A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
The recent re-posting of my article on Restoring Planet Earth has sparked some new interest in the Millennium. Many people find it hard to understand how such a seemingly perfect beginning could deteriorate into a massive rebellion at the end. The simple answer is “natural man” but let’s take a more comprehensive look.
First, a little background. The Bible mentions a total of seven different approaches God has made in an effort to maintain a relationship with the human race. Six of these are history and one is yet future to us.
In the early 1800’s John Nelson Darby, borrowing a term from Ephesians 3:2, named these seven approaches “dispensations” and explained how so far each one has ended in failure. Here’s a summary of each in the order of their occurrence.
1) Innocence … Between the Creation and the Fall of Man in the Garden (Genesis 3) God interacted freely and personally with Adam and Eve. Then they broke the only rule He had given them (Genesis 3:11-13) and were expelled from the Garden. Sin entered the world.
2) Conscience … Between the Fall and the Flood, God allowed man’s conscience to govern his behavior without Divine interference. Because of the sin nature passed down from mankind’s first parents, the result was that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). God pronounced judgment upon the world and destroyed all but 8 members of the human race in the Great Flood.
3) Human Government … from the Flood to Abraham. After the flood God told Noah to go forth and replenish the Earth (Genesis 9:7). Noah’s descendants disobeyed God’s commandment, setting about instead to build a great city and tower from which to study the stars (Genesis 11:4). God confused man’s language, causing them to stop building the tower, and scattered them through out the world (Genesis 11:8-9).
4) Promise … from Abraham to Moses. God promised Abraham a son for himself and Sarah (Genesis 15:4) and a homeland for his descendants (Genesis 15:18-19). But they grew tired of waiting and produced a son on their own, who they named Ishmael (Genesis 16:1-2,15). When God’s promised son Isaac was born, Ishmael was sent away (Genesis 21:8-13) causing enmity between the Jews (descendants of Isaac) and Arabs (descendants of Ishmael) that continues to this day. After Mohammed, a descendant of Ishmael’s, founded Islam this enmity took on religious significance and became even more intense.
5) Law … from Moses to Jesus. God gave Moses the 10 Commandments and promised the Jews a life of peace and plenty in a Kingdom of their own if they obeyed Him (Exodus 19:5, Exodus 20:1-17). After repeated periods of disobedience which included rejecting their Messiah King, God withdrew His offer of the Kingdom and expelled them from their land (Matt. 21:43, Luke 19:41-44).
6) Grace … from Pentecost to the Rapture, the Church Age. No longer requiring righteousness through works, God granted a righteousness through faith in the completed work of Christ to all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile (Romans 3:21-24). Most will not believe and will be punished through eternity.
Note: It’s important to realize that Grace is unlike any of the other dispensations in that didn’t replace Law, it just interrupted it. Law has another 7 years to run, called Daniel’s 70th Week (Daniel 9:24-27), which will take place between the Rapture and the 2nd Coming. During this time all the nations to which Israel has been scattered will be completely destroyed and Israel will be disciplined in preparation for receiving the Kingdom God has promised to give them (Jeremiah 30:4-11).
As you can see these six approaches either already have or are about to end in failure. Now for the seventh and our answer to the questions that prompted this study.
7) The Kingdom … the 1000 Year Reign of Christ also known as the Millennium. It begins with the 2nd Coming. This time Israel will accept the Kingdom offer (Zechariah 12:10, Zechariah 14:8-9). Satan will be bound (Rev. 20:2), all unbelievers will be expelled from the planet (Matt. 25:41-46), and God will once again dwell in the midst of His people (Ezek. 43:6-7). You’d think with all these advantages mankind would finally be able to live in a manner pleasing to God. But it won’t happen. Eventually, with the exception of Israel, the world will rebel against God and His people in one last attempt to regain control of the planet. God will send fire from heaven to consume them all (Rev. 20:7-10).
What Was The Question?
Remember, the question was how such a seemingly perfect beginning could deteriorate into a massive rebellion at the end.
In a near perfect environment, with Satan bound, Jesus ruling in person and only believers left in the world it seems to us like the perfect opportunity for mankind to prove that given the right circumstances it is possible to live in peace and harmony with God. How could something that seems so right go so horribly wrong?
In Jeremiah 17:9 we’re told that our hearts are deceitful above all things and are beyond cure. This is why the Bible never mentions changing our heart. Instead it speaks of giving us a new one. Our natural heart has a built in failure mechanism that has eventually torpedoed every relationship God has proposed to have with us. It’s called sin and the summaries above demonstrate its deadly effect.
At the sheep and goat judgment, which follows the 2nd Coming, the Lord will separate surviving believers from surviving unbelievers. Believers will be welcomed into the Millennial Kingdom (Matt. 25:34) while unbelievers will be sent into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41) never to be seen on Earth again.
Jewish believers will live in Israel, while Gentile believers will populate the nations. The Earth, having been restored to its pre-flood grandeur, will be a remarkable place to live, and will cooperate with its inhabitants to produce a life of peace and plenty never before seen. I can imagine that the people, having just survived 7 years of the worst times humans have ever endured, will feel blessed beyond any measure.
It took 1656 years for pre-flood man to bring God’s perfect creation to a point where His only option was to destroy them all. This was probably due to the long life spans they enjoyed, where there were multiple generations of elders among them who retained the memories of Earth’s earliest days.
By contrast Judges 2:10-15 tells us that after the generation of Israelites who endured the time in the wilderness and conquered the Promised Land had died, the next generation neither knew the Lord nor what He had done for Israel. Before long they had descended into idolatry and brought judgment upon themselves. Lifespans had already become remarkably shorter and the memory of the Lord was lost as there were no longer the multiple overlapping generations of the past. This time it only took one generation to begin their downward spiral.
In the Millennium, lifespans will become longer again but eventually children will be born who will not have experienced the Great Tribulation and history will begin to repeat itself.
The Bible only hints of this so we don’t know how long it will take, but it seems likely that among each generation there will be substantially fewer believers than in previous ones.
It appears that this will only happen among the Gentile nations because there’s no mention of such a falling away in Israel. Therefore, when examining the millennium we have to look at Israel and the Gentile nations separately.
Isaiah 40:1-2 tells us that as of the 2nd Coming the Lord will speak comfort to Israel, and tenderness to Jerusalem, saying that her hard service is over and that her sin has been paid for, having received double from the Lord’s hand for all her sins. In Ezekiel 36:26-27 we read of God’s promise to give His people a new heart and put His Spirit in them to move them to follow His decrees and keep His laws.
They won’t be changed from mortal to immortal yet, so they will still sin. But the Temple rituals they will be required to practice, complete with daily sacrifices for their sin (Ezekiel 40-46), will serve as a constant reminder of the Lord’s death on their behalf. Also, He will extend peace to them that will flow like a river and the wealth of the nations will pour in like a flooding stream (Isaiah 66:12). The combination of these things will enable them to remain faithful to the Lord throughout.
We’ve had more to say about Israel’s Millennial Kingdom in previous studies, so for the balance of this one we’ll focus on the Gentiles because that’s where the long awaited time of peace and plenty will eventually deteriorate into a world wide rebellion and judgment.
The Lord will be a strict administrator of God’s law during the millennium, brooking no disobedience. Psalm 2:9 tells us He will rule with an iron scepter, which means He will be inflexible in His dealings with man. No more of the Sunday School Jesus patting little children on the head and telling everyone to turn the other cheek. In Psalm 2:10-11 the kings of the earth are warned to serve Him with fear and trembling because His wrath can flare up in a moment.
As it has been through out human history, children born in the millennium will have to mature and decide whether to accept or reject the Lord’s death on their behalf. As successive generations of children are born in the gentile nations, the sin nature they will have inherited will make it increasingly difficult for them to accept the Lord and His kind of rule, especially as memories of the Great Tribulation judgments fade. In each generation the number of those who reject the Lord will grow and their obedience to His rule will only be given reluctantly and with growing resentment.
Give Us An Example
One example the Bible gives of this resistance concerns Egypt. In Isaiah 19:19-25 the prophet described a time when Egypt will come to know the Lord and worship Him with sacrifices and grain offerings. Then something will happen that causes the Lord to strike them with a plague, subsequently healing them after they turn back to Him. The chapter ends with the Lord calling Egypt “my people”. This prophecy has never been fulfilled.
In Zechariah 14:16-19 we learn that all the Gentile nations will have to be represented each year when Israel celebrates the Feast of Tabernacles. Failure to attend will bring consequences. In describing those consequences Zechariah described a plague of drought. He specifically mentioned that Egypt would suffer this plague but hinted that other nations would be afflicted for failing to attend as well. This prophecy is Millennial in its scope.
In Ezekiel 29:13-16 there’s a prophecy of a 40 year period when Egypt will be completely desolate, with its people dispersed among the other nations of the world. At the end of 40 years the Lord will bring them back. This is another prophecy that awaits future fulfillment.
I believe these three prophecies speak of the same thing; a 40 year judgment against Egypt for refusing to attend the annual Feast of Tabernacles. If so, it’s an indication of how intolerant the Lord will be of any violation of the rules and how severe the punishment for such will be. No wonder the growing number of unbelievers will start forming thoughts of rebellion.
We shouldn’t marvel that natural humans could be so wicked as to bring about the destruction of the very utopian existence mankind has dreamed about from time immemorial. Even a casual reading of the Old Testament shows us that on a smaller scale this very thing happened repeatedly in Israel’s history, even with God Himself living in their midst.
Also, a study of human nature will lead us to the conclusion that eventually the incredible blessings of millennial life will be taken for granted as more and more people are born who haven’t known anything different. Soon these blessings will be overshadowed by the inflexible requirements of the Lord’s rule.
As the end of the Millennium approaches the number of rebellious unbelievers will be as great as the sand on the seashore. When Satan is released they will be primed and ready for a leader behind whom they can unite. From all over the world they will march against the camp of God’s people, the city He loves, and in response He will send fire from heaven to devour them all. And then the devil who deceived them will be thrown into the lake of fire to be tormented day and night, forever (Rev. 20:7-10).
What’s The Meaning Of This?
At first glance, having a 1000 year interlude between the Age of Man and Eternity doesn’t make sense. But on reflection, I think that it may be natural man’s last, best, chance to prove himself to God.
Through out history we’ve had the evil workings of the devil to contend against, but all during the Millennium the devil will be imprisoned. Without him to tempt them can man behave in a manner pleasing to God?
We’ve also had the bad influence of unbelievers, but at the beginning of the Millennium all unbelievers will be taken away. Will that make it possible for man to please God?
For the last 2000 years the Lord has been absent from the planet. When He returns to become their King will His presence among them enable man to please Him?
Sadly, the answer to all these questions is a resounding no. Even with Satan bound, no more unbelievers, and the in person rule of the Lord Himself, there’s still enough sin in the hearts of natural man that as soon as Satan is freed, man will join him in a final rebellion against God. The Millennium is the seventh and final test, proving that there is no circumstance or condition in which natural man can behave in a manner acceptable to a Holy God.
If you haven’t done so lately, give thanks to God that you came into the world during the Age of Grace, where the righteousness of God has been imputed to you by faith (Romans 3:21-24) making you forever perfect in His sight (Hebrews 10:12-14). Your inheritance of eternal life has been guaranteed (Ephes. 1:13-14) as the example in ages yet to come of the incomparable riches of God’s Grace expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:7), with no other requirement than to believe in the one He has sent (John 6:28-29). Such a thing has never happened before and will never happen again. 07-05-14