THE UNIVERSAL CHORUS!
Studies In The Ultimate Reconciliation of All Mankind
One of the most important teachings of Scripture is the universal extent of Christ's atonement and the ultimate restoration of all mankind. Here is an overview of this important subject.
A wonderful scene is presented to us in the Book of Revelation chapter five. In verse nine we read that the residents of heaven are singing “a new song” representing the New Covenant. These are joined in verse eleven by angels numbering “ten thousand times ten thousand.” In mathematical terms, this is one hundred million, but it is really a Biblical expression, a Hebraism, for an innumerable number that no man can count. Yet this august company is joined by an even greater chorus in verse thirteen. Here we find a double Hebraism, a double expression for universality: “And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them...” This expression includes all of creation! We are told that all of creation will be singing “blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever” unto the Lamb, the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
The Song Of The Lamb
In Revelation fifteen we again read of this heavenly chorus singing that new song, “the song of the Lamb” (verse three). However, we are shown something else interesting in verse two. As correctly translated in the King James Version, it reads, “And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand ON the sea of glass, having the harps of God.” The original Greek text uses the word “epi”, meaning “upon.” However, when we turn to the popular New International Version, it incorrectly substitutes the words "stand beside.” The idea being promoted by the translators is that the saints are not upon nor in the midst of the Lake of Fire, the “sea of glass mingled with fire,” but are standing safely away outside. Why are the theologians so opposed to the idea of Christian believers standing in the fire of God?
The Fire Of God
We are so conditioned to think of the other-worldly fire as being the realm of Satan and the forces of darkness. From our youth we see depictions of Satan with his scepter of rulership, a pitchfork (!) conducting his nefarious business in his realm of fire. However, the truth is that God Himself rules over that fiery realm, and in fact He is the fire! We read a description of God in Ezekiel 8:2, “Then I beheld, and lo a likeness as the appearance of fire: from the appearance of his loins even downward, fire; and from his loins even upward, as the appearance of brightness, as the colour of amber.” (also see Ezek. 1:27) We find a similar depiction in the New Testament in Hebrews 12:29, “For our God is a consuming fire.” (cf. Rev. 2:18) In Daniel 7:9-10, God’s “throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.”
The Purpose Of The Fire
The word “fire” in the original New Testament Greek text is “pur,” the root of our words, “pure”, “purify”, and “purification.” In addition, fire is used even today in removing dross and hardening metals. This fits the Biblical usage of the word, for we read in 1 Cor. 3:12-15, “Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” Yes, “every man” shall go through the fire. This includes Christian believers, for we read of Christ that “...he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire...” (Matt. 3:11) A few years ago author Edward Fudge wrote a book entitled, “The Fire That Consumes,” promoting the theory that the purpose of God’s fire is annihilation, or totally destroying the individual consumed. This can be seen to be in error, for when ancient Israel sinned, God punished them in the fire of His wrath, saying, “And I will scatter thee among the heathen, and disperse thee in the countries, and will consume thy filthiness out of thee.” (Ezek. 22:15) The consuming of Israel in God’s fire did not annihilate Israel, it served to purify them by “consuming their filthiness.” There is no salvation outside of the fire! Please compare this with the popular traditions of men concerning "hell fire" and you will realize the truth of universal grace.
Old Testament Typology
This can be seen by way of an illustration. When the ancient House of Judah sinned, their Divine punishment began with the Babylonians coming, conquering, and carrying them into captivity. What happened to them then? There are three possiblilities concerning Judah’s fate. Did God force the people to suffer eternally for their sins—are they all still there in the ancient land of Babylonia today suffering eternal punishment? No! Was the punishment for their sin annihilation—were they all totally wiped off the face of the earth by Babylonia in ancient times? No, again! Was their punishment for sin instead for a set period of time, after which the sentence was fulfilled and the people freed from sin’s bondage? Yes! Judah’s time of punishment was actually a limited set period of seventy years (Jer. 25:11-12).
New Testament Fulfillment
Old Testament Israel was a type or shadow illustrating what God would do in a greater way under the New Covenant with the whole world! There is nothing in the New Testament that was not prefigured under the Old, including God’s punishment for sin. Israel suffered ruination for a set period, purifying them, removing the dross in preparation for their ultimate restoration. As the Apostle Paul said, “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” (Rom. 11:26) Years ago as a young pastor I taught annihilationism, believing that unbelievers would be totally destroyed by God and cease to exist. Fortunately, my sermon preparation often made use of a helpful word study concordance. One day I noticed that in my favorite passages that seemed to teach annihilation (Luke 13:3, 5; John 3:15-16; 2 Thess. 2:10; 2 Pet. 3:9, etc.), the word “perish” was the New Testament Greek word, “apollumi.” I was stunned to realize that the same word was used for Israel in Matthew 10:6 and 15:24, “the LOST (apollumi) sheep of the House of Israel.” Of course, Israel was not annihilated—they were in a state of ruination awaiting ultimate restoration. This Greek word does in fact mean ruination, not annihilation, whether applied to unbelievers or specifically to Israel. That ruination is not eternal, and leads ultimately to salvation.
The greatest impediment to understanding these things are our English translations which substitute the word “eternal” for the original New Testament Greek word, “aion.” This word, aion, is the source of our English word “eon” meaning an era or age. No one would claim that an eon means forever, and the same is true for its Greek counterpart, aion. That it does not mean unending, unlimited time in Scripture can be seen in Acts 28:13-14, when Paul and his ship companions arrived in Puteoli on the “second day,” or in Greek, “deuteraioi”—literally “second time” or “second period,” not “second eternity”! Translators have been all too eager to uphold denominational doctrines to the detriment of Biblical truth—witness the number of denominational Bible translations ranging from the Roman Catholic Douay and Knox versions to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ “New World Translation.” Unfortunately, for the Bible student to understand these truths he must often look underneath the popular English versions to examine what the original languages of Scripture really say.
When explaining these things to new enquirers some assume that the wicked suffer no punishment at all. However, the principles in the moral laws of God include “an eye for an eye,” in other words, that the punishment must fit the crime. The thief must restore to the victim what he has stolen or destroyed; this is called restitution. In God’s economy there are victim’s rights—the victim has the right to be reimbursed and made whole. This restitution also teaches the perpetrator the value of hard work to pay off a debt, with the goal of his own reformation. There are no expensive prison houses in God’s law—paid for with the hard-earned tax money of the victims! Our modern idea of punishment is usually time-based, where the criminal sits idly in prison for some period of time. God’s method is restoring-based, where both the criminal and his victim are restored—the former learns a moral lesson through productive hard work to restore the latter. Therefore, although God’s economy does not include our modern idea of punishment, the criminal must do honest hard labor to restore the victim, sometimes as much as five-fold, regardless of the amount of time that takes to accomplish. (Exo. 22:1-4) This is God’s principle; how it will exactly be applied in every situation in the world to come, of course, involves speculation, but we are assured “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25) The belief in Christian Universalism is based upon definite Biblical principles.
Restitution Leads To Restoration
God’s laws are preceptive for us under the New Covenant; that is, they are principles and precepts that apply in any society and at any period of history. There is no question that God’s laws are based upon the principle of restitution with the goal of the restoration of the offender. Will God not judge according to His own law principles on judgment day at the Great White Throne? The concept of Universal Salvation is not just concerned with the afterlife. We also are to live according to these same Divine moral law-precepts in this life as much as in the ages to come. I pray that we learn to apply restitution, reconciliation, and restoration to our own relationships with others, so that both they and we can benefit from these beneficial principles. Amen!!
This study dealt with how God judges sin. Our next study entitled, "Saving Grace" looks at "the other side of the coin," an important understanding of the nature and extent of God's Grace.