Category: End Times


  A study of “the eternal state” is rightly seen as a subdivision of the greater study of eschatology, or the doctrine of last things. It must be admitted first that the only sure word of testimony regarding this subject is the Holy Bible; no other “holy book” or philosophy is as trustworthy or as informative as the Bible.

The Greek word most often translated “eternal” in the Bible is aionos, from which we get our word eon. Essentially, this word denotes having no beginning and no end, or having a beginning but no end, with respect to time. The exact meaning is always determined by the context. When this word is combined with “life” (Greek zoe), it denotes not only life without end, but a certain quality of life that is distinguished from mere biological life.

We know that all believers will receive resurrected bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42). Thus, we will not exist as disembodied spirits, but we will possess glorified bodies especially suited for an existence in the eternal state.

The Bible gives few details of what that state will be like. Scripture says that God creates a new heaven and a new earth, and the New Jerusalem descends from God to the new earth (Revelation 21:1-2). In this new creation, “the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3). “So, we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Our existence in the eternal state will be markedly different from what we are used to now: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). The curse that came with sin will never hold sway again (Revelation 22:3). We can hardly imagine a world without pain or sorrow, but that’s what God promises—a reality beyond imagination. “As it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’” (1 Corinthians 2:9; cf. Isaiah 64:4).

Neither will our existence in the eternal state be marred by bad memories of the old earth. Joy will swallow up all distress: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17).

The eternal state will involve serving the Lord (Revelation 22:3), seeing God face to face (verse 4), and living in perfect health (verse 2) and holiness (verse 5). Second Peter 3:13 says that the new heaven and earth will be “the home of righteousness.” Sin will not cast its shadow anywhere in that realm.

From the beginning of creation, it has been God’s plan to bring His redeemed ones to this place of completion and glory (Romans 8:30; Philippians 1:6). No more sin, no more curse, no more death, no more good-byes—all because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. In the eternal state, God’s perfect plan will be brought to glorious realization, and mankind will accomplish its chief end, “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

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  Revelation 17:1-2 tells us, “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.’” Revelation 17:5 goes on to say, “And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” Who is this “whore of Babylon” and what is “mystery Babylon”?

Revelation 17:3 gives this description: “Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a desert. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns.” The beast mentioned in this verse is the same beast as in Revelation chapter 13:1, “And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name.” The beast in Revelation chapter 13 is understood to refer to the Antichrist, the man of lawlessness (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; Daniel 9:27). So, the whore of Babylon, whoever it is, is closely affiliated with the end-times Antichrist.

The fact that the whore of Babylon is referred to as a mystery means that we cannot be completely certain as to her identity. The passage does give us some clues, however. Revelation 17:9 explains, “This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits.” Many commentators link this passage with the Roman Catholic Church because in ancient times, the city of Rome was known as “the city on seven hills” because there are seven prominent hills that surround the city. However, verse 10 goes on to explain that the seven hills represent 7 kings or kingdoms, five of which have fallen, one that is and one that is to come. Therefore, the “whore of Babylon” cannot refer exclusively to Rome. Revelation 17:15 tells us, “Then the angel said to me, ‘The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages.’” The whore of Babylon will have great worldwide influence over people and nations. Verses 10-14 describe a series of eight and then ten kings who affiliate with the beast. The whore of Babylon will at one time have control over these kings (Revelation 17:18), but at some point the kings will turn on her and destroy her (Revelation 17:16).

So, can the mystery of the whore of Babylon be solved? Yes, at least partially. The whore of Babylon is an evil world system, controlled by the Antichrist, during the last days before Jesus’ return. The whore of Babylon also has religious connotations – spiritual adultery with the beast being the focus of an ungodly, end-times religious system.

Many students of Bible prophecy consider Revelation 16:12–16 to possibly refer to China in the end times:

“The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. Then . . . demonic spirits that perform signs . . . go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty. . . . Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon” (Revelation 16:12–16).

This passage predicts a massive, climactic conflict known as the Battle of Armageddon. It occurs at the end of the tribulation, after the sixth bowl judgment. At that time, the Euphrates River will be dried up, allowing the “kings from the East” to invade the Near East and march toward Israel. It is the “kings from the East” identification that many associate with China. The Chinese army, or a Chinese-led coalition, will take advantage of the removal of a natural barrier and sweep westward to meet up with the forces of the Antichrist.

When the end-times’ force from China joins with the armies of the Antichrist, the seventh and final bowl judgment will be poured out. The Lord Jesus will return, the most violent earthquake ever will shake the world, and the forces of the Antichrist and the armies of the East will be destroyed (Revelation 16:17–20; 19:11–21).

It is impossible to know for sure if the Eastern confederacy of the end times will include China; however, it seems likely that China will be involved. Recent years have seen a dramatic rise in China’s power and influence. The development of enormous military strength; intimidation of Hong Kong, Tibet, Taiwan, and other regions; pursuit of global economic dominance; aggressive rhetoric on the world stage; and, of course, the persecution of Chinese Christians—all this has been characteristic of China. It is not hard to imagine that the “kings from the East” who one day march into Israel will include China.

Some people identify another battle, mentioned earlier in Revelation, as a prophecy of China in the end times. The association hinges on the mention of an army of 200 million (Revelation 9:16) and occasional reports of China’s capability of equipping such a vast army. There are a couple problems with this view. One is that Revelation 9 says nothing of an army from the East; rather, it speaks of a demonic horde that destroys a third of mankind. The “horses” these beings ride are definitely not normal horses (verse 17). Also, the battle of Revelation 9 occurs after the sixth trumpet judgment; the battle of Revelation 16 involving the kings of the East occurs after the sixth bowl judgment, probably about three and a half years later.

In the end times, many nations, likely including China, will try their hand at conquest. Ultimately, their fight will be against God. The tribulation will be a tumultuous time of warfare, disasters, and divine judgment. But God has it all under control, as Psalm 2:2–6 assures:

“The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
‘Let us break their chains
and throw off their shackles.’
The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.
He rebukes them in his anger
and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
‘I have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.’”

The seven seals (Revelation 6:1-17, 8:1-5), seven trumpets (Revelation 8:6-13; 11:15-19), and seven bowls/vials (Revelation 16:1-21) are three succeeding series of end-times judgments from God. The judgments get progressively worse and more devastating as the end times progress. The seven seals, trumpets, and bowls are connected to one another. The seventh seal introduces the seven trumpets (Revelation 8:1-5), and the seventh trumpet introduces the seven bowls (Revelation 11:15-19, 15:1-8).

The first four of the seven seals are known as the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. The first seal introduces the Antichrist (Revelation 6:1-2). The second seal causes great warfare (Revelation 6:3-4). The third of the seven seals causes famine (Revelation 6:5-6). The fourth seal brings about plague, further famine, and further warfare (Revelation 6:7-8).

The fifth seal tells us of those who will be martyred for their faith in Christ during the end times (Revelation 6:9-11). God hears their cries for justice and will deliver it in His timing—in the form of the sixth seal, along with the trumpet and bowl judgments. When the sixth of the seven seals is broken, a devastating earthquake occurs, causing massive upheaval and terrible devastation—along with unusual astronomical phenomena (Revelation 6:12-14). Those who survive are right to cry out, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:16-17).

The seven trumpets are described in Revelation 8:6-13. The seven trumpets are the “contents” of the seventh seal (Revelation 8:1-5). The first trumpet causes hail and fire that destroys much of the plant life in the world (Revelation 8:7). The second trumpet brings about what seems to be a meteor hitting the oceans and causing the death of much of the world’s sea life (Revelation 8:8-9). The third trumpet is similar to the second, except it affects the world’s lakes and rivers instead of the oceans (Revelation 8:10-11).

The fourth of the seven trumpets causes the sun and moon to be darkened (Revelation 8:12). The fifth trumpet results in a plague of “demonic locusts” that attack and torture humanity (Revelation 9:1-11). The sixth trumpet releases a demonic army that kills a third of humanity (Revelation 9:12-21). The seventh trumpet calls forth the seven angels with the seven bowls of God’s wrath (Revelation 11:15-19, 15:1-8).

The seven bowl/vial judgments are described in Revelation 16:1-21. The seven bowl judgments are called forth by the seventh trumpet. The first bowl causes painful sores to break out on humanity (Revelation 16:2). The second bowl results in the death of every living thing in the sea (Revelation 16:3). The third bowl causes the rivers to turn into blood (Revelation 16:4-7). The fourth of the seven bowls results in the sun’s heat being intensified and causing great pain (Revelation 16:8-9). The fifth bowl causes great darkness and an intensification of the sores from the first bowl (Revelation 16:10-11). The sixth bowl results in the Euphrates River being dried up and the armies of the Antichrist being gathered together to wage the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:12-14). The seventh bowl results in a devastating earthquake followed by giant hailstones (Revelation 16:15-21).

Revelation 16:5-7 declares of God, “You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve. … Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.”

There are several biblical prophecies of the end times that mention Iran, called Persia or Elam in the Bible. Given the fact that Iran is often in the news as a nation seeking armaments (possibly nuclear) and repeatedly issuing threats against Israel, students of Bible prophecy are taking note.

Iran does have a role to play in the end times, but, first, a little history of Iran and its neighborhood, as it relates to biblical history. Jeremiah prophesied that Elam, a nation east of Babylon, west of Persia, and south of Media, would be conquered and then rise to power again (Jeremiah 49:34–39). True to that prophecy, Babylon conquered Elam in 596 BC. But then Persia, under Cyrus the Great, took control of that area, and the Elamites and Medes became part of the Persian Empire. The Medo-Persian Empire ascended to power and conquered Babylon in 539 BC, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 21:2. This happened during the time of Daniel (Daniel 5); in fact, Daniel later resided “in the province of Elam” in Persia (Daniel 8:2). Persia is the setting for the book of Esther and the first part of Nehemiah.

Alexander the Great’s conquests put an end to Persia as a world power, fulfilling the prophecy of Daniel 8. In the following centuries, Persia was ruled by the Seleucids, the Parthians, the Sassanians, the Romans, the Byzantines, and finally, in AD 636, the Muslims. In 1501, the state of Iran was founded.

In the New Testament, men from Iran are mentioned indirectly as “Parthians, Medes and Elamites” were present in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:9). All three of these people groups were Jews who lived in the area of ancient Persia, modern-day Iran, and they were present in Jerusalem to witness the birth of the church.

Iran’s involvement in the end times will be as one of the nations involved in the battle of Gog and Magog, which probably occurs during the first half of the tribulation. Ezekiel 38:5 specifically mentions Persia as an ally of Magog/Russia. Other nations included in this coalition will be Sudan, Turkey, Libya, and others. This vast army will come against Israel, who at that time will be “a peaceful and unsuspecting people” (verse 11).

The outcome of this end-times invasion is predicted: God supernaturally intervenes, and Gog’s coalition is utterly destroyed. “On the mountains of Israel you will fall, you and all your troops and the nations with you. I will give you as food to all kinds of carrion birds and to the wild animals” (Ezekiel 39:4–5). Iran, allied with Russia, will think their invasion of Israel is a sure victory, but God has different plans. In protecting Jerusalem, God will send a strong message to the world: “I will make known my holy name among my people Israel. I will no longer let my holy name be profaned, and the nations will know that I the Lord am the Holy One in Israel” (verse 7).

As civil war rages in Syria and other nations ponder potential involvement, some Bible teachers believe we can see biblical end-times prophecy unfolding right before our eyes. The Middle East is a religious-political powder keg and has been for years, but the Syrian Crisis seems to be making the situation that much more explosive. Because of Syria’s proximity to Israel, Egypt’s troubles, Iran’s threats, and the United States’ ultimatums, there is talk of the end times, Armageddon, and World War III.

It is true that, with every passing day, we draw closer to the Second Coming of Christ (James 5:8). And the prophecy of Isaiah 17:1 has yet to be fulfilled: “A prophecy against Damascus: ‘See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins.’” Damascus, the capital of Syria, has a longstanding reputation for being the oldest continuously occupied city in the world. It has never been without citizens or totally destroyed. But Isaiah’s prophecy still stands; there is coming a day when Damascus will be nothing but a “heap of ruins.” The current war in Syria could indeed be one of the events leading up to the capital’s destruction.

There are other verses in the Bible tethered to Isaiah 17:1, but the idea of a ruinous heap suggests that not one building is left standing in Damascus. The city will no longer be a city. Some students of prophecy believe a nuclear bomb could be the means of fulfilling this prophecy; others suggest the possibility of an earthquake. Regardless of exactly how or when it happens, two things we know for sure: God is sovereign and His Word will stand (Isaiah 40:8).

There is much unrest in the Middle East, and the war in Syria is capturing the attention of the whole world. However, this particular conflict, even if it expands to other nations, cannot be associated with Armageddon. That battle occurs near the end of the Tribulation, during the bowl judgments, as the nations of the earth gather to fight against the Lord (Revelation 16:12–16). The war in Syria, if it is indeed part of end-times prophecy, is more likely part of the “birth pains” described in Mark 13:7–8.

In 700 BC, Isaiah wrote of the demise of Damascus. Today, 2,700 years later, many believe that we are close to seeing that long-standing prophecy fulfilled. However chaotic the events on the world stage appear, we know that all things are working toward the fulfillment of God’s Word.

“The Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17)—are you ready for His coming?

With Russia back in the news in a big way, many people are wondering if recent events in eastern Europe have anything to do with end-times prophecy—and, if so, how? Much of the discussion has to do with an ancient prophecy from Ezekiel: “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshek and Tubal; prophesy against him and say: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against you, Gog, chief prince of Meshek and Tubal”’” (Ezekiel 38:1–3). The identities of “Gog,” “Magog,” “Meshek,” and “Tubal” are the key to fully understanding the prophecy.

Gog is a person. Whoever Gog is, he is from the land of Magog and is the leader of Tubal and Meshek (some translations add “Rosh” to the list) and a confederacy of other nations: Persia, Cush, Put, Gomer, and Beth Togarmah (Ezekiel 38:5–6). And, whoever he is, he will have plans to “attack a peaceful and unsuspecting people,” viz., Israel (verses 11, 14, and 18). But, regardless of Gog’s plans, the Lord God is against him and will defeat him soundly (Ezekiel 38:4, 19–23; 39:3–5).

Magog is a land “in the far north,” from Israel’s point of view (Ezekiel 38:15; 39:2). Most Bible commentators interpret “Magog” as Russia—and, indeed, Russia is straight north of Israel, all the way up to the Arctic Circle. According to this view, “Rosh” is a reference to Russia, “Meshek” is either Moscow or the people north of the Black Sea (the area of southern Russia and Ukraine), and “Tubal,” which is always listed with Meshek in Scripture, is identified as a city in Siberia or an area in central Turkey.

Others see “Magog” as a general term used in Ezekiel’s day to identify barbarians living near the Black and Caspian Seas. Regardless of the exact locations of Magog, Tubal, and Meshek, there is no doubt that the general area includes portions of Russia and the former Soviet Union, and possibly some Arab countries.

So, yes, the Bible does mention Russia, although not by that name, in connection with the end times. Ezekiel 38—39 definitely refer to a nation coming from northern Asia to attack Israel. After the Cold War, Russia lost its superpower status, making the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy seem unlikely in some people’s eyes. However, recent events have shown that Russia is gaining strength, and many believe that the invasion of Crimea is just a first step in Russia’s plan to restore its dominance in that hemisphere. It is also interesting to note that, in the Soviet era, Moscow was solidly aligned with several Muslim countries in opposition to Israel. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia has continued to make overtures to the Muslim world.

According to the Bible, there will come a time when Russia, in alliance with several other countries, will amass a huge army against Israel, with a view to plunder the Jews’ land. The nations aligned with Russia for this military endeavor are Persia (modern-day Iran), Put (modern-day Sudan), Cush (modern-day Libya), Gomer (part of modern-day Turkey), and Beth Togarmah (another portion of modern-day Turkey or possibly Syria). Most of these nations are currently militant Islamic states with an express hatred of Israel. Ezekiel says that, when the aggressors move against Israel, a few other nations (“Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish”) will remonstrate, as will “all her villages”—possibly colonies (Ezekiel 38:13). Sheba and Dedan are associated with areas of northern Africa. Tarshish could be a reference to Spain (which colonized much of South America), Britain (which colonized the United States), or somewhere in eastern Africa. The objections to Magog’s aggression will fall on deaf ears, however, and the invasion will continue.

Some commentators believe this war is one of the events leading up to beginning of the tribulation. Others believe it will occur close to the midpoint of the tribulation, since Israel will be “dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates” (Ezekiel 38:11)—in other words, Israel will feel secure at that time, possibly because of the covenant they have signed with the Antichrist (Daniel 9:27). Either way, this battle is distinct from the Battle of Armageddon, which occurs at the end of the tribulation.

God promises to destroy Gog’s army: “I will execute judgment on him with plague and bloodshed; I will pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulfur on him and on his troops and on the many nations with him” (Ezekiel 38:22). The bodies of the fallen army of Magog will be buried, but it will take over seven months to complete the macabre task (Ezekiel 39:12, 14). This supernatural judgment will have the effect of preserving Israel and turning many hearts to God: “And so I will show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 38:23). Many will be saved during the tribulation (Revelation 7), and the fulfillment of Ezekiel 38—39 will be one means by which God will bring people to a knowledge of Himself.

There is much we do not know for certain about Ezekiel’s prophecy, including the timing of these events. However, it is clear that Russia will be involved and will in fact lead an end-times league of nations to seize Israel’s land. The prophet Ezekiel comforts Israel in much the same way as Moses had centuries ago: “The LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory” (Deuteronomy 20:4).

The Bible prophesies of many events that will occur in the end times. These events can be categorized as natural signs, spiritual signs, sociological signs, technological signs, and political signs. We can look to what the Bible says about these things, and if the signs are present in abundance, we can be certain that we are, in fact, living in the end times.

Luke 21:11 lists some of the natural signs that will occur before Jesus’ Second Coming: “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.” In 13 years, between 1991 and 2004, the United States alone has experienced 5 of its costliest hurricanes in history, 3 of its 4 largest tornado swarms in history, and 9 of the 10 greatest disasters as determined by FEMA. We have recently seen Hurricane Sandy, which some have called the “perfect storm.” There is a huge upswing in the prevalence of sinkholes. As for great signs from heaven, we’ve seen the Chelyabinsk meteor, which exploded over Russia, emitting a powerful shock wave. All of these events seem to be a warm up to what is coming next—“birth pangs,” as Jesus called them (Matthew 24:8).

The Bible lists both positive and negative spiritual signs. In 2 Timothy 4:3-4 we discover that many people will follow false teachers. We see now an increase in cultic groups, heresy, deception and occultism, with many choosing to follow new age or pagan religions. On the positive side, Joel 2:28-29 prophesies that there will be a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16), and we are still seeing the effects of that outpouring in revivals and Spirit-led Christian movements, worldwide preaching of the gospel message, and the emergence of Messianic Judaism.

Along with the signs in the natural and spiritual realms, there are signs in society. The immorality rampant in society today is a symptom of mankind’s rebellion against God. Abortion, homosexuality, drug abuse and child molestation are proof that “evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse” (2 Timothy 3:13). We are now living in a hedonistic and materialistic society. People are lovers of themselves – “looking out for number one” – and doing what is right in their own eyes. All these things, and many more, can be seen around us every day (see 2 Timothy 3:1-4).

The fulfillment of some end-times prophecies seemed impossible until the advent of modern technology. Daniel 12:4 foretold an increase in knowledge. Some of the judgments in Revelation are more easily imagined in a nuclear age. In Revelation 13, the Antichrist will control commerce by forcing people to take the mark of the beast, and, given today’s advances in computer chip technology, the tools he will use may very well be here already. And through the internet, radio and television, the gospel can now be proclaimed to the entire world (Mark 13:10).

And there are political signs. The restoration of Israel to her land in 1948 is the single most impressive fulfilled prophecy proving that we live in the end times. At the turn of the 20th century, no one would have dreamed that Israel would be back in her land, let alone occupying Jerusalem. Jerusalem is definitely at the center of geopolitics and stands alone against many enemies; Zechariah 12:3 confirms this: “On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves.” Matthew 24:6-7 predicted that “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” “Wars and rumors of wars” are definitely characteristic of this present age.

These are just a few of the signs that we are living in the end of the age. There are many more. God gave us these prophecies because He does not want anyone to perish, and He always gives ample warning before pouring out His wrath (2 Peter 3:9).

Are we living in the end times? The rapture could occur at any moment. God will deal with sin either by grace or by wrath. John 3:36 says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” Those who do not accept Jesus Christ as their savior will remain under the Lord’s wrath.

The good news is that it’s not too late to choose eternal life. All that is required is acceptance, by faith, of God’s free gift of grace. There is nothing you can do to earn grace; Jesus has paid the price for you (Romans 3:24). Are you ready for the Lord’s return? Or will you experience His wrath?

Some Bible interpreters believe that there will be absolutely no chance for salvation after the Rapture. However, there is no place in the Bible which says this or even hints to it. There will be many people who come to Christ during the Tribulation. The 144,000 Jewish witnesses (Revelation 7:4) are Jewish believers. If no one can come to Christ during the Tribulation, then why are people being beheaded for their faith (Revelation 20:4)? No passage of Scripture argues against people having a chance to be saved after the Rapture. Many passages indicate the opposite.

Another view is that those who hear the gospel and reject it before the Rapture cannot be saved. Those saved during the Tribulation, then, are those who had never heard the gospel before the Rapture. The “proof text” for this view is 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11, which says the Antichrist will work miracles to deceive “those who are perishing” and that God Himself will “send them a powerful delusion” to confirm them in their unbelief. The reason given is that “they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (verse 10). Granted, those who are hard-hearted toward the gospel before the Rapture are likely to remain so. And the Antichrist will deceive many (Matthew 24:5). But “those who refused to love the truth” does not necessarily refer to people who heard the gospel before the Rapture. It could be anyone who wholly rejects God’s salvation, at any time. So, there is no clear scriptural evidence to support this view.

Revelation 6:9-11 speaks of those martyred during the Tribulation “because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained.” These martyrs will correctly interpret what they see during the Tribulation and will believe the gospel themselves and call on others to repent and believe as well. The Antichrist and his followers will not tolerate their evangelism and will kill them. All of these martyrs are people who were alive before the Rapture, but who were not believers until afterward. Therefore, there must be opportunity to come to Christ in faith after the Rapture.

The concept of ultimate reconciliation—the idea that God will ultimately reconcile every soul at some point so that they willingly spend eternity with Him—once again caused quite a stir in the theological world with the March 2010 release of Emergent Church leader Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. Decrying the historical theological position of a literal and eternal hell, Bell writes, “A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.”

What biblical support does Bell offer for ultimate reconciliation? Bell cites Matthew’s statement of Elijah coming who “will restore all things” (Matthew 17:11), Peter’s sermon in Acts 3 that states there will be a “period of restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21), and Paul’s statement about the Father using Christ to “reconcile all things to Himself” (Colossians 1:20). Bell also argues that God, being omnipotent, should be able to get what He wants, and the Bible clearly says that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Bell implies that God would not be loving and great if He was unable or unwilling to save everyone: “How great is God? Great enough to achieve what God sets out to do, or kind of great, great most of the time, but in this, the fate of billions of people, not totally great. Sort of great. A little great” (Love Wins, pp. 97–99).

Is God going to ultimately save everyone as Bell asserts? Does the Bible teach an ultimate reconciliation of all created beings at some point to the Creator? These questions can be answered by first examining the debate from a historical perspective, then understanding the concepts of mercy and justice in God, and finally making a tour through Scripture to see what the Bible has to say on the subject.

Ultimate Reconciliation – A Look Back at History
Although the doctrine of ultimate reconciliation has been championed by a variety of individuals down through history, there are two that stand out. The first is Origen of Alexandria (185-254 A.D.). The African theologian, who took an allegorical approach to Scripture and was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy, did not believe in the eternal suffering of sinners in hell. For Origen, all created beings, even demons and the devil, would eventually achieve salvation, no matter how long it took in the current life or in the life to come. He reasoned that because God’s love is so powerful, it will eventually soften even the hardest heart. This thought is echoed by Bell who says, “No one can resist God’s pursuit forever because God’s love will eventually melt even the hardest hearts” (p. 108).

Origen saw the church as the great “school of souls” in which erring pupils are instructed and disciplined, but for those who do not choose God in this life, they would continue their ‘tutelage’ in the next through an atoning and sanctifying process of purging fire. Origen believed that hell cannot be permanent for any soul because God could not abandon any creature. Since God respects human freedom, the process of winning over His created beings may take a long time in some cases, but God’s love, Origen believed, will ultimately triumph. Or as Rob Bell puts it, love wins.

Origen’s restoration of all beings, known as apokatastasis, is the Greek word used in Acts 3:21 for ‘restoration, and can be traced back to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who stated that “the beginning and end are common.” Origen’s belief in ultimate reconciliation was eventually refuted by Augustine and condemned in 543 A.D. in a council at Constantinople.

The second major personality in history contributing to the teaching of ultimate reconciliation was an Italian theologian named Laelius Socinus and his nephew Faustus, who lived in the 16th century. Together, they revived the fourth century heresy of Arianism—officially condemned at the council of Nicaea in 325 A.D.—and taught that the trinity was a false doctrine and that Christ was not God. In that sense, they were “Unitarian” in their teaching.

But Socinus went further and said that some of God’s attributes (e.g. His omniscience, immutability, etc.) were optional and not necessary, meaning He didn’t have to manifest them if He chose not to. Socinus claimed that God’s justice was optional, but His mercy is mandatory. In other words, God always had to be merciful, but He didn’t always have to be just toward offenses committed against Him. Therefore, the logic of Socinus progressed as follows: if God’s justice is optional, but His mercy is mandatory, and if God loves all the world and Christ died for everyone who would ever live, then all people will be saved by God. In this respect, Socinus and his nephew were Universalists.

Both Origen and Socinus’ teaching preceded Rob Bell by centuries, but the text contained in Love Wins echoes their conclusions perfectly. The question becomes, then, how can such a thing occur from a practical standpoint? How can all souls be reconciled to God? This is where Bell and his predecessors greatly err in their theology; they misunderstand and misconstrue the Scripture’s teachings on God’s mercy and His justice.

Ultimate Reconciliation – Understanding God’s Mercy and His Justice
It is important to understand that the concepts of mercy and justice are understood in a unique fashion in Christianity. In every other religion in the world that holds to the idea of a supreme deity, that deity’s mercy is always exercised at the expense of its justice. For example, in Islam, Allah may grant mercy to an individual, but it’s always done at the expense of his justice. In other words, the offender’s punishment that was properly due him/her is brushed aside so that mercy can be extended. Islam’s Allah, and every other deity in every other non-Christian religion of the world, lays aside the requirements of the moral law in order to be merciful. Most people would have a major complaint against any human judge who acted in such a fashion.

Christianity is different. In Christianity, God exercises His mercy through His justice. The Christian doctrine of penal substitution states that sin and injustice were punished at the cross of Christ, and only because the penalty of sin was satisfied through Christ’s sacrifice does God extend His mercy to undeserving sinners.

And while Christ did indeed die for sinners, He also died as a demonstration of God’s righteousness. The Apostle Paul makes this clear when he says, “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:24-26). In other words, Paul says that although God didn’t immediately punish the sins of those who lived before Christ and extended mercy to them, He did not forget about justice. Instead, His righteousness (i.e. His justice) was demonstrated by Christ’s death on the cross. So God’s mercy was and is exercised through His justice.

While this teaching is beautiful and gives God glory, it can be misconstrued by some to mean that everyone will be saved through Christ’s death on the cross. In addition to the scriptures mentioned by Bell in his book, some Universalists point to verses such as: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2), and: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:5-6).

The problem with such thinking is that there is enormous biblical evidence that leads in the opposite direction. Instead of echoing Origen, Socinus, and Bell’s conclusion that everyone will eventually turn their heart toward God and be reconciled to Him, the Bible states conclusively that most will experience eternal separation from God and only few will be saved because not all will believe and embrace Christ as their savior.

Ultimate Reconciliation – The Biblical Case for Hell
While some theologians may struggle to ascertain whether Jesus believed in a literal hell, a number of atheists experience no such difficulty. The skeptic Bertrand Russell wrote, “There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and it is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. . . . one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching. . . . I must say that I think all this doctrine, that hell-fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty.”

A plain reading of the text shows that Russell is right in his conclusion that Christ believed in hell. Consider Jesus’ discourse found in Luke 16: “Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. “And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us’” (Luke 16:19–26).

Bell believes that hell is a “period of pruning” and “an intense experience of correction” (pg. 91), and yet verse 26 of the passage above speaks of a chasm so great that none who are in hell may cross over. In other words, hell is permanent. Perhaps this is why Jesus spoke more about hell in the Gospel accounts than He did heaven.

Consider Jesus’ other statements about eternal punishment and how the unsaved will experience God’s wrath:

• “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13–14)
• “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’” (Matthew 7:22–23)
• “And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day” (Matthew 11:23)
• “So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness” (Matthew 13:40–41)
• “So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:49–50)
• “Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Matthew 22:13)
• “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:15)
• “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?” (Matthew 23:33)
• “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;” (Matthew 25:41)
• “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46)
• “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43)
• “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:5)
• “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36)
• “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28-29)
• “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death’” (Revelation 2:11)

Notice that Revelation 2:11 has Jesus speaking of a “second death”, which is important to remember. This term is used three other times in the book of Revelation to speak of the fate of those who are unbelievers:

• “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:6)
• “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14)
• “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

In Scripture, death denotes separation, oftentimes referring to the passage of life from a human body or the division of spiritual life from the soul of a person. In these verses, the author speaks to the fact that unbelievers are born once, but die twice; first they lose their physical life and then they lose their hope for eternal life with God.

There is no second chance, no matter how much Origen or Rob Bell wish it were otherwise. The writer of Hebrews plainly states, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

Reconciling God’s Mercy with the Biblical Case for Hell
In arguing for ultimate reconciliation, Rob Bell asserts that God would not be great, loving, or merciful if He assigned people to hell. But nowhere does God’s justice ever factor into Bell’s thinking. While God’s justice is portrayed and is present throughout the entire Old and New Testament, what is absent in the Bible is Bell’s belief in a post-mortem evangelistic campaign that eventually reconciles those dying without Christ in this life to God in the next life. This reversal of scriptural support proves to be Bell’s theological Achilles’ heel.

At the heart of ultimate reconciliation is the difficulty over reconciling God’s mercy and the reality of hell is a lack of understanding of God’s antecedent and consequent wills. God indeed antecedently desires all to be saved, but He consequently wills the sinner to experience His punishment. Or as Thomas Aquinas explained it: “Hence it may be said of a just judge, that antecedently he wills all men to live; but consequently wills the murderer to be hanged. In the same way God antecedently wills all men to be saved, but consequently wills some to be damned, as His justice exacts.”

Redefining hell as Origen and Bell do (a place of temporary correction before entering eternal life with God) does every person who hears and accepts their teaching an incalculable injustice, and in a very real sense makes them irrelevant as theologians and teachers. On an American troop ship, the soldiers crowded around their chaplain asking, “Do you believe in hell?” “I do not,” replied the chaplain. “Well, then, will you please resign, for if there is no hell, we do not need you, and if there is a hell, we do not wish to be led astray.”

Unlike false shepherds like Rob Bell, the Bible-believing Christian needs to heed the command given to Ezekiel, which applies to us today: “Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself” (Ezek. 3:17-19).

Charles Spurgeon paraphrased Ezekiel’s words this way: “If sinners be dammed, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. If they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees. Let no one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”

Ultimate Reconciliation – Conclusion
It is sobering to remember that the first doctrine to be denied in Scripture is judgment. The Bible records Satan saying to Eve, “You surely will not die!” (Genesis 3:4). Unfortunately, many Universalists feel the same way and deny that an eternal separation from God is a reality for anyone who refuses Christ as their savior. But simply put, those who reject Jesus Christ in this life will have their request honored also in the next.

The doctrine of ultimate reconciliation or universalism may be appealing to human sensibilities, but it is simply wrong and unbiblical. Scripture teaches that beyond this life, there are no second chances. Instead, the Bible declares, “Today is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Love does indeed win for those who turn by faith to Christ in this life and embrace Him as Savior. Those who don’t and dismiss the concept of hell will find out eternity is an awfully long time to be wrong. As writer Os Guinness puts it, “For some, hell is simply a truth realized too late.”