“And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time” (20:1-3).
The Abyss has already been identified in chapters 9, 11, and 17 as the abode of Satan. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry also reveal the same truth. In Matthew 8:29 the Legion of demons Jesus cast out asked him, “What do you want with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” Luke includes another request these demons had in Luke 8:31, “And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.” The demons knew they were destined to the Abyss at “the appointed time.” During Jesus’ earthly ministry that time had not yet come. Jesus sent them into a herd of pigs. In John’s Revelation, their time had come. Satan and his demonic messengers were thrown into the Abyss and sealed there for a thousand years.
When did Jesus bind the Devil in the Abyss? Speaking with the Pharisees about casting out demons in Matthew 12:29 he said, “How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house.” 1 John 3:8 says, “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” And in Hebrews 2:14-15, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” When Jesus died he entered the Devil’s house, destroying his power over death because death only had controlling power over one who had sinned. He bound Satan so that he could never again possess people against their will. As James 1:14-15 says, “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” Sin is certainly still in the world today but, “The Devil made me do it” is no excuse. God even controls the amount of temptation we face. 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
“I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years” (20:4-6).
To comprehend the thousand years, during which Satan was bound and the righteous dead came to life and reigned with Christ, one must first understand how the term is used in Scripture. This was not a literal one thousand years. The term “thousand years” is used figuratively throughout Scripture to denote the whole of something, all there is or from beginning to end, as the following passages demonstrate.
Deuteronomy 5:9-10, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” God does not show his love for exactly one thousand generations and not one day longer. It is a term used in this context meaning forever.
Psalm 50:9-10, “I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.” Again, the Psalmist does not mean that God only owns the cattle on exactly one thousand hills. He owns them all.
Psalm 105:7-10, “He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth. He remembers his covenant forever, the word he commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant he made with Abraham, the oath he swore to Isaac.” God does not remember his covenant for exactly one thousand years, but forever.
Psalm 90:4, “For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” The Apostle Peter, explaining to the first century Christians that Jesus would come in that generation as he had promised, quoted from this same Psalm in 2 Peter 3:8, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” These passages do not mean, as many today would suggest, that when God says something will happen in “this generation” he may mean a thousand generations. The point the Psalmist and Peter made was that God can remember forever as easily as we can remember one day, and he will always be faithful to his promises. In the context of 2 Peter, Jesus promised he would return in that first generation. He did!
It is also important to understand the thousand years in these passages was the time between the resurrection of the righteous dead and the resurrection of the unrighteous ones, during which time Satan was bound. It is NOT the duration of the reign of Christ. His reign is forever. Isaiah 9:7, “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
When Gabriel was explaining to Mary that she would give birth to the Son of God, he said in Luke 1:30-33, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” Nowhere does the Bible say Jesus will reign on a physical throne on a physical earth for one thousand years. The reign of Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords is forever.
Predicting the resurrection of Jesus and the righteous dead, Psalm 68:17-19 says, “The chariots of God are tens of thousands and thousands of thousands; the Lord has come from Sinai into his sanctuary. When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train; you received gifts from men, even from the rebellious— that you, O Lord God, might dwell there. Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.” The Apostle Paul, speaking of the fulfillment of this promise in Ephesians 4:7-10 wrote, “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.’ (What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)” When Jesus arose from the grave he loosed the righteous dead from the power of the grave and set the captives free.
Hebrews 2:14-17, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” This was the first resurrection.
According to Matthew’s Gospel account of the crucifixion, there were two graphic demonstrations of the spiritual significance of that holy death. Matthew 27:50-53, “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” The tearing of the physical veil in the temple signified that the barrier between people and the presence of God would be taken away. The physical opening of the graves of many righteous souls demonstrated the death of Jesus would result in the overcoming of death for all the righteous. It is important that these righteous souls were not seen alive by others until after Jesus’ own resurrection. At the resurrection of Jesus all the righteous souls were freed from death to reign with Christ as victors over sin. A few of them were given physical bodies and went into Jerusalem to be seen as proof that death had been overcome.
The spiritual significance of the timing of the resurrection of the righteous dead cannot be overstated. The first resurrection occurred when the sins of the righteous were blotted out by the sacrifice of Jesus. We overcome death when we are baptized. When a person accepts the atonement of Jesus in obedient baptism he is raised from spiritual death in sin to new life in Christ. That is the first resurrection. 1 Peter 3:21 “This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Romans 6:4, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” “Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them.” Unlike the righteous, whose thousand year reign would be forever, the Devil and all his followers faced a far different fate…the second death.
When did the reign of Jesus begin? Paul wrote in Romans 1:2-4, Jesus “…was a descendant of David, and was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.” The same writer said in Ephesians 1:19-23, “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” The apostle clearly taught that Jesus was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection. He was anointed king over all authorities and powers after his resurrection, and the kingdom over which he was made king was the church. It is important to remember, however, that the kingdom (church) was not established at the time, or by the single act of his resurrection from the grave. Because he had no sin, death and the grave had no power over him. His resurrection proved his sinless life and made it possible for him to then make atonement by his own blood for the sins of mankind, thus overcoming death, Hell, and the grave for all the righteous.
Paul addressed this same subject in his letter to the Corinthian church. Discussing the resurrection of the dead, he wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he ‘has put everything under his feet.’ Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.”
From the above passage it is clear the following things happened, or would happen, each in its turn:
- The resurrection of Jesus
- The resurrection of the “firstfruits”
- Jesus’ return
- The resurrection of the righteous dead
- The end will come
- All dominion, authority and power destroyed
- Jesus reigns until all enemies are subdued
- The last enemy to be destroyed is death
- Jesus delivers the kingdom of heaven to his Father
- Jesus made subject to the Father
- God is all in all
These are exactly the same events in the same order John saw in the Revelation of Jesus Christ. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah was able to open the seals of the Scroll because he had triumphed over death by the power of his resurrection (Revelation 5). At the death and resurrection of Jesus the graves were opened and those who had been held captive by Satan’s power over death and the grave were set free. Many of them went into the city of Jerusalem as living proof that Jesus had overcome and “led the captives in his train” (Matthew 27:52-53, Ephesians 4:7-9, Hebrews 2:14-16). The faithful of Israel were the first to be offered to God as “firstfruits” of the harvest of the earth (Revelation 14). Once the atonement was complete in heaven and the time was fulfilled, Jesus returned in the clouds, all the righteous dead were raised, and the “time of the end” had come (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, Daniel 8:16-18, 9:25-27, 11:34-36, 12, Habakkuk 2:2-4, Matthew 13:38-40, Hebrews 9:25-27). The “great day of the Lord” had come, the city of Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed, the remainder of the dead were raised, and the judgment of Almighty God was pronounced on all peoples and nations. Jesus had overcome all authorities, powers and dominions, death was destroyed forever, and the kingdom of heaven was now a reality. The “consummation (fulfillment) of the ages” had come (1 Corinthians 10:11, Hebrews 9:25-27). Jesus came into the world to destroy the Devil’s stronghold (Hebrews 2:13-15, 1 John 3:7-9). He had succeeded in his mission and could now deliver the kingdom to his Father. The promise of God to redeem mankind was now complete and, with his Son now back at his side, he was truly “all in all.” MYSTERY ACCOMPLISHED!
Many Christians today believe and teach that “the end” spoken of in Revelation and other Scriptures is the end of the physical universe and is still in our future. There is only one “end” prophesied in the Bible and it is the end of the physical kingdom of Israel which was replaced with the new Jerusalem, the church, the kingdom of heaven. That happened with the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in A.D. 70. If Jesus has not yet returned, death has not yet been destroyed, the righteous dead are still held captive by the power of the grave, and the church has not yet been established. This is simply false doctrine.
As has been pointed out many times before, the confusion comes in our failure to understand the difference between physical and spiritual death and life. Jesus was not crucified and resurrected to overcome physical death, but spiritual death…eternal separation from God. He did not make atonement so we can have physical life, but eternal spiritual life with God. The church is a spiritual kingdom, not a physical one. 1 Corinthians 15:50-57, “I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul said at the sounding of the last trumpet the dead would be raised and all who were still living would be changed. The perishable would be clothed with the imperishable, the mortal with immortality. He was not speaking of physical changes, but spiritual. He clearly said the physical (flesh and blood) cannot inherit the kingdom of God. The perishable (physical) cannot inherit the imperishable (spiritual). What brought about this change from physical to spiritual, from mortality to immortality? 2 Timothy 1:9-10, “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.”
Life and immortality was the “good news” of the Gospel of Christ. It had been promised before the beginning of time, foretold by the prophets, and heralded since the day of Pentecost. But at the time of Paul’s writing to the Corinthian church the last trumpet had not yet sounded. The angel in Revelation who introduced this seventh and final trumpet said, “There will be no more delay! But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets” (Revelation 10:7).
The Apostle Paul explained the mystery of God in his letter to the church in Ephesus. Ephesians 1:9-10, “And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” Ephesians 3:6-12, “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus…His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” The mystery of God did not change between Ephesians and Revelation. The sounding of the seventh and final trumpet would signal the completion of this mystery. It would also signal that the times were fulfilled, the “time of the end” had come, the physical temple could be removed, opening up the way into the Holy of Holies so we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
We learned from Hebrews 9:8, “The way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing.” The first tabernacle stood until it was destroyed by the Roman invasion of A.D. 70. That was the final God-directed event Jesus had said would signify his “coming in the clouds.” This “second appearing” of our Great High Priest proclaimed to all that the atonement blood was accepted by the Father and our sins were forgiven. The last trumpet had sounded. The physical temple was no longer the place of atonement, so it was forever destroyed. Animal sacrifices were no longer needed. The way into the Holy of Holies was open. The mystery of God was accomplished. The kingdom of heaven, the church, was complete. Gentiles and Jews were now members of one body. Death had been destroyed. The righteous dead were raised imperishable. Life and immortality were now a reality. The fate of all who were living, and all who would ever live, was instantly changed. The fulfillment, or consummation, of the ages had come. In the twinkling of an eye, everything had changed.
Victory in Jesus does not spare us from physical death. It spares us from spiritual death so we may live forever with God, here on earth and in heaven when we experience physical death. That is why Christians have no fear of physical death. It no longer has any power over our eternal destiny. Jesus has destroyed its power. If death has not been destroyed, the new covenant in Christ is not yet a reality, the mystery of God has still not been accomplished, and we are still living under the Law of Moses. Paul said in the above Corinthian passage the sting of death is sin and the power of sin was the law. If death has not been destroyed, sin still has its sting and we are still under its power…the law. That would mean the death and resurrection of Jesus failed to accomplish the very thing he came to do – destroy the Devil’s power, overcome the sting of death, and bring life and immortality to fallen mankind.
The Devil’s power and his kingdom have been destroyed. This brings us back to the “thousand years” during which the devil was bound and the righteous dead came to life and reigned with Christ.
“When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (20:7-10).
Satan was released at the end of the “thousand years.” Again, the term is used to describe the period of time Satan was bound, not the duration of Jesus’ reign. Revelation says the Devil would be bound for a thousand years. Nowhere in Revelation, or the entire Bible, does it say the reign of Christ would be limited to this same time period. Nowhere in Revelation, or the entire Bible, does it say the reign of Christ will ever end. There is no mention in Revelation, or the entire Bible, of a “thousand year reign of Christ.” As a matter of fact, Revelation teaches just the opposite. There was a “thousand year reign of the righteous dead” with Christ. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah had prevailed. Satan’s reign over death and the grave ended. His power over mankind was destroyed. Jesus was victorious. He had accomplished his mission to atone for sin and establish the eternal kingdom of heaven. When he finished his divine task he delivered the kingdom to the Father, and reigns with him forever. “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever” (22:3-5).
There was a thousand-year binding of Satan which began when Jesus was exalted to the throne in heaven after his resurrection. The Devil was loosed at the end of the thousand years and gathered all his demons, along with the unrighteous dead, to make one final attempt to overcome the Lamb of God. The time Satan was locked in the Abyss was called a thousand years. While the term was used in the usual figurative sense, meaning as long as his time lasted, his reign was not forever and the remainder of his time was relatively short. This “thousand years” was the entire time it took to finish the divine work of atonement at which time all the dead would be raised to face the eternal judgment of Almighty God. This time period began when Jesus overcame the power of the grave and the righteous dead were raised. That was when he arose from the dead. It ended at the “time of the end” on the “great day of the Lord” when he was loosed for a short time. He marshaled his forces for one final stand; the battle of Armageddon. God’s judgment was pronounced and fire came from heaven and devoured them. Keep in mind that according to Scripture “the end” was the end of physical Israel, NOT the end of the world. The Bible speaks of “the time of the end,” it NEVER speaks of the “end of time.”
Like the return of Jesus, many Christians today also believe the judgment is still in our future. Again, this is simply not the case in Scripture. John 5:22-30, “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.” When Jesus overcame the power of the grave and completed the atonement ritual for sin, judgment had to occur. That is why Jesus, speaking of his own death, said in John 12:31, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.”
Satan was bound by the resurrection of Jesus. He was loosed when the atonement was complete and God was ready to judge the world on the “great day of the Lord.” That was at the “time of the end” when the earthly kingdom was destroyed (A.D. 70), replaced by the eternal kingdom of heaven, the church. The thousand years was from the time he was bound until the “time of the end.” It was the entire time Satan had left before his kingdom of death would be forever destroyed and his eternal fate, and the fate of all those who have his mark (sin), was sealed forever.
If one were to substitute “the time of the end” for “a thousand years,” the verses in Revelation would read as follows:
“He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him until the time of the end. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the time of the end. After that he must be set free for a short time” (20:2-3).
“They came to life and reigned with Christ until the time of the end. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the time of the end.) Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him until the time of the end. At the time of the end, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—to gather them for battle” (20:4-8).
Prophesies concerning Gog and Magog are found in Ezekiel chapters 38-39 and, like so many other Old Testament prophesies, were a physical foreshadowing of the final spiritual battle John saw in his Revelation. Ezekiel 38:14-16, “Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say to Gog: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: In that day, when my people Israel are living in safety, will you not take notice of it? You will come from your place in the far north, you and many nations with you, all of them riding on horses, a great horde, a mighty army. You will advance against my people Israel like a cloud that covers the land. In days to come, O Gog, I will bring you against my land, so that the nations may know me when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.” This is one more example which shows how every prophecy concerning the future of Israel and the eternal kingdom was fulfilled in Christ. John was shown the Revelation of Jesus Christ and how the Lion of the Tribe of Judah opened the seals and fulfilled everything written in the Scroll.
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (20:11-15).
In this next scene John witnessed and recorded the judgment of the dead. These were the spiritually dead. The righteous had already come to life and were reigning with Christ. They were never judged because they had been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. They did not have the mark of the beast (sin) and, therefore, had no accusation against them requiring judgment. With the sacrifice of Jesus, their sins had been removed. This was the first resurrection. The second death would have no power over them.
The dead (in sin) are the only people in John’s Revelation who faced the judgment of Almighty God. The books were opened. There was a single volume, called the Lamb’s Book of Life, and another set of books that could be called the Record of Works, in which were recorded the names and deeds of every person to be judged. It is critically important to understand:
- Every person’s name was recorded in only one book.
- Only those whose names were in the “Record of Works” were judged.
- The dead (spiritually) were judged by their record.
- Not one single soul was saved by his or her works.
- All those judged according to the “Record of Works” were thrown into the Lake of Fire.
- Those whose names were in the Lamb’s Book of Life were not judged because they were not in the “Record of Works.”
Jesus made very clear the connection between the establishment of the kingdom of heaven and the judgment, and that they would both occur in that first generation. “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:27-28). When Jesus completed the atonement, having destroyed death, judgment had to be rendered. Otherwise there would have to be another “holding place” for the dead, other than the grave while they wait for some imagined “end of time,” neither of which are found in Scripture.
Every person, at some point in his or her life, chooses to eat of the forbidden fruit. The wages of sin is death…spiritual death; separation from the presence of God. This is the first death. Those who do not accept the atonement of Jesus for their sins will suffer eternal separation from God, which is the Lake of Fire, or the second death. Those who accept Jesus as Lord receive forgiveness from sin and are raised to life – eternal, spiritual life. This is the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them. The righteous who died prior to the coming of Jesus experienced the first resurrection when Jesus atoned for their sins. They came to life and reigned with him.
People today also experience the first resurrection when they accept Jesus’ atonement for their sins. That is why baptism was the symbol chosen for our salvation. We die to sin, are buried in baptism by immersion, and raised sinless (first resurrection) to live a new life in Christ. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4). Those who object to baptism as being necessary for salvation because they see it as a “work” of man simply do not understand the symbol. It is a physical demonstration of our willingness to die to self, to bury our old sin nature, to completely renounce any hope we have of saving ourselves, and trust fully and completely in the grace of God and the blood of Christ Jesus. We are not saved by our faith, but only by his grace. When we are baptized into Christ, we are clothed with him (Galatians 3:27) and our name is removed from the “Record of Works” and entered into the Lamb’s Book of Life. Judgment for both sets of names has already been rendered and the sentence handed down. Our eternal destiny is determined by the choice we make while living on earth. When we die physically, if our name is in the Lamb’s Book of Life, we go to be with the Lord forever in heaven. If our name is not in the Lamb’s Book of Life, we experience the second death, eternal separation from the presence of God. Physical death has nothing to do with either, except that it brings to a close the time we have been given to make our choice. As Moses challenged the Israelites before entering the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 30:19), we have a choice between life and death. CHOOSE LIFE!