined whether a man would be raised from the dead? Certainly, the faithful saints asleep in Christ would come forth. Which of the remaining vast congregation of the dead would also be raised, and why? A key verse in Daniel gives a strong lead in providing a satisfactory answer:
“Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (12:2).
Many, not all, will awake to a day of decision, a day of separation between faithful and unfaithful, with eternal consequences, everlasting life or eternal shame and contempt. This theme runs through many of the parables of the Lord Jesus: wise and foolish virgins, good and bad fish, sheep and goats, faithful and unfaithful holders of pounds or talents, and houses built on rock or sand.
Clearly, resurrection day is also a day of judgment. The Judge is God, but He has given all judgment to the Son (John 5:26–29). Judgment will be at the Judgment Seat of Christ. The Judge will hold in his gift, everlasting life or weeping and gnashing of teeth in outer darkness and the second death.
What, then, is the relationship between those who appear before him and the Lord himself? Why is it appropriate that Christ should be the Judge? The answer is that he is the door to salvation and it is our relationship to salvation that is decisive on judgment day. It is our relationship to Christ that determines what the judgment will be. The Judge will be known to those who are to be judged. How will he be known?
“Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them . . . Everyone that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not” (Matthew 5:24–27) is particularly helpful in this respect. The word of Jesus and our response to it provides the key.
A similar warning was given by the Lord Jesus Christ when contending with the disbelieving Jews of his day:
“He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).
“The last day” is the day of resurrection and judgment, the day when the faithful will receive everlasting life (see John 6:39, 40, 44, 54):
“But he (Jesus) shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out” (Luke 13:27, 28).
From such scriptures it was plain that there would be faithful and unfaithful at the judgment seat of Christ. Would these two kinds be confined to the household, i.e. those who had been baptized? Or would others also appear before the Lord for judgment? The latter must be the case because Luke 13 also tells us that the particular ones rejected by the words of Jesus had not “entered in at the strait gate” in order that they might be saved. They knew about the gate but had remained outside.
The Simple Principle
This helps in our understanding: it is when our understanding has been sufficiently enlightened and our conscience sufficiently moved that we become responsible to the Lord Jesus Christ for judgment. When we are moved to obey, we enter the path that leads to everlasting life; when we reject what we know and lead our own life regardless of Christ’s way, we nevertheless will be answerable to him when he returns. Those who die without light remain for ever undisturbed in the congregation of the dead.
In his well-known article “True Principles and Uncertain Details”, first published in 1898 (pages 182–9), Brother Roberts wrote:
“RESPONSIBILITY, General Principle: That men are responsible to the resurrection of condemnation who refuse subjection to the will of God when their circumstances are such as to leave them no excuse for such refusal.”
Our Statement of Faith follows the same line:
XXIV—That at the appearing of Christ prior to the establishment of the Kingdom, the responsible (namely, those who know the revealed will of God, and have been called upon to submit to it) dead and living—obedient and disobedient—will be summoned before his judgment seat, “to be judged according to their works” and “receive in body according to what they have done, whether it be good or bad”.
Were we to make any other consideration the basis for resurrection and judgment, we would immediately disturb our understanding of other doctrines. Supposing, for example, that we were to make baptism the ground for resurrection, we would then have to say, What is there about baptism which of itself makes us responsible to judgment? It could not be simply knowing about baptism and its meaning, otherwise we would be accepting a basis similar to the definitions given above. The reasons would lie deeper than that and they usually resolve themselves into saying that it is our acceptance of a covenant relationship with Christ through his death that makes us liable to resurrection.
In other words, on that view, even though we knew all about the covenant relationship, and felt its call, that would not create a responsibility to appear before Christ at his appearing. This view was pursued to its end by some who left our fellowship in the late nineteenth century and declared that unbaptized persons could not be raised for judgment. A kindred but somewhat modified view is still held by members of a fellowship in North America who do not accept the definition of responsibility proposed by Brother Roberts and embodied in our Statement of Faith.
How much less complicated and more in accord with the tenor of Scripture is the belief we hold.
Four Classes of People
It is, perhaps, easiest when examining the subject of those who will appear before the Lord Jesus when he comes, to consider the world’s inhabitants as consisting of four classes:
1. Those “whose ignorance is involuntary and helpless. They are born and die under the sentence pronounced upon Adam: ‘Out of the ground wast thou taken, and unto dust shalt thou return’. This is the end of their beginning. ‘They remain in the congregation of the dead’, being helplessly sinners by constitution.”
2. “Those to whom God sends the light, but who shut their eyes against it, loving darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. These are not only sinners by constitution, but wicked sinners, who refuse to come under a constitution of righteousness to God.”
3. “Those who come under a constitution of righteousness, and are therefore saints . . . thus they begin to do well, and for a patient continuance in well-doing they receive glory, honour, incorruptibility, and life at the first resurrection as the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.”
4. “Those saints who did run well, but did not continue in well-doing; way-side, stony ground, and thorn-choked professors.”
The above classification is quoted out of interest because it appeared in The Herald of the Kingdom in 1854 and was the work of Brother Thomas.
Both Brother Thomas and Brother Roberts at first understood that those in Classes 3 and 4 would be raised at the first resurrection, but those in Class 2 would not be raised until the second resurrection at the end of the millennium. Later they modified that view and demonstrated that all the unfaithful, whether or not baptized, will be raised at the first resurrection (see Christendom Astray and Eureka).
Where and How Long?
Speculation as to precisely where the judgment will take place—Sinai or Jerusalem, for example—and how long it will take, has engaged a great deal of attention. There are many interesting scriptures concerning events before and after the judgment and, like all scripture, command our interest and belief; but, as Brother Roberts wrote in his article:
“Uncertain detail—Where will he (Christ) set it (the judgment seat) up? Will it be in Palestine, or in Egypt, or in the Arabian Peninsula, in the solitudes of Sinai? We cannot be sure. All available evidence seems to point in the direction of the last-mentioned; but an uncertain detail must not be made a basis of fellowship. We must not insist upon a man believing the judgment seat will be set up at Sinai or any particular place so long as he believes that ‘Jesus Christ will judge the living and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom’.”
Our sole thought on that Day will be what the Judge will say to us, and not where the judgment is taking place or how long it will last.
Will the Faithful Dead be Raised Immortal?
Some have contended that since the Lord Jesus knows all about us there is no point in bringing the faithful to judgment. Scriptures adduced in this connection include 1 Corinthians 15:51 and Romans 8:1. A corollary to such a view is to question why there should be any judgment at all. Why not raise the faithful immortal and leave the unfaithful where they are? Why raise some people only to consign them to the second death?
The answer is that God has ordained it. It is right in God’s eyes, and should therefore be so in ours, that certain unfaithful persons will stand before the One whom they have seen fit to reject—Caiaphas, for example (Mark 14:63) and many others (Luke 13:28, 29)—and it is abundantly evident from the parables of Christ that the accepted and the rejected will receive the judgment and its consequences from the Lord himself. Christ will reveal his assessment of all who appear before him (1 Corinthians 4:4, 5).
Furthermore, when the Lord returns, the faithful and unfaithful yet alive will also be gathered together for judgment (2 Thessalonians 2:1; 2 Timothy 4:1). They will be in their present mortal condition. There are no scriptural grounds for asserting that the faithful dead will be raised immortal but the faithful living will have to be differently dealt with.
Perhaps the confusion arises from knowing that neither the faithful dead nor the faithful living will face death but together will be ready for immortality. But this is different from saying that they are already at that point immortal. In fact, the process is described as follows:
“For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53).
“For in this (present earthly house of our bodies) we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven” (2 Corinthians 5:2).
At the second coming and after the judgment, the faithful enter into the life of the age to come (Matthew 13:43; 25:46). The precise moment when the faithful are made “like him” is not made known to us; nor is the time of the ultimate annihilation of those who are rejected by the Judge. The Statement of Faith says:
XXV—That the unfaithful will be consigned to shame and “the second death”, and the faithful invested with immortality and exalted to reign with Jesus as joint heirs of the kingdom, co-possessors of the earth, and joint administrators of God’s authority among men.
“The meek shall inherit the earth”
At the beginning of man’s history when He created man and woman, the Lord God declared that they were to “have dominion” (Genesis 1:26). Only when Christ had conquered sin and death was the way secured by which redeemed men and women could attain to what had been purposed from the foundation of the world. God has determined a day in which His kingship will be made manifest in the Man whom He has appointed and has declared by raising him from the dead.
Meanwhile the Lord Jesus shares the Father’s heavenly throne (Revelation 3:21) and will remain in heaven until the day when he shall be “revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8). This is the time when the Son of man shall come in glory, and all the holy angels with him, to sit on the throne of his glory, the throne of David in Zion (Matthew 25:31; Luke 1:32; Psalm 2:6, 8).
The Day will be such as the world has never seen. Christ will be glorified in his saints and admired in all them that believe (2 Thessalonians 1:10). When he is King of kings and Lord of lords, then the saints will share his throne (Revelation 3:21) and will live as kings and priests, reigning with Christ for a thousand years (Revelation 20:6).
In that day “a king shall reign in righteousness and princes shall rule in judgement” (Isaiah 32:1). The inheritance of individual saints and their positions in the kingdom of God will be pronounced by Christ on behalf of his Father (Matthew 20:23; Luke 22:29; 19:17, 19).
Being Christlike today is the prerequisite for being Christlike in that Day.