|Judgment To Come Duncan Heaster|
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Judah was condemned to being tossed to and fro (2 Chron. 29:8 RV; Is. 54:11); and yet the spiritually unstable also allow themselves to be tossed to and fro (Eph. 4:14; James 1:6), and thereby they effectively live out their condemnation now, ahead of the gnashing of teeth which awaits them. The type of natural Israel being rejected in the wilderness must be instructive as to the position of those who are the "goats" of spiritual Israel. The thoughts of the condemned generation in the wilderness would have gone back to Egypt and their Passover deliverance, to the glorious experience of the Red Sea crossing. It would have been hard to accept that it had all been in vain for them. But the rejected of the new Israel will likewise reason concerning their baptism and apparent salvation from the world. Significantly Dt. 2:1 records that after their rejection at the borders of Canaan, "we turned, and took our journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea". This would have reminded them of what had happened there- as the thoughts of the rejected will return to their spiritual beginnings at baptism? Likewise, God's messages of rejection and condemnation to Israel frequently reminded them of their spiritual beginnings in the events of the Exodus (e.g. Ez. 16,20; Am. 2:10). Heb. 3:17 RVmg speaks of their “limbs [which] fell in the wilderness”- the picture is of condemned men staggering on through the desert, discarded limbs wasted by some terrible and progressive disease. This is the picture of the condemned.
Israel wandering in the wilderness until their carcasses lay strewn over the scrubland of Sinai connects with Cain also being a wanderer after his rejection. He was made a "fugitive", from a Hebrew root meaning to shake, to totter, to reel. He was to wander, shaking with fear, reeling. The word is also rendered 'to bemoan'. It's an awful scene: bemoaning his lot, shaking, wandering, reeling, nowhere. The same image is found in Prov. 14:32: “The wicked is driven away [Heb. to totter, be chased] in his wickedness”. And yet is this how Cain literally lived? Apparently not, for he married and built a city. He went through all the normal human functions, but in his soul, he was shaking, reeling, tottering, bemoaning his lot. And so it will be for the rejected. Jude matches this with "wandering stars, unto whom is reserved the blackness of darkness" (v.13). Rejected Israel were "removed" from their land (Is. 24:20)- although the Hebrew word is also translated to wander / stagger / be a fugitive. Even when in Babylonian captivity, living a fairly settled existence, Jeremiah lamented that even there they were wandering (Lam. 1:7 RVmg.); in their hearts, there was no rest, no fulfillment, always that desire to move on. David also describes the gradual death of the rejected through wandering: "Slay them not (i.e. immediately)...scatter them...consume them in wrath...that they may not be: and let them know that God ruleth in Jacob unto the ends of the earth (through their living to see the Kingdom)...at evening let them return: and let them make a noise like a dog, and go round about the city. Let them wander (s.w. Gen. 4:12 "vagabond" re. Cain) up and down for meat" (Ps. 59:11-15). Ps. 59:11 RVmg. speaks of the wicked not being slain immediately but rather being made "to wander to and fro". Wandering up and down...drifting through Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago, walking Orwell's Road To Wigan Pier.
They will be sent to a mist of darkness (2 Pet. 2:17), as Paul walked about in a mist and darkness, not knowing where he was going (Acts 13:11). Thick darkness is associated with God's judgment (Is. 8:22; Joel 2:2; Zeph. 1:15)- and recall how the judgment of darkness upon Egypt was so severe that human movement required 'groping' (Ex. 10:21). Perhaps there will be a literal element to this in the experience of the rejected. Be that as it may, the utter pointlessness of life without God will be so bitterly apparent. And yet they would not face up to it in their day of opportunity. This likening of the rejected to scavenging dogs in the rubbish tips outside Jerusalem lends further support to the suggestion that the punishment of the wicked will be associated with literal Gehenna, outside Jerusalem. 2 Sam. 23:6 speaks of how the rejected will be “thrust away” by the Lord. The Hebrew means to wander, to be chased [and is translated this way elsewhere in the AV]. Significantly in this connection, 2 Sam. 23:7 speaks of how the rejected will be consumed in “the same place” where the seed of David was to overcome wickedness. Literal Gehenna was in the same vicinity as Golgotha; and this in this sense His death was a forestaste of the future judgment, as we observe elsewhere.
Two Stages Of Condemnation
The rejected will be punished in the Lord's presence (Rev. 14:10), and then cast out of His presence (2 Thess. 1:9) into outer darkness. This suggests two stages of condemnation: the slinking away, within the Lord's presence, and then bring cast out into outer darkness (perhaps literal darkness?). The rejected are handed over to the judge who then casts them into prison or fire. The branches are cast forth, and then (stage two) cast into the fire (Jn. 15:6). There are verses which speak of the rejected being slain before Christ, cut in sunder (i.e. slain with the sword) (Is. 63:1-6; Mt. 24:51; Lk. 19:27). This presumably suggests that some will be punished quite soon after their rejection (e.g. the unwilling Jewish 'subjects' of Christ's Kingdom, Lk. 19:27), whilst others will be punished and yet expelled from the Lord's presence to suffer the agony of existing without any relationship with the Lord they once loved. Again, Lk. 19:27 has an example of both. Surely these are the "many stripes" of Lk. 12:47,48, compared to the "few stripes" of immediate death. Likewise the degree of punishment for individual Israelites in the wilderness was surely reflected in how long they were kept alive until they were finally wasted away by the Lord's hand. Some of the nations / political systems of the world are immediately destroyed at the Lord's coming, whilst others have their suffering period extended for a season and time (Dan. 7:12). The rejected amongst the people of God will in some ways share the condemnation of the world which they loved. It may be that there will be different geographical areas of punishment; some are cast into fire, others into outer darkness, into prison (Mt. 5:25)... or are these simply saying that there will be different kinds of punishment? Or are they different figures for the same thing?
Gnashing Of Teeth
There will be "gnashing of teeth", the Lord seemed to really emphasise (in seven different places: Mt. 8:12; 13:42,50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Lk. 13:28). In the OT, gnashing of teeth always means to hate somebody, often the righteous (Job 16:9; Ps. 35:16; 37:12; 112:10; Lam. 2:16). Could it not be that the rejected hate their Lord and His people, who will be watching the judgment in some form, and therefore go and join the ranks of the embittered armies that come against Him? Or is their extreme hatred against themselves? Ps. 112:10 speaks of the wicked gnashing with their teeth and melting away, suggesting that the slinking away process goes on even in the outer darkness; they wander, but in their aimless wandering they slowly slink yet further away from their Lord- the one who once fain would have carried them on His shoulders, gathered them under His wings. It's a terrible picture. Cain, in typifying all the rejected, felt that his condemnation was something greater than he could bear (Gen. 4:13). This is alluded to in a telling way in 1 Cor. 10:13: for the righteous, they will never be tested more than they can bear, but a way of escape will always be made possible. But for the rejected, there will be no escape. It will be something too great to bear, and somehow they have to go on existing in that state. Thus the rejected will seek death and not find it (Rev. 9:6), after the pattern of Judas bungling his own suicide after realising his condemnation [thus his bowels gushed, although he was attempting to hang himself]; they will also seek the Lord, all too late, and not find Him either (Prov. 1:28; Jn. 7:34). Israel will seek their lovers / idols and not find them (Hos. 2:7), and then seek the Lord and not find Him either (Hos. 5:6). They will seek death and not find it (Rev. 9:6), seek to their idols, see to the true God- and find none of them. They will exist in unbearable limbo. They will wander seeking the word of the Lord, but not find it (Am. 8:12). Tragically, it was so freely available in their lifetimes (cp. the foolish virgins seeking oil, banging on the door trying to hear their Lord's words and speak with Him).
Gnashing teeth, cast into fire and water, wallowing helpless is all the language of the demoniac (Mk. 9:18-22). This connection shows at least two things: that there will be a madness in the rejected, the tragic aimlessness of the demented. And secondly, that because the demoniac was cured, it is possible for a man whose behaviour leads to his condemnation now to still repent, before it's too late. And yet although the rejected may appear demented, they may well not feel like this. They will gnash their teeth with anger, not least against themselves. Their folly will be manifest to all- not least themselves (2 Tim. 3:9). Parables like that of the rich fool, the foolish virgins... they will all be crystal clear to them. Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be likened to wise and foolish virgins (Mt. 25:1), after the judgment experience. The materialist "at his end [rejection at the judgment] shall be a fool" (Jer. 17:11). The utter folly of the rejected is a major theme (Prov. 14:8,18; Ps. 5:5; 49:13; Mt. 7:26; 25:8). Rejected Israel were made to drink the wine of astonishment (Ps. 60:3), and the rejected in like manner will gape: "When saw we thee...?". They will be turned back from the Kingdom "in dismay...clothed with shame and confusion" (Ps. 35:5,26). Confusion will then give way to panic and then to a level of agitated dementia well beyond the paradigms of present psychiatry. The way Judas "burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out" (Acts 1:18) may not be only a description of a bungled suicide. "Bowels" is elsewhere always used figuratively. One wonders whether it doesn't also describe how he fell down headlong, as Saul did when he knew his condemnation, and burst asunder within him, and poured out his heart in desperation, in the very pathetic little field he had bought for the price of the Son of God. In an utterly terrible figure, Ezekiel describes the condemnation of Israel as them being a woman trying to pluck off her own breasts (Ez. 23:34). This was and will be the extent of self-hatred and desperation. She will be alienated from her lovers of this world, and God's mind will be alienated from her (Ez. 23:17,18,22). The utter aloneness of the condemned is impossible to plumb.
However, there are passages which imply that the rejected will be physically annihilated by the Lord. Given the foregoing descriptions, this would essentially be a merciful act. It may be that many will die in the judgments which come upon the world (see 4.8). But it could be that others are simply put out of their agony by the Lord. Some now in the ecclesia will be dashed to pieces by Him (Rev. 2:27). Mal. 4:3 speaks of them being ashes under the souls of our feet, as if the faithful will play a part in the destruction of their faithless brethren. After our judgment, we "will return and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not" (Mal. 3:18). Then in our own understanding the Kingdom of God will be likened to wise and foolish virgins; then we will see the tares clearly. Then the apostate brethren in Philadelphia will worship before the feet of their faithful brethren (Rev. 3:9). It may be in this sense that we will judge Angels / ecclesial elders (1 Cor. 6:3 cp. Rev. 2:1 etc.). Or it could be that the rejected will destroy each other. The surrounding world with whom they will then be associated will destroy themselves, brother against brother (Zech. 14:13); and they will have a part in this destruction. If we bite and devour each other, we may be consumed by each other (Gal. 5:15)- this is the same idea of brethren killing brethren. Israel were condemned to destruction by brother being dashed against brother (Jer. 13:14). Indeed, biting and devouring each other is a quotation from Is. 9:19,20 LXX (although not apparent in the AV), where Israel in their judgment for unfaithfulness would bite and devour each others' bodies in the siege. Paul is saying that if we bite and devour each other with our words (and we are all guilty of this at times), we are acting as the condemned. If we do this, we may well be consumed of each other- and this may have a terribly literal fulfillment, in that as the world destroys every man his neighbour in the confusion of the last day, so the rejected may do the same, living out the bigotry and passive anger they felt towards each other in their ecclesial life. This all needs some meditation. For there are very few of us not caught up in some division, personality clash, biting or devouring.