Until then our “stories” can be left safely with Jesus.
Iclearly remember the day when the news of my father’s sudden and accidental death reached me. During the early hours of the morning I was downloading e-mails in my office inBolivia, where we were working as missionaries. Thousands of kilometers separated me from my father’s apartment in a small village in southern Germany where he had died as the result of a domestic accident no one noticed. We had been trying for weeks to contact him without success, and now the impact of the tragic news sent me into a spin of tears, feelings of guilt, and unanswered questions. Why couldn’t I have been at his side during his last moments? I wondered. Why did God allow him to die under such circumstances while I was serving His church on the other side of the world?
The tears have subsided since then and the feelings of guilt have been rationalized, but the unanswered questions still remain. I have shelved them for now, however, until Somebody takes the time needed to explain that which does not make sense this side of eternity. This Somebody will actually take 1,000 years—a whole millennium—to patiently and lovingly walk with me through the answers.
When that small cloud finally appears on the horizon and Christ returns to this earth, He will not yet restore this planet to a sinless state. He will first destroy the ungodly (see 2 Thess. 2:8) and then take with Him His living and resurrected children—you and me, I pray—to a safe haven of peace, a New Jerusalem, to watch the final sad unfolding of earth’s history (see Rev. 20:4-6).
This actually will be a story of “de-creation,” or a reversal of Creation. After the planet has been depopulated by Christ’s second coming, it will regress to its original desolate state, formless and void, as Jeremiah describes it in an eschatological vision during Old Testament times (see Jer. 4:23-25; cf. Gen. 1:2). But the most desolate scenario is drawn up for Satan, the master tempter, bound for 1,000 years to a place in which no one is alive to tempt, which almost must be the ultimate penalty (see Rev. 20:2, 3). One thousand years is a long time to bear the sins of this world, which are being placed at this moment on Satan. This was symbolically portrayed in the Old Testament on the Day of Atonement, during which the sins of God’s people were placed on Azazel, the scapegoat, before it was sent out into the desert to die (see Lev. 16:8, 21, 22).
At the end of this period of time—the millennium—the final showdown between good and evil will take place. As the New Jerusalem descends from heaven, you and I might be watching from above as Satan tries to once more mobilize all his dark powers to lead them into a futile battle that, because of Calvary, is doomed to utter failure. No real war will occur; instead, merciful fire from God will consume the remainder of sin in this universe and cleanse it for eternity (see Rev. 20:7-9).
While the Bible focuses more on the events at the beginning and at the end of the millennium, I’m also interested in what actually happens in between, because 1,000 years is a long time, even by eternal standards. It is interesting to note that God will wipe away all tears after the millennium, when this planet is re-created into a new earth (see Rev. 21:4). The 1,000-year period, therefore, actually represents a time for reflection on God’s judgment. There even may be sadness as we, together with Christ, shed bitter tears about the people He tried to call throughout their lives but who never returned His call of love. But tears of joy might also flow as we recognize one another. A few humbling surprises could also be waiting for us as we meet some unexpected citizens of the eternal city.
The millennium is the thousand-year reign of Christ with His saints in heaven between the first and second resurrections. During this time the wicked dead will be judged; the earth will be utterly desolate, without living human inhabitants, but occupied by Satan and his angels. At its close Christ with His saints and the Holy City will descend from heaven to earth. The unrighteous dead will then be resurrected, and with Satan and his angels will surround the city; but fire from God will consume them and cleanse the earth. The universe will thus be freed of sin and sinners forever. (Rev. 20; 1 Cor. 6:2, 3; Jer. 4:23-26; Rev. 21:1-5; Mal. 4:1; Eze. 28:18, 19.)
Manasseh, one of the worst kings of Judah during Old Testament times who repented and returned to God toward the end of his life, would probably be a good candidate for a surprise as he runs into the prophet Isaiah, whom he most probably put to death before his own conversion. And be prepared for some surprises yourself! This is an important part of judgment in which the Creator once more makes Himself accountable to His creatures and gives a transparent explanation for every sentence He has passed. All the unanswered questions will finally find answers. In this way God’s children are involved in the judgment process (see Rev. 20:4), and we’ll come to the realization that the Lord’s sentences are based wholly on His eternal principles of love and justice.
Sometimes it is necessary to take a step back and look at an issue from a distance in order to get the right perspective. The millennium is such a step back, away from Planet Earth, but the issues are viewed from within the safe walls of the heavenly Jerusalem in order to understand truly what damage sin has done to the world and to the lives of humankind. Understanding in the biblical sense is limited not just to a cognitive process; it involves a relationship experience that can be found only in close proximity to Christ. My longing for answers can be satisfied only in the One who says He is the truth Himself.
When I finally arrived in the small village where my father had lived and died, I had about only three hours that I could spend in his apartment before the funeral took place. I went through his belongings in order to be able to find something that would remind me of him, something I would be able to take back with me on the plane to Bolivia—photos, a wristwatch, a jacket, a couple of other small items, and, of course, his favorite hat, which we used to tease him about endlessly. All these items fit into a small box.
So little remains when we lose a loved one, and even our knowledge of that person will always remain a fragmented one. But Jesus knows the whole story, the unknown as well as the known parts, and this story will be told during the millennium. Until then, I can trust that my father’s story rests safely in the arms of our Savior. It will be a story of love and suffering, but most of all, a story of grace.
Martin G. Klingbeil is vice president for Academic Administration ofHelderberg College in Somerset West, South Africa.