I want to talk about repentance.
What does it mean in v9 when it says the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?
To answer that, let’s set the stage. One brother is taking another brother to court. We read about it in v6. There is some wrongdoing. The specifics of the lawsuit are unknown. But in v2, Paul refers to this as a trivial case so we are not talking about something as serious as murder. If I murdered someone at this church, I don’t think we should try to resolve the case in-house, you know what I mean. That type of case is outside the boundaries of the church because you have broken the law. And what can this church do to me if I am guilty of murder? Is Brother John U going to keep me locked up in his guest room so that I can pay for my crime? Obviously, there are cases that do require believers to take other believers to court.
From what we can gather, this is not one of those cases. V1-3 are quite interesting.
1 If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!
Paul gives several reasons why we should not sue a fellow brother or sister over trivial matters. First, Christian should be able to handle disputes amongst us by ourselves without involving the courts because… What is the reason? Because in v2, do you not know that the saints will judge the world? There are a number of reasons Paul gives as to why we should handle most of our internal disputes within the church, but Paul starts with the main reason here. Because the saints will judge the world.
What does it mean that the saints will judge the world? To answer that, I need to talk a little bit about eschatology or the study of the end times. Eschatology is tough. Many have their theories. Many have predictions about exactly when and how the world will end. But largely, the specifics are unknowable. However, while the specifics are unknowable, that doesn’t give us a free pass. We should still know what the Bible says and wrestle with these ideas so that we can glean certain principles. So that’s what I am going to attempt to do. I want to expose you to a few passages that might help to explain this verse about the saints judging the world.
28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Jesus tells us that part of our future will involve judging the twelve tribes of Israel, which refers to the nation of Israel. Christians will have a role in judging the nation of Israel because they were the chosen people of God, but they rejected Jesus as their Messiah. We don’t know any more than that because the Bible doesn’t say, but suffice it to say that believers will have some role in judging Israel.
2 Timothy 2:12
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us.
Paul continues that thread and hints that our future will involve some sort of reigning. Heaven is not going to be a continuous, non-stop worship service. At least, part of our activity will involve reigning with Christ. It’s interesting. And perhaps, the most direct complete passage on this topic, Rev 20:1-6.
And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3 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. 4 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. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. 6 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.
It says that Satan is going to be bound and chained up for thousand years, and over the centuries, many theologians who are much smarter than I am have debated what that refers to. Again, there is mention of Satan being locked up for a thousand years and the priests of God reigning with Christ for those thousand years. What is this talking about?
To answer that, I want to briefly talk about 4 views or interpretations regarding what this thousand year period, or the millennium, refers to. This is not the main point. We are going to talk about repentance from v9-10, but I think this discussion will help put those verses into context.
The first view is the post-tribulation, pre-millennial position, which says that all people, Christian and non-Christian will experience tribulation, which is a period of judgment and suffering. Then, post-tribulation, or after the tribulation, we have the Second Coming of Christ and by His appearance, Jesus will usher in the millennial kingdom and that lasts for a thousand years and it ends with the final judgment of the world. By final judgment of the world, what I mean is the end of the world as we know it and the beginning of what the Bible describes as a the formation of a new heaven and a new earth, or the new Jerusalem in Revelation 21.
Second, there is the pre-tribulation, pre-millennial position that says that the church is raptured or taken up to heaven first, then the tribulation comes. Because Christians were raptured or taken up to heaven prior to the start of the tribulation period, the Church gets to avoid the suffering of the tribulation. That’s why I kind of like this position. I don’t want to suffer if I don’t have to. Then the Second Coming of Christ and because we are already in heaven, the Church comes with Christ to usher in the thousand year period, which ends with the final judgment.
Third, the post-millenialists say that the thousand year period begins and then the Second Coming of Christ. In fact, proponents of this view say, we could already be in the millennial kingdom right now and when the thousand year period is over, then the Second Coming of Christ and the final judgment are not two events, but one singular event.
Fourth, the amillennialists believe that the thousand year period is not a literal thousand years, but it is a symbolic thousand year period that began with the death and resurrection of Christ and like the previous position, the Second Coming of Christ and the final judgment are not two separate events, but one event, signaling the end of the symbolic millennium.
The first two positions refer to different opinions with regard to the relationship between the “millennial Kingdom” and Christ’s second coming. Both options #1 and #2 are pre-millenial because they believe that the Second Coming and the final judgment are 2 separate events and in between is the thousand year period. Pre-millennialists, or before the millenium, they see Christ’s Second Coming as preceding the millennium, thereby separating the second coming from the final judgment. Both of these first two options view “Christ’s reign” as physical and they believe in a literal thousand year period.
The third option, post-millennialism, or after the millenium, sees Christ’s Second Coming and the final judgment as one event. They believe that the thousand year period is a literal thousand years, but Christ’s reign during the millennium is not physical, but it is spiritual and it is accomplished in and through the church.
The last option, amillennialism, basically denies a literal, future 1000 year kingdom and sees the period between Christ’s first coming where he died on the cross and resurrected, and His Second Coming, the period in between is Christ’s reign and that reign is current in and through the church. So right now, we Christians are reigning with Christ in a symbolic sense.
Which one is it? Honestly, I don’t know. But I will say one thing. There is a great temptation to take any difficult passage or truth and over-spiritualize it. I can’t understand it, it’s weird, it’s mysterious so it must be symbolic. The danger of that is that we can unknowingly erode away the authority of Scripture. Because who ultimately decides what is to be taken literally and what is merely symbolic? That decision rests on the reader, you and me. We get to decide.
What if we make a mistake and we read something and apply it symbolically or spiritually when in fact it was meant to be taken literally? If we make the wrong call, then we miss out. It’s like taking a body and removing all the flesh and the organs and all you have left is the skeleton and you point to the collection of bones and say, here’s the body. Well, yes, sort of. It’s the skeletal framework, a shell, but you got to fill everything in to have a full body.
I fear that we do the same thing when we read the Bible. We take something that was supposed to be read and applied literally, but because it is difficult to apply or it’s weird, we remove the flesh and the organs by automatically glossing over those difficult passages. It’s easier to over-spiritualize those passages and put them in the symbolic category instead of wrestling with its nitty gritty implications.
For example, you could read the verses in the Bible about the poor and link it to the Sermon on the Mount and read every verse about the poor with our spiritual glasses. What the writer means is poor in spirit. If you read many of those verses in context, I think you’ll find that often times, it is talking about the physically poor, those who are poor in a physical sense. What does over-spiritualizing those passages do? It gets us off the hook because we don’t need to struggle with our value system when it comes to money or being a good steward with our finances because after all, what God cares about is our heart, right? As long as I am poor in spirit, poor in terms of my heart and being humble on the inside, then I am okay. I can buy whatever I want. I can be greedy with my finances. You see the difference? This is the danger of easily pushing verses into the spiritual category, it’s all symbolism so I am free to do as I please in practical life.
Another example. What about when it talks about Israel in the New Testament? You could say, well, the church, we are the new spiritual Israel. There is some truth to that. But what about the actual nation of Israel? Are they forever forgotten? Cut off from God’s plan with no hope of restoration? Can we ignore all that is happening to the nation of Israel today and all the turmoil in the Middle East?
I don’t have all the answers, but I think we are going to be shocked when we get to heaven. We are going to be shocked just how much God is sovereign, nations and rulers that seemed out of control, renegades ready to destroy the world, I think we are going to be shocked to find out how much everything in human history, everything in current events, the good and the bad, all of it was under God’s sovereignty down to the small details of our lives. I think it is no accident that each of you is here listening to the Word of God. God is pursuing you. He is at work in your life. Things that we thought were symbolic or spiritual from the Bible, I think we are going to be quite surprised at how all things are under God’s providential care and events are actually going to come to pass in human history to a level of detail from the Bible that are going to cause our jaws to drop. I can’t prove it. But I have a hunch that we are going to be in awe for all eternity because God really is sovereign, He really is all-powerful, He is worthy to be feared and worshiped and adored.
The lesson being, we always need to start with the Word of God. What does it say? We shouldn’t come to the Word of God with our interpretive framework or our bias or our intuition. We have to come and see what it says and wrestle with its plain meaning. Of course, there will always be a deeper, spiritual truth, but we have to start with what it says.
So when it says, a thousand years rule while Satan is bound up, I think we have to start with the assumption that Paul is speaking about an ACTUAL physical judging and reigning with Christ. After all, Jesus experienced a bodily resurrection and so when we die, our souls will be with God for eternity. But we, too, will follow in the example of Christ and our bodies will be raised up when Jesus returns and establishes his new heaven and new earth. And when you start with what the Bible says, instead of writing off difficult passages as symbolic and ignoring them, I think you will find that things will start falling into place like a puzzle.
That’s my experience with the Word of God. The Bible is not a Choose Your Own Adventure. Do you guys remember the Choose Your Own Adventure series? The Bible is not a series where you have options and depending on choice A you go to a certain page with an outcome and choice B takes you to another page with a different outcome. No, the more I study the Bible, the more the parts seem to fit together and Jesus/gospel really is the thread that ties everything together.