What will happen with the unsaved masses that died tragically never knowing God or Jesus Christ? What about friends or loved ones you know that died prematurely? Will they go to heaven or go to hell? God has a plan for a great "family reunion" in which all are given "equal opportunity" salvation. It is a plan you cannot afford to miss and it is right in your Bible. Listen to this sermon to get a first hand account from someone that has been there when tragedy strikes.
It was a warm summer morning twenty-five years ago in New Bedford, Ohio. The leaves on the maple tree in the front yard of our home swayed briskly in the warm summer breeze. It was July 17, 1986. The children woke up and our one-year-old insisted on his favorite game of horse and rider by bouncing on my knee. I had the day off work and it was beginning just the way I wanted it to be.
Later that morning, Daniel and Mary Ann went with me to adjust the brakes on our Pontiac. In spite of busy fingers, dirty faces and countless questions, we completed the job in record time. Then the children stepped back so that I would be able to test the brakes. I got into the car, shifted to reverse, and began to back out of the driveway, when suddenly I felt an unusual bump. The children screamed. "What toy," I thought, "did I run over now?" So I continued to back up, expecting to see a smashed little red wagon. And to my horror instead, when I backed up about another ten feet, I saw the lifeless body of my youngest son, Jonathan. I jumped out of the car and ran up to him, with many questions racing through my mind. How could this happen? How would I tell my wife? How would I comfort the children when I had just killed their brother and our son?
Susan came running and the children looked on stupefied. We all stood in unspoken grief, as we realized that he had died instantly. What could we do? Where could we go? I remember thinking, "Seek God," but then the immediate question that followed was, "Would God, at this hour, support me, when I had just killed my son?"
We called the paramedics and took our children to the house. And then it occurred to me that, perhaps, there was still a chance. I ran back outside on the driveway to attempt mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. But it became apparent very quickly that there was no response. And then, as I knelt there in the driveway, with my son in my arms for the last time, I realized that there was hope. Jonathan would live again. The words of Jesus Christ came to me on that fateful day in a very real way – the words in which He said, "The hour is coming in which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice and come forth." That became, for me, a date with destiny. It was no longer an intangible promise from the pages of the Bible. It was the day in which I would meet again the son that I was bidding a very painful farewell.
I clung to that thought – that hope – and great strength filled me. It was this strength and this hope that would enable me to do what I knew needed to be done at that time. I would have to comfort my wife and children and find a way forward, despite my own grief.
The paramedics arrived and confirmed what we already knew – that he had died instantly – and we were left to comfort our children. How would I explain the concept – or rather, the reality of death to four-year-old Daniel and two-year-old Mary Ann at the time? You know, I think to our discredit, we often try to hide the reality of death from children in thinking that, somehow, we are sparing them pain. I couldn't do that. They saw their brother die. So the reality and the finality of death were already apparent.
We had only been in the church for a year at that point. In having grown up Amish, I had a formal education limited to eight grades. I didn't know the psychology of grief counseling, nor the dynamics of loss. So I did the only thing that I knew to do. I took the Bible that morning and I read to my children the promise of a resurrection to life and they understood – and more importantly, believed . And I know that – and I'll tell you why I knew that they understood. Sometime later, when a well-meaning person challenged four-year-old Daniel on the concept of heaven, his faith was unmoved. He related the story to us later in this way. He said, "Jane thinks" – and Jean is not her real name – "Jonathan is in heaven. I just didn't say anything, because I knew she would not understand." It was a powerful statement of shared hope that galvanized the resolve of my family to stay the course. It also makes a very strong statement about a truth that I think we should all remember and appreciate. And that is simply this: the truth of God is so simple – or maybe we should say, it's so profound – that even a child can understand it.
Jesus Christ said that our words should be "Yea, yea," and "Nay, nay." When things get too complicated, many times they're just simply not true. And that was demonstrated to me at that time, because they understood and took courage and comfort in the simplicity of God's promise of a resurrection to life.
The funeral was on the following day. We rented a small hall where we were to pay respects to a life cut short, to talents unrealized, to affection that would remain unreciprocated for a long time to come. We had left the Amish faith about a year prior to that to pursue what we believed to be – and still do – the faith once delivered by the apostolic church. And because of our decision, we were somewhat estranged from the community at the time, and we expected few people to attend the funeral. We were wrong. As the hour of the funeral drew near, people began to stream in until the entire hall at the local funeral home was packed.
I remember vividly – I vividly recall – the words of God's minister on that fateful day, as I sat there on the front row – where no one wants to sit – with my family. He said this: "Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today on a very sobering occasion. The life of young Jonathan was snuffed out quickly, but God's Word reveals that he will live again." And then he proceeded to expound the truth of the resurrection from the scripture – God's plan of salvation for all of mankind through a resurrection from the dead.
We had bought a tiny white casket. I looked at it. I wanted to weep, but I couldn't. That would come later. The way that God was using the tragedy that I had caused was too profound. The hope of the resurrection that had so moved me was being expounded to other people that, otherwise, would not have listened. It was then that God's plan of salvation began to take on new dimensions. I realized that the hope of the resurrection that had so moved me the day before in the driveway was not just for me – not just for Jonathan, not just for my family. Rather it is the last best hope for all of mankind. And while we would not have chosen the lot that we were suffering, it was encouraging to see that God used tragedy to plant seeds of hope to those that were present on that day.
Brethren, I have a question: How significant is the meaning of the Last Great Day for you and me? Our experience is tragic, but is certainly not unique. The death of little Jonathan is one example of thousands – yea, millions – who died down through millennia from accidents, destitution, violence, or worse. The human family, in fact, has been incomplete from the time of Adam and Eve – from the time Adam and Eve made the wrong choice, from the time when Cain killed Abel, when Lot's wife became a pillar of salt, when the children of Israel failed God in the wilderness – you can make your own list, I'm sure. There is so much lost potential, so many unfulfilled dreams, so many lives lost. This past week I watched a documentary film titled, Into the Arms of Strangers , that documents the story of the so-called Kindertransport that transported children just before the outbreak of World War II – roughly 10,000 mostly Jewish children that left their homes and went to England as orphans. And after the war only a small number – a small number the film showed – were reunited with their families. However, millions of their contemporaries and their parents perished. That's just one example of the history of the world. It is a tragic commentary on the century just passed and what modern, so-called civilized man is still capable of doing. And I would submit to you that underneath this very thinly, varnished civilization that we have, man is still quite capable of doing the same and worse.
However, the real tragedy lies not just in the lives lost, but rather in the unrealized potential of what might have been. How much technology was never developed? How much music was never written? How much art was never painted because its progeny was cut short with bombs, artillery and gases that sent these people to a premature death? We don't know. We can only wait and wonder. But God intends to change all that in the time pictured by the Last Great Day that we celebrate each year.
God wanted a family from the very beginning. And this day shows us that, in the end, He's going to have it His way. No mere mortal is going to be able to prevent Him from doing that. But you know, there's one problem – if we want to call it that. There's one problem with the meaning of the Last Great Day. The meaning provides so much hope and is so wonderful in what it means that some find it difficult to believe. And I have a tangible story to relate that. I remember receiving a letter when I worked for the church's Personal Correspondence Department, in which the individual had read, in our literature, the meaning of the Last Great Day. He had trouble believing it. He said he questions the validity of our interpretation, although he admitted "it would be wonderful, if in fact, it were true."
Brethren, there's a lot at stake here. The destiny of, literally, millions of family members hangs in the balance on whether or not the truth of the resurrection – the Last Great Day – is true. It is my purpose today to show from the Bible that the hope that we hold in the Last Great Day is not a fantasy designed to distract us from the pain of loss. So much of pop psychology is just that – a distraction designed to keep us from getting to how bad things really are. That's not the case with the message of the Last Great Day. It's the truth and you can prove it from the Bible that you have in your laps. It is a believable, provable future reality that spells salvation for the majority of mankind. It will be, shall we say, a family reunion of grandiose proportions. This message will give us all more confidence in the hope that lies within us and motivate us to more fervently pray, "Thy Kingdom come." That should be our prayer. That should be our hope – a Kingdom of and ruled by God in which the children of tomorrow will reunite to know God and His truth.
Come with me to Revelation, chapter 20. We have a central scripture that will become the point of departure for the sermon. And we'll look at four aspects contained in this scripture, and allow the scripture to prove to us that what we believe is true. Revelation, chapter 20, beginning in verse 11, we read:
Revelation:20:11And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. – Then I saw a Great White Throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and heaven fled away, and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead – small and great – standing before God. And books were opened and another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, according to the things which were written in the books.
Here we have summarized in one concise statement so much about the future of the majority of mankind. Let's take a look at what we just read. We read here a summary, but I'll put it into context, because Revelation – the book of Revelation, that is – the revelation of Jesus Christ – is largely a chronological framework of end-time events. Without Revelation, it would be difficult to sequence some of the events that are going to happen in prophecy in the future.
In Revelation, chapter 19, we have Jesus Christ returning in power and great glory. In Revelation, chapter 20, we have Satan bound for a thousand years. And then, of course, we read the promise that the resurrected saints would sit on thrones and rule with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead, however, remain dead until the thousand years are finished. And it is after that that we find the verses that we just read. And there are four distinct elements that we will explore in this verse that we just read. And they are as follows: 1) we notice that dead – small and great – appear before God, 2) we find that books are opened, 3) there's another book that is opened that is distinct from the previous books that are opened, and then finally, 4) the dead are judged according to what is written in the books.
Revelation provides us a chronological framework that sequences the events in a time sequence that these things are going to occur. It is the rest of the Bible that fills in the details. And, of course, I think you can understand that this is a topic that is near and dear to me, because whether or not this is true depends on whether or not I will get to do what I look forward to very much, and that is to see my son alive again.
So let's take a look at the first aspect that I highlighted, and that is that the dead – great and small – appear alive before God. Brethren, this is a resurrection to physical life. And what's interesting in the way John describes it in the revelation of Jesus Christ – and I emphasize that because all that John did was write down the words. And he found it difficult, in some cases, to describe what he saw. I believe that John saw the modern armaments that we now take for granted. And he called them locusts, because that was the only thing in his vocabulary that made sense – or came close. But it's very important to understand, brethren, that we are listening to Jesus Christ speak. John was simply the scribe. This is the revelation of Jesus Christ – not the revelation of the apostle John. And what I find interesting here is the fact that the resurrection of the dead is described as having the small and the great – you know, the rich, the famous, as well as the commoner, come forth before God. In the same way that death knows no socio-economic boundaries. We all die. It doesn't matter how much money you have. It doesn't matter whether you are a bum on the street or a celebrity in Hollywood. Sometimes, there's not much difference. But what is encouraging to see is, that the resurrection also knows no socio-economic boundaries. It doesn't matter who you are. We're all going to rise to face God.
Let's talk about the details. And to do that, come with me to one of my favorite passages of scripture – one that I, in fact, read to my children on that fateful morning – Ezekiel, chapter 37. And we'll just take the time today to go through the whole thing, because I think it is important to grasp the reality and also the fact that God took pains, when He had His dialogue with Ezekiel, to describe exactly what is going to happen, so that the intellectuals of this world can't dispense it with some kind of spiritualization of a very real and tangible event. Ezekiel, chapter 37, please. That doesn't mean that it hasn't been attempted. Let's listen to the dialogue between God and Ezekiel as He shows him the valley of dry bones.
Ezekiel 37: 1 – The hand of the LORD came upon me and brought me out in the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the midst of the valley. And it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley, and, indeed, they were very dry. A question we need to ask ourselves is, "Who do you know in the valley?" This is a topic that touches everyone , because everybody knows someone in the valley. It might be grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters. You make your own list.
V- 3 – And he said to me – verse 3 – "Son of man, can these bones live?" So I answered, "Oh LORD God, you know." What I love about this passage is, there is dialogue back and forth with God and it makes it very clear. "You know," he told God.
V-4 – And again He said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say, ‘Oh dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the LORD God to these bones: Surely I will cause breath to enter into you and you shall live." And again, I highlight the fact that God went to the trouble of describing this in vivid detail – I used to say, in full Technicolor, but I will not say that today – well, I just did – because that dates me. Today it would be done in high-definition video. And, in fact, if you think about it, what you read here comes off the page in high definition, doesn't it? Because in the very next verse we read, in verse 6:
V-6 – I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD – which we'll talk about that a little bit more later, but right at the beginning here, God shows that there is a purpose very different from what is often postured by those that believe in a judgment. You notice here that this resurrection is for the express purpose that they would know Him .
Continuing in verse 7:
V-7 – So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling. And the bones came together, bone to bone. So we see here described a complete assembly process – bone on bone – bone being populated once again with muscle and flesh and skin. You know, God is not bothered by the fact that man returns to dust, or is blown to bits, or whatever other method might have occurred to individuals down through time. The God that created man from the dust of the ground is quite capable of bringing back to life the body that has decayed back into the dust. I mean, it's not a stretch. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. You know, people have, in a large degree, no hope. We live, literally, in a hopeless world. And yet, what we experience with losing loved ones is not foreign to those people with whom we come into contact with. And one of the things that we have had opportunity to do is to reach out to people that suffer loss. And we're able to give encouragement in a way that only someone that has been there can. We have hope. Most don't. It's kind of like the dry bones in the valley that said, "Our hope is lost." But we see here that God does not forget. God remembers. And it's a very different God from the hell, fire and brimstone God that I learned about growing up. That does not mean that God is not just. That's the other side that, I think, sometimes, we forget – that while God is incredibly merciful, make no mistake, He won't be mocked either.
V-9 – Then He said to me – verse 9 – "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the LORD: "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain that they may live."'" So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived and stood upon their feet – an exceedingly great army. Notice what we have here – an exact description that parallels, but fills in the detail. Remember what we read in Revelation, chapter 20? Small and great did what? They stood before God. Notice here: they lived and stood upon their feet – an exceedingly great army. It's kind of hard to spiritualize away what is described here, isn't it? We go from a valley of dry bones…I mean, God did have…in order to make good on the promise that is described here, we could have stopped reading at the end of verse 5: Surely I will cause breath to enter into you and you shall live. That should be good enough, right? That's correct. However, I believe that God knew the extent to which skeptics would try to discredit what He expects His people, and all mankind, to believe. And that is, that He is both willing and able to resurrect the dead as living, breathing human beings. And He does a very good job, in my view, of describing that here in detail. That doesn't mean that theologians have not done their best to try to spiritualize away what is described here. We just need the courage to believe it like a two-year-old, like a four-year-old. It's not that complicated.
Continuing in verse 11:
V-11 – Then He said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Indeed, they say, ‘Our bones are dry. Our hope is lost. We, ourselves, are cut off.' Therefore prophesy, and say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD God, "Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel."'" So here we have Ezekiel describing who these people are. I mean, he names definitively the entire house of Israel – from those that died in the wilderness all the way down through time to those descendants of those peoples that are still alive today. It's a powerful, all-encompassing promise, isn't it?
The question that I'd like to answer – that is a legitimate question – is, "What about everybody else?" Is what we're reading here limited to the literal physical descendants of Israel and all the others out there that lived then…. You know, there have been billions and billions of people that have lived that never knew anything about God or Jesus Christ. That's just a historical fact. It is also one of the big questions in life – that no one seems to be able to answer. I mean, most religions and most Christians, for that matter, either take the view that God is a harsh God that is willing to condemn all those to hell that committed the incredible crime of not knowing He exists, or the other view is that, somehow, if you were basically a good person, God would understand and bend the rules so that bad things would not happen to good people. Brethren, what we understand, and what the Bible describes in the meaning of the Last Great Day, and what we are reading right now, is the only rational answer to the big questions of life that allows for both a merciful God and a God that is also just. Stated another way, it is the only rational explanation that allows for a perfectly just and a perfectly merciful God. And for that, we can be thankful.
Let's allow Jesus Christ to answer the question on who all is involved, or who all will participate, in this resurrection. If you'll come with me to Matthew, chapter 11…. Matthew, chapter 11 is one of the areas that answers this question. We'll begin reading in verse 21.
Matthew:11:21Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. – Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
V-22 – But I say to you, "It will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you."
Continuing in verse 23:
V-23 – And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to hades. For if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you, "It will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom, in the day of judgment, than for you."
Now, let's think about what we just read. What Jesus Christ is saying is that there is a judgment. There are those that come up in the judgment in a resurrection. And, if you've noticed here – if you caught it – you will have people from Tyre and Sidon, from Sodom and Gomorrah, all coming up at the same time. The other interesting comment that Jesus Christ makes is, that it will be more tolerable for some than for others, which, by itself, implies a judgment that is different from an immediate sentence. See, judgment and sentence can be a very different thing. I mean, it's going to be more tolerable for some than others. It suggests there is a time period that there is something more going on – and we'll talk about that a little bit later. But what this tells us – through Jesus Christ Himself – is, that the resurrection that we read about in Ezekiel, that was definitely described as the Israelites coming up, including those in Christ's day, in that same time, you have people from all different time periods. Let me give you an example. You know, Sodom was some 1600 to 1800 years before Christ. Tyre and Sidon were destroyed by Alexander the Great – after Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it earlier – around 300 BC. So you have about a 1300 year gap between Tyre and Sidon and Sodom and Gomorrah, and another 300 year jump down to the time of Jesus Christ, which He is talking about at this particular time.
Let's take another look in Matthew, chapter 12, verse 41 and 42.
Matthew:12:41-42 The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.  The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. – The men of Ninevah will rise in the judgment with this generation. So there you have, from Jesus Christ Himself, the fact that the Ninevites and the Israelites are coming up and will rise in judgment. …and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and indeed, a greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the south will rise up in judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and indeed, a greater than Solomon is here. Ninevah was circa 700 years before Christ, and the queen of the south, perhaps, a thousand years prior. Again, just to emphasize and to prove the point that the resurrection we're talking about is much broader than the descendants of Israel alone. And we'll look at a couple of other scriptures to prove that.
But while we're on this topic, it's important to note that all will hear His voice – not just friends and family. You know, there are the great despots down through time – you've got Hitler and Mussolini, and all kinds of different people that did not know God – that will also come up in this resurrection – and, of course, obviously, lesser offenders. So I think the important question for us to ask ourselves is, "Are we prepared to meet our enemies, or perhaps those with whom we didn't get along so well. Have we forgiven them?"
In the weeks that followed our tragedy back in 1986, there were many people that reached out to us. In fact, my wife just had a conversation a couple of months ago with someone that remembered it, and brought it up, and a few tears were shed. But there were many people that reached out to us. But I also tell people, when something of this sort occurs, to also expect the opposite. It's just a fact of life. In fact, I got a card, which I have in a shoebox back home somewhere, from Bishop Miller, in which he castigated me, and said, "I knew you were wrong. And now I know for sure, because the Bible says, ‘Do not murder.' You murdered your son." That's okay. I understand his perspective. But I say this because – and this is an extreme example of the need to be sensitive. I know a young couple in Germany – some friends of ours – that lost a young child, and they were told, by someone who should have known better, that, "if you had really prayed, this would not have happened." And I thought, you know, even if it were true, you should have enough sense not to say it to a grieving mother – even if it were true, and, of course, it isn't. But that's the type of thing, whenever I talk to someone in a situation like that, I temper their expectations by saying, "Look, you will have people reach out in ways you cannot begin to comprehend. But be prepared. Some unthinking person is also going to say something unkind." It's important that we, who have hope, get beyond that.
Brethren, how can we be sure that the resurrection to judgment that Christ is describing is synonymous with the resurrection in Ezekiel, chapter 37, and Revelation, chapter 20, verse 12?
Let's go to 1 Corinthians 15, verse 23 – maybe I'll just quote it to you – because it says something there that is very important. It says:
1 Corinthians:15:23But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. – …afterwards, those who are Christ's, at His coming.
Paul makes a the definitive statement that, when Jesus Christ returns at the last trumpet – and of course, 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, goes into great detail to describe the resurrection to immortality – the first resurrection – and what that will actually be like. But in our discussion today, I simply want to focus in on the fact the resurrection that occurs when Jesus Christ returns is exclusively for those that are Christ's at His coming. Paul describes that. And now, if we'll go back to Revelation, chapter 20, we will have that fact confirmed, because it allows us prove rationally that the Bible is describing multiple resurrections for different groups of people at different periods of time.
Notice in Revelation, chapter 20. Let's read verses 4 and 5 to get the context.
Revelation:20:4-5 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.  But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. – And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. And I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the Word of God, who had not worshipped the beast, or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. I mean, clearly what is being described here is the same group of people that Paul described as those who are Christ's at His coming. Continuing: and they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. So you see that there is a first resurrection that occurs when Jesus Christ returns for the purpose of resurrecting those that are Christ's to reign with Him during a millennial period on this earth for a thousand years. However, notice what is stated specifically in verse 5. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection – which implies, of course, that, if there is a first, there must also be subsequent resurrections that we, of course, read in the ensuing verses.
So, the rest of the dead, we are told, did not live again until the thousand years were finished. Only those who are Christ's are resurrected, or changed, at His return. So it follows – and this clearly shows – that the judgment that Christ was talking about, and that we read about in Ezekiel, and that we read about in Revelation, chapter 20, verse 12, are synonymous. And here is why. The people from Ninevah, Sodom, and Sidon could not be part of the resurrection, because they were clearly neither Christian, nor the servants of the Living God. The rest of the dead is a big number. It's a very big number.
We spent a lot of time on the first element in Revelation. We've got three more to go. Let's take a look at the second one that we read in Revelation, chapter 12. We're in Revelation here, so I'll just read it again.
Revelation:20:12And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. - …and I saw the dead – small and great – standing before God.
You know, if you read this again, and you think back to Ezekiel, you have here a short, concise statement that is expounded in Ezekiel. Ezekiel doesn't necessarily give you a good way to sequence it in a prophetic sequence of events. Revelation does that. But what we see here is, that what we read in Ezekiel 37 expounds on what we read in Revelation. The Bible interprets the Bible. We don't have to guess or, worse, draw our own conclusions or speculations. Because you know what? Don't believe me. You know, what we're doing today – what I'm trying to do – is to explain, from the Bible, that this is true. What I say is not important at all.
Continuing in Revelation 20, verse 12:
V-12 - … and I saw the dead – small and great – standing before God, and books were opened.
What books? What books were opened? The Greek word translated books in this verse is biblion . And this word is used 32 times in the New Testament. So again, we don't have to go around guessing what these mysterious books are. The word is used 32 times in the New Testament. Nine times it refers to various books of the Bible. Two times it refers to a bill of divorcement. 21 times it's used in the Revelation of Jesus Christ itself to refer either to itself – to the scrolls of Revelation – or to the Bible. So, if we allow the Bible to interpret itself, it becomes very clear that the books that are opened, following this resurrection, are none other than the books that you have in your laps – the books of the Bible. It puts a very different picture on this particular resurrection than what is, sometimes, used to bring terror the listeners. "You're going to face your Maker at the brink of hell!" And, of course, that is described in the next verse. And, again, I want to emphasize, God is merciful. And this is a sermon about the extraordinary measure of mercy that He extends to human beings. But He is also just. He can be. Because a God that is so merciful that He will forget no one and will give everyone an opportunity to open the books to understand what is expected from them, can then, also, be just and send those that willfully reject His mercy to their deserved demise.
From this short analysis, it is clear that the books to which this refers is none other than the Holy Scriptures. For the first time, the books are open to these people, and they are given an opportunity to know God and Jesus Christ. How can I say that? Let's go back to Ezekiel – Ezekiel, chapter 37, verse 13.
Ezekiel:37:13And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, – Then you shall know that I am the LORD. When I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves.
V-14 – I will put My Spirit in you.
You see, here in verse 13 we read the express purpose for this resurrection. God doesn't bring them up for kicks and giggles – to show that He has the power to bring them back to life. He brings them up for the express purpose of bringing them back into their land so they would get to know Him . Now remember that those of us that carry the hope that lies within us – that have the good fortune of having known the truth in this life – of having been given the Holy Spirit – have a responsibility, the Bible tells us, to reign with Jesus Christ for a thousand years and beyond, which begs the question: Are you and I prepared to help open the books?
Come with me back to Isaiah, chapter 30. You know, this is not just a message of hope. It is also one that shows there is accountability. "To whom much is given," the Bible says, "much is required." Although compared to what is given, what we're expected to do, by comparison, seems like a measly little bit, actually. Isaiah, chapter 30, verse 20.
Isaiah:30:20And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers: – And though the LORD gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your teachers will not be moved into a corner anymore. But your eyes shall see your teachers, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it," whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.
Let's go to Micah, chapter 4, verse 2. Here is a prophecy that we read about during the Feast of Tabernacles that will occur during the Millennium and during the time in which we're describing today. You see, God, far from being a respecter of persons, is a God that has a plan that is sensible and prepares, over a period of time, by training people and preparing a way that all people can be helped. Notice what we read in verse 2 of chapter 4 of Micah:
Micah:4:2And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. – Many nations shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us His ways and we shall walk in His paths, for out of Zion the law shall go forth and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem." That occurs because there will be people that serve under Jesus Christ that have "been there, done that," that are able and willing to reach out, as we will see in a moment, to help those people that come up – that need to have the books opened and the way explained.
Jeremiah, chapter 16, verses 14 through 16. You know, when Jesus Christ said, in the New Testament, "Follow Me. I will make you fishers of men," that's not a New Testament idea. It's found right here in Jeremiah.
Jeremiah:16:14-16 Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be said, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt;  But, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers.  Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the LORD, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks. – "Therefore, behold, the days are coming," says the LORD, "that it shall no more be said, ‘The LORD lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt,' but ‘The LORD lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands where He had driven them,' for I will bring them back into their land which I gave to their fathers." It sounds very much like what we read in Ezekiel, doesn't it, except that there is more detail. Verse 16: "Behold, I will send for many fisherman," says the LORD, "and they shall fish them, and afterward I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them from every mountain and every hill and out of the holes of the rocks." When we follow Jesus Christ, He will make us fishers of men.
Let's go over to John, chapter 21. Whenever people ask me about what I think we'll be doing – what we will being doing – in and during the Millennium, I like to start here, because I think it kind of levels the playing field from any grandiose ideas about rods, and staffs, and thrones, and knocking knots on people's heads, and having people bow down and serve you, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Verse 9 of John, chapter 21:
John:21:9As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. – Then, as soon as they had come to the land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. And Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish which you have just caught."
Continuing in verse 12:
V-12 – Jesus said to them, "Come and eat breakfast." Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, "Who are you?" knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus, then, came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish. This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to the disciples after He was raised from the dead.
Whenever people ask me, "What do you think we'll be doing?" the answer is just about anything. And here's the rationale. If Jesus Christ, the risen Son of God, King of Kings, was able and willing to go meet His disciples on the seashore, and as a method of engaging and encouraging them, was willing and able to stoop to the level of cooking fish for breakfast, I don't think there's much that we should not expect to do – if it is a means to an end – to open the books to the people that we are called to serve.
You know, I find it interesting that Jesus Christ served breakfast to His disciples before His famous dialogue with Peter in which He said, "Feed My sheep." It shows that Jesus Christ understands some very basic fundamentals. First of all, people are usually more agreeable after they've eaten. I mean, it's just a fact. It also shows, I think, an important aspect. And that is, that the physical and the spiritual – the physical and the spiritual – flow back and forth seamlessly. Now don't make a mistake. There is the physical and there is the spiritual. But when Jesus Christ says, "Feed My sheep," I believe that to mean physically and spiritually – at least that's my excuse for having a potluck every week at church. I jest, but I think you understand. And it shows God to be a very personal God, Jesus Christ to be a very personal Savior, and I don't think there's much evidence that the rest of the family should be a ruling class. That doesn't mean there isn't authority. It doesn't mean that Jesus Christ doesn't rule and that we won't sit on thrones. I'm not suggesting that. I'm only showing you that Jesus Christ – the Jesus Christ we follow – sets a very different example than the monarchs of Europe from bygone years.
Point number three. Let's go back to Revelation, chapter 20, and verse 12, once again. The book of life. You know, you notice here in chapter 20, and verse 12, that after the books are opened, then the book of life is opened.
Revelation:20:12And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. – And I saw the dead – small and great – standing before God, and books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the book of life. We all want to be written in that book, don't we?
Let's go back to Ezekiel, chapter 37, once again, and we'll find that Ezekiel expounds this very event. You know, we read in verse 13:
Ezekiel:37:13And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, – Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. Finally, the books are opened. They got to know God! But it doesn't end there. It says in verse 14:
V-14 – I will put My Spirit in you. When God puts His Spirit in us, it becomes the down payment of eternal life. It is then that our names are written into the book of life. "I will put My Spirit in you and you shall live. And I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and performed it," says the LORD. And as I like to put it, you can take that to the bank.
Point number four – in Revelation, chapter 20.
Revelation:20:12And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. - And I saw the dead – small and great – standing before God, and books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works by those things which were written in the books. And so it should be. It is only after they know what is in the books that they are held accountable for what they do. The Bible gives us a completely different picture of the judgment from commonly held notions. As I mentioned before, God, the Bible shows us, is a merciful God that brings back the dead to life, not to sentence them to death – but to offer them life – eternal , in this case – not to condemn them to death, I should say, for failing to meet standards they never knew existed. They are judged in the same manner we are being judged today – according to our works by the things written in the books of the Bible. You can note 1 Peter, chapter 4 , verse 17.
Brethren, the meaning of the Last Great Day is truly awe-inspiring. I don't think we can completely comprehend the magnitude of God's mercy and the greatness of His plan by what is described here. It is, indeed, a valley of dry bones that is very huge. It is also, as I mentioned, the only rational explanation to the big questions of life – that allows for a God that is both perfect in mercy and perfect in justice. Because a God that is willing …and as He has said, He is not willing that any should perish. We've just now had the opportunity, in the course of the last hour, to see how . And you put some legs, or wheels, under the doctrine of God's mercy to all people. A God that is that merciful and that gracious also can legitimately be a God that's just.
When Almighty God planned His great family reunion, from the foundation of this world, I might add, He did not forget anyone. Everyone will be given an invitation and will be invited to attend. And He doesn't just hand out an invitation. He restores His invitees back to life to enable them to attend.
Perhaps the greatness of this event is best summarized by the words of Jesus Christ, as recorded in Revelation by the apostle John. I quote Revelation, chapter 21, verse 1.
Revelation:21:1And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. – Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. And I, John, saw the holy city – New Jerusalem – coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride for her husband. And I heard a loud voice coming out of heaven, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men. And He will dwell with them. And they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." And He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." And He said to me, "Write, for these words are true and faithful." Christ said that, not me. And He said to me, "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give the fountain of water of life freely to him who thirsts."
That's the future of the children of tomorrow. That is the hope that should motivate us as we go about our daily activities. Yes, tragedy is a part of life. In fact, the family of man has been just one great tragedy. But tragedy should not consume us. It should motivate us to attain our future destiny.
Our family has been profoundly affected by the events twenty-five years ago. It has been a catalyst – a flame burning deep within us – that prods us toward the finish line – a flame that is fed by the vision and the assurance that on that great family reunion, Jonathan will, once again, bounce upon our knee in his favorite game of horse and rider. This is a promise for all – something that we can count on, but especially for the children of tomorrow.
I'm going to conclude my sermon by playing a selection, that was sung and arranged by Sonia King, that I think will provide an appropriate conclusion to the message of today.
(A child's voice reciting)
God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death, nor sorrow, no more crying.
There shall be no more pain, for the former things are passed away.
The light is shining in the darkness of the night,
Until the morning when the golden sun shall rise,
Until the dawning of tomorrow's sun,
Let us watch and pray and overcome.
And take heed, my friends, hold fast to what you have –
The golden shield of faith, the sword in your right hand.
Take your cross and come now, Follow Me.
Deny yourselves, then sons of God you'll be.
Now we're children of the light, we're children of the day, we're children of tomorrow.
Now we learn to live His ways, we learn to do the right, we learn the truth and follow.
And so run the race, let no one take your crown.
Sure as truth, we'll hear the trumpet sound
When we rise the stars will shine by day,
And all pain and sorrow fades away.
Now we're children of the light, we're children of the day, we're children of tomorrow.
Now we learn to live His ways, we learn to do the right, we learn the truth and follow.
Song, titled "Children of Tomorrow", written & sung by Sonia King (arranged by Geoffrey Robertson). Broadcasted here with songwriter's permission.
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