Life-Study of Revelationby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
In this message we shall cover the things that follow the rapture of the firstfruit (14:6-13).
The first thing to follow the rapture of the firstfruit will be the preaching of the eternal gospel (vv. 6-7). Although you may have read Revelation 14 many times, perhaps you have never been impressed with the term eternal gospel in verse 6. Probably no preacher, minister, or pastor has ever told you that in the future, after the rapture of the firstfruit, there will be a gospel revealed as the “eternal gospel.” Most Christians know only the gospel of grace; they do not know that, in God’s economy, an eternal gospel will be proclaimed during the great tribulation (Matt. 24:21).
The eternal gospel differs from the gospel of grace (Acts 20:24) preached in the church age. The basic content of the gospel of grace is repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus (Acts 20:21) that men may be forgiven of their sins and be born again as children of God (Luke 24:47; John 1:12); while that of the eternal gospel is that men should fear God and worship God that they may not be deceived to follow Antichrist, but be brought back to the genuine worship of God, “who has made the heaven and the earth” (v. 7). Only man is privileged to preach the gospel of grace on earth today (Acts 10:3-6). But the eternal gospel will not be preached by men on earth, but by an angel in mid-heaven at the close of this age.
All students and teachers of the Bible agree that God has various ways of dealing with people. These ways are called dispensations. Although the word dispensation includes the concept of time, it specifically denotes the various ways God uses to deal with people. For example, the dispensation of the law was that period during which God dealt with people by the law. God dealt with Israel through the dispensation of law. In every period of time God has had a particular way of dealing with certain people. After the dispensation of law came the dispensation of grace, the age in which we are now living. In this age God deals with the believers in Him according to grace, not according to law. Just as the dispensation of law was ended by the coming of John the Baptist, the dispensation of grace will be ended by the beginning of the great tribulation. John the Baptist introduced a new dispensation, the dispensation of grace. At the beginning of the great tribulation, when Satan is cast down to earth and the spirit of Caesar Nero emerges from the abyss, the dispensation of grace will be ended. During the three and a half years, the forty-two months, of the great tribulation, God will have another way to deal with people—the way of the eternal gospel.
If you read Revelation 14 carefully, you will see that the content of the eternal gospel is absolutely different from the gospel we preach today. The gospel we preach contains two main items—repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. At the beginning of the dispensation of grace, John the Baptist appeared to preach repentance (Matt. 3:1-2). Following him, the Lord Jesus preached repentance and faith. John the Baptist said, “Repent” (Matt. 3:2), and Jesus said, “Repent and believe” (Mark 1:15). In Acts, the apostles followed the Lord Jesus to preach repentance and faith. Repentance means a change of mind; it is a change of concept and a change of the understanding of life. Men must have a turn because their life is far from God. Now they must turn toward God. This is what it means to repent. However, this is just a small portion of the gospel of grace. The greater portion of the gospel of grace is believing in the Lord Jesus Christ that we may be forgiven of our sins and have eternal life to become the sons of God. This is the content of the gospel of grace that we preach today.
The content of the eternal gospel is much different. In the eternal gospel there is no repentance nor faith. Rather, there is the commandment to fear God and to give Him glory and to worship Him “who has made the heaven and the earth and the sea and the springs of waters” (v. 7). The command to worship God as the Creator is in contrast to the worship of Antichrist and his image mentioned in verse 9. The command to fear God and to give Him glory is given to the earth’s dwellers countering the deceit of the false prophet that men should follow Antichrist and countering the threat of death for any who would not worship him during the great tribulation (13:14-15). The angel who preaches the eternal gospel will seem to be saying, “You must fear God. Because Antichrist is not God, there is no need to fear him. Antichrist cannot put you into the lake of fire; only God can. Although Antichrist may do certain signs, he did not create the heaven, the earth, the sea, and the springs of waters. God is the Creator. You must fear Him and give glory to Him as the Creator of the universe. Do not worship Antichrist and his image. You all must worship God.” This is the eternal gospel. Because we have a better gospel, there is no need for us to hear this gospel.
Verse 7 also says, “The hour of His judgment has come.” The judgment here is the judgment which Christ will execute over all the nations at His coming back to earth, as He predicted in Matthew 25:31-46. This judgment, which will be executed upon the living before the millennium, differs from the judgment of the dead after the millennium, as mentioned in 20:11-15. All the people of the nations who still remain at the Lord’s coming back will be judged according to the eternal gospel preached by the angel during the great tribulation. If, by fearing God and worshipping Him, they have treated God’s people well, that is, they have taken care of the Christians and Jews, the Lord’s brothers suffering poverty and imprisonment under Antichrist’s persecution during the great tribulation, they will be justified by the Lord so that they may enter into the earthly part of the millennium to partake of the kingdom prepared by God for them from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:34). If they have ill-treated the Christians and Jews by following Antichrist and by worshipping his image, they will be condemned and cast into the eternal fire of the lake of fire prepared for the Devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41).
In Matthew 25:31 the Lord Jesus said that He would come in His glory and “sit on His throne of glory.” This verse does not speak of the judgment seat (2 Cor. 5:10), but the throne of His glory, because by that time the judgment of the believers at the judgment seat will be over. Firstly, the Lord will descend from heaven to the air. After all the saints have been raptured, He will judge them at His judgment seat. This will not be the judgment of the unbelievers; it will be the judgment of the believers to determine who will be rewarded and who will be disciplined. After this judgment has been carried out, the Lord will come in glory with His army of overcoming believers to defeat Antichrist and his army. After Antichrist and the false prophet have been cast alive into the lake of fire, and after the armies of Antichrist have been made a feast for the birds (19:11-21), there will still be many unbelievers, the nations, on earth. Then the Lord Jesus will set up the throne of His glory; all the surviving unbelievers, the nations, will be gathered before Him (Matt. 25:32); and He will exercise His judgment upon them. Acts 10:42, 17:31, and 2 Timothy 4:1 reveal that the Lord has been appointed by God to judge both the living and the dead. The Lord will judge the living after the defeat of Antichrist and the false prophet and after He has set up His throne of glory. When this judgment has been carried out, the millennial kingdom will begin. After the millennial kingdom, the Lord will judge the dead at the great white throne (20:11-15).
According to what criterion will the Lord judge the living unbelievers at the throne of His glory? There is no hint that the Lord will judge them according to the law of Moses. Neither will He judge them according to the gospel of grace. The Lord will not say, “Those who believe in Me are sheep, and those who do not believe in Me are goats.” Rather, according to Matthew 25:31-46, the Lord will judge the living unbelievers according to the way they have treated His little brothers, the God-fearing Jews and the Christ-believing Christians. These are those who will pass through the great tribulation and who will be the object of Antichrist’s persecution. Thus, the Lord will consider them as His little brothers. During the great tribulation the God-fearing Jews and the Christ-believing Christians will be hungry, thirsty, naked, ill, and imprisoned (Matt. 25:35-39). The Lord will judge the living unbelievers according to their treatment of His brothers during that time. Some will treat them very well. Undoubtedly, they will be those who hear the eternal gospel preached by the angel while Antichrist and his people are persecuting the Jews and the believers. When they hear this gospel commanding them to fear God and to worship Him, their heart will be touched, and they will treat the little brothers of the Lord favorably.
Hence, Christ’s exercise of judgment upon the living unbelievers at the throne of His glory will be based upon the eternal gospel. Whoever heeds that gospel and treats His brothers well will be considered as “sheep.” The others will be considered as “goats.” The “goats,” those who follow Antichrist to persecute God’s people, will be put with Antichrist into the lake of fire. All the “sheep,” on the contrary, will enter into the kingdom prepared for them “from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34), the earthly part of the millennial kingdom, but they will be the citizens of that kingdom, not the kings or the priests. In the millennial kingdom we, the overcoming Christians, will be kings; the God-fearing Jews, who will be preserved and saved, will be priests; and the “sheep” will be citizens. Therefore, by the dispensation of law God will gain the Jews to be the priests; by the dispensation of grace He will gain the believers to be the kings; and by the eternal gospel He will gain the God-fearing Gentiles to be the citizens of the millennial kingdom.
This clear picture is formed by properly fitting together various portions of the Word like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. I was exercised over this “jigsaw puzzle” for a good many years. How happy I was when I finally put all the pieces together! A large piece of this “puzzle” is Matthew 25:31-46. For years, I tried unsuccessfully to fit this piece in place. Although I tried to put it everywhere, it did not fit anywhere. Eventually, I found where this piece fits in. Now, instead of a puzzle, we have a vivid picture.
Because of God’s mercy, the preaching of the eternal gospel will follow the rapture of the firstfruit. After the firstfruit is raptured, Antichrist will persecute the God-fearing Jews and the Christ-believing Christians. Then God will send an angel to mid-heaven to preach the eternal gospel.
Twenty-five years ago, we knew hardly anything about space technology. I believe that Antichrist will use modern scientific technology to touch other planets, which in the Bible are called “the host of heaven.” Suddenly, through God’s mercy, an angelic preacher will appear in space to preach an eternal gospel, warning the earth-dwellers to fear God, to worship Him, and not to persecute God’s people. God knows that the persecution aroused following the rapture of the firstfruit will be so severe that apart from His mercy no one will be able to bear it. But many will hear the eternal gospel, believe it, and help the persecuted ones. In this way the suffering Jews and the persecuted Christians will be helped to gain the necessary food, clothing, and visitations. The Lord knows the deeds of those who have helped His people, and when He comes to judge the living, He will consider them as “sheep.” Although the eternal gospel will produce the citizens for the millennial kingdom, its purpose is also to reduce the suffering of God’s people during the great tribulation. God is merciful and cares for His people. How we thank Him for His mercy!
The “sheep” in the millennial kingdom will not be regenerated believers. Instead of being regenerated, they will simply be restored to their original, created condition. Acts 3:21 speaks of the time of restoration. At this time the sun, the moon, and the stars will be restored sevenfold (Isa. 30:26). The length of human life will also be restored. Anyone who dies at the age of a hundred will be considered as dying prematurely (Isa. 65:20). All the “sheep” will be restored to the Adamic situation, to man’s original condition at creation. They will be different from us. When we believed in the Lord Jesus, eternal life entered us. The “sheep,” however, will not have eternal life entering into them; rather they will enter into eternal life, into the realm of eternal life (Matt. 25:46). This means that they will only be restored. Although they will not be regenerated and have eternal life in their being to make them sons of God, they will be restored as proper human beings to live on earth as God’s people, the citizens of the millennial kingdom.
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