Once Satan and his followers have been brought to acknowledge the justice and righteousness of God, the stage is set for the final act – the expiration of the wicked on the earth and the purification of the earth and heavens from the presence of the stain of sin.
This will be accomplished by fire. The Scriptures say, “and fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. . . . Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:9-15).
“Every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.” The indignation of the Lord is upon all nations, and His fury upon all their armies: He hath utterly destroyed them, He hath delivered them to the slaughter.” “Upon the wicked He shall rain quick burning coals, fire and brimstone and a horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup.” Isaiah 9:5; Isaiah 34:2; Psalm 11:6, margin. Fire comes down from God out of heaven. The earth is broken up. The weapons concealed in its depths are drawn forth. Devouring flames burst from every yawning chasm. The very rocks are on fire. The day has come that shall burn as an oven. The elements melt with fervent heat, the earth also, and the works that are therein are burned up. Malachi 4;1; II Peter 3:10. The earth’s surface seems one molten mass – a vast, seething lake of fire. It is the time of judgment and perdition of ungodly men – “the day of the Lord’s vengeance, and the year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion.” Isaiah 34:8.
The wicked receive their recompense in the earth. Proverbs 11:31. They “shall be stubble: and the day that comes shall burn them up, saith the Lord of host.” Malachi 4:1. Some are destroyed as in a moment, while others suffer many days. All are punished “according to their deeds.” The sins of the righteous having been transferred to Satan, he is made to suffer not only for his own rebellion, but for all the sins which he has caused God’s people to commit. His punishment is to be far greater than that of those whom he has deceived. After all, have perished who fell by his deceptions, he is still to live and suffer on. In the cleansing flames the wicked are at last destroyed, root and branch – Satan the root, his followers the branches. The full penalty of the law has been visited; the demands of justice have been met; and heaven and earth, beholding, declare the righteousness of Jehovah (The Great Controversy pp. 672, 673).
These texts and statements are familiar to Bible students. Invariably they have given a picture of God personally pouring down fire upon the wicked and thus bringing about their final end. This is no problem to average people, for they consider that God has a perfect right to destroy those who have rebelled against Him. Furthermore, they know of no other way whereby the problem can be solved. The criminals must be executed, or they will go on making trouble forever. Of course, this is humanity’s thinking, but it is neither the thinking nor the way of God.
There is no difference in the language used in Revelation or The Great Controversy from that used in other parts of the inspiration describing the outpouring of terrible judgments.
· Then the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens (Genesis 19:24).
· And I will harden Pharaohs heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt (Exodus 7:3).
· So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died (Numbers 21:6).
· But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him (I Samuel 16:14).
· But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murders and burned up their city (Matthew 22:7).
We have already considered each of these statements from the Lord. It has been demonstrated that there must be a different definition of the terms and expressions used to describe the behavior of human beings. Trouble is experienced in understanding these expressions in regard to God’s character when no distinction is made between humanity’s ways and God’s ways.
Those previous studies into these verses confirmed the truth that when God pours out fire, sends serpents, or such things, it is not something dispensed from His hands as a response to His personal decree. Rather, it happens only when He is obliged to depart from the scene, thus leaving matters in the hands of individuals and devils and to nature given over to chaos. Then, being out of His control, the rod of power descends in merciless might upon the defenseless heads of the self-willed.
There is no reason to suppose that these verses in Revelation are to be understood any differently. What those expressions mean throughout the remainder of the Scriptures, they must still mean at the end of them. Therefore, in the end, God does not decree that the wicked shall die by fire and then set about executing this decree by personally exercising His power. God does not decree what punishment shall befall the evildoer. He foresees what will happen and foretells it, but He neither chooses nor organizes it to be just that way.
In the light of all the truth learned so far in this study, consider the sequence of events in the drama of destruction outside the city. When the wicked are raised at the close of the millennium, it is only possible for them to live safely upon the earth by God holding from them the rod of power. All the mighty forces of nature are thus held in restraint in order to afford to the lost the opportunity of seeing the true nature of the great controversy. Thus, there is no outburst of fire and brimstone during the time that they make their preparations and advance upon the city.
But when the revelations of the mystery of God have been completed while simultaneously they have been convincingly shown where they have rejected the loving appeals of God, the time has come for the final settlement. Every one of these individuals has, during this life, made an irrevocable decision rejecting salvation in preference for Satan’s kingdom. God knows that once this point has been reached, the wicked will never change no matter what opportunity may be given them. It is for this reason that Jesus solemnly declares as He leaves the sanctuary, “He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still” (Revelation 22:11).
This is the declaration of Jesus Christ in evaluating the condition of the wicked. It is not to be supposed that Christ says this because He and the Father have decided that probation can no longer be continued, and for this reason those who have not availed themselves of salvation during the designated time limit are lost forever. It is because, no matter what revelations might be made to them or opportunities given, their decision is final.
But it is one thing for this to be so and for Christ to say it is so. It is something else for God’s true children to see it. How often in this life have we looked upon a person who appears to be so sincere and honest and yet who makes no evident move toward the messages of truth. We feel that if only this person had been given more opportunity to see it, he or she would have come to Christ. We find it difficult to accept the idea that when this person goes to the grave he or she would remain unjust forever.
The declaration make by Christ will be vindicated by the demonstration of its truthfulness at the close of the millennium. Scary chance to see the light will then be afforded the most comprehensive, clear, and wonderful revelation of the truth. They behold, with transfixed eyes, the entire story of rebellion and redemption and see their own place in relation to it and how their attitude toward God’s way played out in their relations to their fellow humankind. It will convince but not convert them. There rejection of such alight as came to them in this life will have hardened them beyond any possibility of change.
This conviction that God is right after all will be expressed by their bowing before Him and saying, but they do not plead, His forgiveness nor ask to be accepted into his kingdom. All of this is foreign and distasteful to them. They still want to live but on their own terms. Knowing that this cannot be and that, accordingly, they are eternally to be deprived of any life, they rise from their knees in a frenzy of disappointment and rage and turn upon him who has robbed them of everything.
This rage is a part of a process that will begin at the time of panoramic view of salvation history above the throne, and it is the fire unquenchable. To the righteous, this revelation of God’s character is called the everlasting burnings. This is their eternal dwelling place, in joy and peace.
The sinner in Zion are afraid; fearfulness has seized the hypocrites: “who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly. He who despise the gain of oppression, Who gestures with his hands, refusing bribes, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed, and shuts his eyes from seeing evil; He will dwell on high; his place of defense will be the fortress of rocks; bread will be given him; his water will be sure. Your eyes will see the King in His beauty; they will see the land that is very far off (Isaiah 33:14-17).
Inspiration explicitly declares what is the torment of the wicked and how they are destroyed.
But those who refuse the gift of Christ will one day feel the sting of remorse. Entire obedience to the law of God is the condition of salvation. Those who refuse this, who refuse to accept Christ, will become embittered against God. When punished for transgression, they will feel despair and hatred. This will be the experience of all who do not enter into Christ’s suffering for it is the sure consequence of sin.
We read of chains of darkness for the transgressor of God’s law. We read of the worm that dies not, and the fires that is not quenched. Thus, is represented the experience of ever one who has permitted himself to be grafted into the stock of Satan, who has cherished sinful attributes. When it is too late, he will see that sin is the transgression of God’s law. He will realize that because of transgression, his soul is cut off from God, and that God’s wrath abides on him. This is a fire unquenchable, and by it every unrepentant sinner will be destroyed. (Signs of the Times, April 14, 1898, emphasis added).
These “chains of darkness” are the realization of the hopeless condition of their souls. They see clearly that their wills are fixed in a bent toward self-governance and selfishness and that there is no way out of the terrible dilemma. This is what it is to be “grafted into the stock of Satan.” As a branch grafted into its host, they are now part of Satan’s fixed and determined rebellion against the law of God, the character of God. They now understand this.
In effect, at the climax of the revelation of the gospel, God will ask them to confirm their intentions. Hitherto they have reiterated their wish to live without God. The time will have come when they must either confirm or deny the plan or continue that way. If it were possible for them to relinquish every desire to be separated from God, then God would save them, even then, for “His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 106:1).
But no person will be saved at this time, for they will not show any disposition to change. Their consciences have been seared. Their rebellion is incurable. Christ’s declaration will be proven correct. As God waits for their answer, they will confirm in the most emphatic terms that they want nothing to do with Him; they will choose to be left entirely to their own way. They want the world and life under their own terms.
“Then death shall be chosen rather than life by all the residue of those who remain of this evil family, who remain in all places where I have driven them,” says the Lord of hosts. (Jeremiah 8:3).
What can God do under these circumstances?
He has made it very plain that everyone has full liberty to choose what they want. If they prefer to go it alone without him, then this is what they shall have. When Israel wanted their king, He gave them one; when they wanted flesh, He let them have it; and whenever individuals have wanted this or that, the Lord has never stood in their way, no matter what dire results might follow their foolish choosing.
At the end of the millennium, he cannot change. So when they choose to go alone, He will simply say to them, “Then I respect your choice, and I will set you completely free from My presence and control. All the earth and their mighty powers surrounding it are going to be relinquished. The rod of power is to pass out of my hands and control all of that which has been marred by sin will evaporate back into the void from whence it came by my original word.”
They will be given into the hands of their god-self. The qualifications of godhood are to be eternally existent and self-sustaining. The wicked will understand this truth. They will know with certainty that they are not gods, and they will know without any doubt that Satan is no god, only a thief, a liar, and murderer. The time for the full reckoning of these verities as well as the reality that they are fixed in their own determination not to live under the rule of Christ, is all rolled together with the weight of the guilt of every sin ever committed.
Satan will try to stir the wicked to continue the battle plan to take the city, but the wicked will be finished with him. The lies will be all fully revealed. Satan had convinced them that God was a tyrant. Who would rule over them with an iron fist, requiring them to live a life of joyless servitude and preventing them from any real progress out of a motivation of jealousy for His own power and control. Satan had promised them a New World Order wherein they would enjoy power and prosperity, living as they pleased. They will see that they gave in to their desire for self and sin and chose Satan as their ruler. By their lives they declared, “we will not have this Jesus to reign over us.”
They have no help for Satan. Their refusal to go into battle with him is the result of their full realization that he has used them miserably in his own personal vendetta against God. They had once thought him so wise, as they banded together in secret societies, partook of hidden (occult) wisdom, and communicated with the “ascended masters.” They had believed, as did Eve when she partook of the occult philosophy at the forbidden tree, that he was taking them to new and exalted heights of existence and would even evolve upward into a super species of humanity.
· An End? The end is come upon the four corners of the land (Ezekiel 7:2).
· They have blown the trumpet and made everyone ready, but no one goes to battle: for My wrath is on all their multitude” (verse 14).
At last the wicked will cut Satan and his philosophies to pieces, not literally, for he is a spirit being, and no human can lay hands on angels, but they will bring him down in their bitter expressions borne of revelation.
“Those who see you will gaze at you, and consider you, saying: “Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, Who made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed its cities, Who did not open the house of his prisoners?” (Isaiah 14:16, 17).
Says the Lord: “Because you have set thine heart as the heart of God; behold therefore I will bring strangers upon thee, the terrible of the nations: and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of thy wisdom, and they shall defile thy brightness. They shall bring thee down to the pit.” “I will destroy thee, O covering cherub from the midst of the stones of fire. . . . I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee. . . . I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that beheld thee. . . . You shall be a terror, and never shalt thou be any more.” Ezekiel 28:6-8, 16-19 (The Great Controversy, p. 672).
As they work through this terrible time of reckoning with their own death, Satan’s brightness is defiled by their withdrawal from him. It is the ultimate “drying up the Euphrates.” They do not turn on him with weapons of warfare. Even if they could, they know it would be pointless and futile. There is no bloody battle of the warrior, as humans wage war. They know Satan has nothing to offer. Satan is laid bare in the global reckoning of the bankruptcy of his ideology. The burning is the agony of loss, hatred, rage, and the realization of the burden, or the wages, of sin in their soul. It is a burning that only death can relieve. When this burning is done, the fuel of fire will dissolve elements with fervent heat in the lake of fire.
The final dissolution of the elements is referred to as the “fire in the midst,” which comes out of Satan. More on this is mentioned further on.
· Every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire (Isaiah 9:5 KJV).
· The wicked will die in the same way as did Christ. His sufferings are a type of the death of the wicked in the second death.
· But bodily pain was but a small part of the agony of God’s dear Son. The sins of the world were upon Him, also the sense of His Father’s wrath as He suffered the penalty of the law transgressed. It was these that crushed His divine soul. It was the hiding of His Father’s face – a sense that His own dear Father had forsaken Him. – which brought despair. The separation that sin makes between God and man was fully realized and keenly felt by the innocent, suffering Man of Calvary. He was oppressed by the powers of darkness. He had not one ray of light to brighten the future (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, p. 214).
Like this, the wicked also are consumed in their anguish, suffering the absolute coming to terms with the fact that only in God is there life and that they will not have it or abide in Him ever; therefore, they must acknowledge their hopeless condition and go away. This is how they expire.
“Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, Who delights greatly in His commandments. His descendants shall be mighty upon earth; the generations of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches will be in his house, and his righteousness endures forever. . . . The wicked will see it, and be grieved; he will gnash with his teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked shall perish (Psalm 112:1-3, 10).
“Those who reject the mercy so freely proffered, will yet be made to know the worth of that which they have despised. They will feel the agony which Christ endured upon the cross to purchase redemption for all who would receive it. And they will then realize what they have lost – eternal life and immortal inheritance. . . . When sinners are compelled to look upon Him who clothed his divinity with humanity, and who still wears this garb, their confusion is indescribable. The scales fall from their eyes, and they see that which before they would not see. They realize what they might have been had they received Christ, and improved the opportunities granted them. They see the law which they have spurned exalted even as
God’s throne is exalted. They see God Himself giving reverence to his law. What a scene that will be! No pen can describe it! The accumulated guilt of the world will be laid bare, and the voice of the Judge will be heard saying to the wicked, “Depart from me, you that work iniquity” (The SDA bible Commentary, vol. 6 pp. 1069, 1070)
Notice the language of awakened understanding, of revelation and realization, of seeing. These are all the ones of whom it was once spoken that “seeing they would not see and hearing they would not hear.” They had the chance to see and hear with spiritual senses that they might be drawn to repentance and be saved, but now they see and hear in the visible presence of the target of their murderous designs: the new Jerusalem, Christ, the angels, and the redeemed.
In this final sinking to the eternal night of death, the wicked do not all take the same time to perish. There is a direct relationship between the extent to which they have sinned and the length of time they suffer.
“I saw that some were quickly destroyed, while others suffered longer. They were punished according to the deeds done in the body. Some where many days consuming, and just as long as there was a portion of them unconsumed, all the sense of suffering remained. Said the angel, ‘The worm of life shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched as long as there is the least particle for it to prey upon.’
Satan and his angels suffered long. Satan bore not only the weight of the punishment of his own sins, but also the sins of the redeemed host, which had been placed upon him; and he must also suffer for the ruin of souls which he had caused. Then I saw that Satan and all the wicked host were consumed. And the justice of God was satisfied; and all the angelic host, and all the redeemed saints, with a loud voice said, ‘Amen!’” (Early Writings, pp. 294, 295).
Again, the language of the unquenchable fire is used, and the worm, which we saw explained in the Signs of The Times quote above. Here is a repetition of the key ideas in that same quote: “We read of the worm that dies not, and of the fire that is not quenched. Thus is represented the experience of every one who . . . has cherished sinful attributes (signs of the Times, April 14, 1898).
He will realize that . . . his soul is cut off from God, and that God’s wrath abides on him. This is a fire unquenchable, and by it every unrepentant sinner will be destroyed. (Signs of the time, April 14, 1898).
Note the language of experiential realization. This is the final outworking of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of Good and evil. This is intimate knowledge, experiential knowledge, which God never intended any of His creatures to have. This is the day that they are eating it and swallowing it down, the day that God had declared would be the day of their death (Genesis 2:17) This is what destroys the wicked.
“The worm of life shall not die; their fire shall not be quenched as long as there is the least particle for it to prey upon” is what the angel said, in direct quote. Here, the metaphor of Isaiah 66:24 is expanded to include the “particles” that are preyed upon by the fire. The worm refers to the life of being itself. This is interesting as the worm is usually thought of as preying upon something already dead, but in this statement the angel is emphasizing that the being suffers consciously until the last particle of sin – don’t miss this point – is consumed by the fire (see Job 18; Psalm 22:6; Isaiah 41:14). Remember, this is a fire of realization of the end of the soul, of being cut off from the life of God, as He must be released, in righteousness from maintaining the sinner. The sinner will then die, in effect, by suicide, saying. “God, you are right but I don’t want you. Let me go.” Then it is fulfilled as it is written,
· But he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; all those who hate me love death (Proverbs 8:36).
· His own iniquities entrap the wicked man, and he is caught in the cords of his sin (Proverbs 5:22).
Judas is a primary illustration of this anguish leading to a wish for death. Although he was sorry for the results of his way, he was not about to change his way. He threw the blood money back to the priests, as surely as the wicked will cast their gold and silver to the moles and the bats (Isaiah 2:20). Riches hold no allure in the face of the loss of the soul. They are useless to a dead person, and Judas knew that he was just that. Judas wanted a different God. He wanted one who would let him live for self, power, glory, honor, and wealth. The principles of God’s kingdom were made clear to him, but he would rather die than have that. So, he hung himself. He realized who Jesus was and understood his own role. He was convinced of God’s goodness and righteousness, but he remained unrepentant. All that was left for him was to go away.
It must be seen by all that the actual cause of death of the wicked is sin. There must be no question that it is their choice to reject God, to be separated from Him, to live by Satan’s law to “do as you would.” As the reality of the nature of sin is processed, along with the burden of its guilt and the coming to an acceptance of the impossibility of continued existence in sin and the realization that there is life only in God, they suffer extreme anguish. They will at last give over to the inevitable; they will at last want death, and this will be their acknowledge position, while at the same time proclaiming God just and true. This is how the great controversy can close and all potential seeds of rebellion will be sterilized, forever.
While great mental anguish can cause great physical stress, even death, and while God’s release on the forces of nature will cause fires in the earth to erupt, the cause of death will not, and cannot, be seen as any of these things. We confirm the truth that the cause of death is the burden of sin and giving over of the soul unto it by going to the ultimate revelation of it at the cross of Christ.
They mystery of the cross explains all other mysteries. In the light that streams from Calvary the attributes of God which had filled us with fear and awe appear beautiful and attractive (the Great Controversy, p. 652).
It is true that Christ suffered greatly in Gethsemane as the weight of the world’s guilt was rolled onto Him. It caused Him to sweat blood, a condition known in the medical field as hematidrosis, where the capillaries of the sweat glands rupture and blood mixes with perspiration. The agony of great emotional stress will cause trauma on the heart and known as acute stress cardiomyopathy or “broken heart syndrome.” Many in the past have seen that it was not the physical rigors of the cross that killed Him in such a short time, but they have fallen short in claiming that it was the broken heart syndrome that killed Him. We cannot focus on this as the cause of death. Sin destroys; in the ultimate sense, let us not get sidetracked in looking for physical manifestations.
He guards all his bones; not one of them is broken. Evil shall slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous shall be condemned (KJV Psalm 34:20, 21).
As the type of the finally impenitent going to second death, we see Him giving up His life. John 10:15, 17, 18 reveals that Jesus laid down His life on His own volition. In three gospels it is recorded that he “gave up the ghost.” He was not yet physically shutting down, as with strong voice he shouted from His cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). Then at the stroke of the hour of the Passover sacrifice, He prayed, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46).
It was not the dread of death that weighted upon Him. It was not the pain and ignominy of the cross that cause His inexpressible agony. Christ was the prince of suffers; but His suffering was from a sense of the malignancy of sin. . . .
Upon Christ as our substitute and surety was laid the iniquity of us all. He was counted a transgressor . . . The guilt of ever descendant of Adam was pressing upon His heart. The wrath of God against sin, the terrible manifestation of His displeasure because of iniquity, filled the soul of His Son with consternation. All his life Christ had been publishing to a fallen world the good news of the His Fathers mercy and pardoning love. Salvation for the chief of sinners was His theme. But now with terrible weight of guilt He bears, He cannot see the Father’s reconciling face. The withdrawal of the divine countenance from the Saviour in his hour of supreme anguish pierced His heart with a sorrow that can never be fully understood by man. So great was this agony that His physical pain was hardly felt.
Christ felt the anguish which the sinner will feel when mercy shall no longer plead for the guilty race. It was the sense of sin, bringing the Father’s wrath upon Him as man’s substitute, that made the cup He drank so bitter, and broke the heart of the Son of God (The Desire of Ages, pp. 572, 573).
But your iniquities have separated you from your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that he will not hear (Isaiah 59:2).
For as you drank on My holy mountain, so shall all the nations drink continually; Yes, they shall drink, and swallow, and they shall be as though they had never been (Obadiah 1:16).
During His thirty years of life on earth His heart was wrung with inconceivable anguish. The path from the manger to Calvary was shadowed by grief and sorrow. He was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, enduring such heartache as no human language can portray. He could have said in truth, “Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow” (Lamentations 1:12).
It is nothing to you, all you who pass by? Behold and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which has been brought on me, which the Lord has inflicted in the day of His fierce anger. From above He has sent fire into my bones, and it overpowered them; He has spread a net for my feet, and turned me back; He has made me desolate and faint all the day (Laminations 1:12, 13).
Notice here that this suffering is depicted as a fire. This desolating effect of the processing of sin is a very real horror, and the trauma of it has physical effect leading to death, but this death will not break upon the sinner until there is a surrender to the blackness of sins’ consequences. As strict adherence to the witness of Christ’s descent to second death on the cross is the proof of how the finally impenitent will expire.
The question must arise as to how the wicked will suffer according to what they deserve unless some intelligence calculates the measure of their individual punishments and so controls events that they will be kept alive until the full punishment has been exacted. On the surface, this would seem to be impossible. Therefore, it is considered that God, being the only one with the power to either estimate the deserved chastisement or to control its administration, must surely be the one who executes the sinners in the end. In fact, the language of inspiration, it is represented as exactly that way: “In union with Christ they judge the wicked, comparing their acts with the statute book, the bible, and deciding every case according to the deeds done in the body. Then the portion which the wicked must suffer is meted out, according to their works; and it is recorded against their names in the book of death (The great Controversy p. 661).
This would appear in obvious sense to be an arbitrary assignment of suffering. But we know that whatever they suffer will be directly related to their own choices in rebellion. Some will be much more hardened in their course than others. Not that any have any potential to repent. They don’t. All are hardened irrevocably. Yet evil brings its own reward, and it follows a law: “the Lord shall repay the evildoer according to his wickedness” (II Samuel 3:39). They key to understanding how this may come upon them is that the consciousness of sin, its burden and its guilt, was taken up by Christ for every person when He became sin for us, but this is now rolled back onto the hardened sinner. They must bear the burden of sin for themselves.
As soon as the books of record are opened, and the eye of Jesus looks upon the wicked, they are conscious of every sin which they have ever committed. They see just where their feet diverged from the path of purity and holiness, just how far pride and rebellion have carried them in the violation of the law of God. The seductive temptations which they encouraged by indulgence in sin, the blessings perverted, the messengers of God despised, the warnings rejected, the waves of mercy beaten back by the stubborn, unrepentant heart – all appear as if written in letters of fire (The Great Controversy, p. 666)
Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities and your abominations (Ezekiel 36:31).
The heaviest burden that we bear is the burden of sin. If we were left to bear this burden, it would crush us. But the Sinless One has taken our place. “the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all,” Isaiah 53:6 (The Ministry of Healing, p. 71).
The spotless Son of God took upon Himself the burden of sin. He who had been one with God, felt in His soul the awful separation that sin makes between God and man. This wrung from His lips the anguished cry, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46. It was the burden of sin, the sense of its terrible enormity, of its separation of the soul from God – it was this that broke the heart of the Son of God (The Faith I Live By, p. 101).
So, we see that the burden of sin is the cumulative burden. The wicked are “conscious of every sin.” The Conscious awareness of all guilt must be owned entirely by the bearer. Jesus took our guilt and shame so that we never have to bear it. We cannot bare it because it kills. It killed Him. As we apply the cumulative principle to the wicked, we find that the more intensively wicked the being, the more guilty they bear with all the suffer that is implied.
Yet in all of this bearing of guilt, the flesh is very much alive and screaming to live. Humanity’s biggest drive is to hold on to life and their biggest fear is death. So, there is a tenacious clinging to the life of the flesh, which is somehow relative to the degree of the wickedness, a perverse clinging to the desire to yet go on in it while fully realizing that this is an impossibility. It is insanity and an extreme mental crisis that we hope to never know.
Yet this has all been but a feeble attempt to describe with words something that is yet a mystery. To understand all of this, how sin can selectively punish one more than another, requires knowledge of laws that as yet are beyond our understanding. One thing we do know, however, is that the more sinful people are the more desperately they struggle to live in the face of death. The true children of God do not fight the Grim Reaper. They know that their time has come and that their life is safe in the hands of God. But not so with the rebels against God’s laws and government. They resist with all the power of their soul and are able to prolong their life beyond its natural span.
That the righteous, in the millennial judgement, “met out” any durations or intensities of suffering is the language of predestination. As God foreknows all things, He is said to predestine them. But he does not interfere with free choice. He merely knows what choices are to be made in the context of the freedom by which He runs His universe. Therefore, the righteous, as they review the courses of the lost souls, will come to vindicate God’s righteous judgement and will see how much suffering is going to be endured by the finally impenitent, and in their agreement with it, they are said to record the same “against their names in the book of death” (The Faith I live by, p. 216). In this they are saying, “just and true are Your ways” (Revelation 15:3), which is merely an echo in advance, a prefiguring of the utterance made by the wicked themselves in the final sense:
The whole wicked world stand arraigned at the bar of God on the charge of high treason against the government of heaven. They have none to plead their cause; they are without excuse; and the sentence of eternal death is pronounced against them.
It is now evident to all that the wages of sin are not noble independence and eternal life, but slavery, ruin, and death. The wicked see what they have forfeited by their life of rebellion. The far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory was despised when offered them; but now desirable it now appears. “All this,” cries the lost soul, “I might have had; but I chose to put these things far from me. Oh, strange infatuation! I have exchanged peace, happiness, and honor, for wretchedness, infamy, and despair.” All see that their exclusion from heaven is just. By their lives they have declared, “we will not have this Man (Jesus) to reign over us,”
As if entranced, the wicked have looked upon the coronation of the Son of God. They see in His hands the tables of the divine law, the statutes which they have despised and transgressed. They witness the outburst of wonder, rapture, and the adoration from the saved; and as the wave of melody sweeps over multitudes without the city, all with one voice exclaim, “Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints” (Revelation 15:3); and falling prostrate, they worship the Prince of life (The Great Controversy, p. 668).
This worship is not one of love and adoration. They have only bitterness and hatred in their hearts. It is wrung from the heart of anguish, through guilty lips; it is the same “worship” as the false teachers will display as they fall at the feet of the saints at the time of the midnight deliverance when the captivity of God’s people is turned, and it is realized that God has loved those whom they hate and that they have been fighting God (Early Writings, p. 124; The Great Controversy, pp. 653-655).
One thing must be very clear. It is that God does not execute the sinner, now or in the past or ever. Nor does God or His saints arbitrarily predetermine the punishment that is to fall on the wicked. It is sin that does that. By their own works will they receive the measure of their reward.
Evil shall slay the wicked; and they that hate the righteous shall be desolate (Psalm 34:21).
The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
“But as for those whose hearts follow after the desire of their detestable things and their abominations, I will recompense their deeds on their own heads,” says the Lord God (Ezekiel 11:21).
The wicked fall in death as they come to their surrender. Some give over immediately, some with greater struggle, some a very long time. The bodies accumulate over the earth.
And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me, For their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh (Isaiah 66:24).
Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, “Come and gather together for the supper of the great God, that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great” (Revelation 19:17, 18). (note that the birds are not actual birds but a metaphor for the cleansing action of the final fires upon the remains of the wicked. See Jeremiah 4:25, 27 and Zephaniah 1:2, 3).
And at that day the slain of the Lord shall be from one end of the earth even to the other end of the earth. They shall be not lamented, or gathered, or buried: they shall become refuse on the ground (Jeremiah 25:33).
No one has been so great a sinner as Satan, and no one will fight the inevitability of death with greater determination than he. His has been a most determined struggle in his character manifesting the ultimate in stubbornness, pride, and rebellion, for he is truly the dark father of all wickedness. Thus he will prolong his life far beyond that point where he would have died if he had resigned himself to his fate. In so doing he will extend his suffering until he has suffered for all the sins he has committed and caused others to commit.
As the process of unquenchable fire progresses, the forces of nature are let loose so that they go into chaos. Peter spoke of this as a “fire reservoir” when he wrote: “By the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out the water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men (II Peter 3:5-7).
Earlier we talked about how the reservoir of water above the earth and under the earth had broken loose and destroyed the world and how that this event set up the conditions in the earth such as we have today. Storms, extreme temperatures, earthquakes, volcanoes, and so on are all the offspring of the flood. The reservoir of fire is held in check, ready to spring forth with spectacular force the next time God’s wrath is manifest on a global scale. It will manifest both at the second coming and at the end of the millennium, after the Great White Throne judgement.
As in the flood of water when the fountains of the earth were broken up so that the water rushed out from beneath the surface, so that stores of oil and coal still hidden from human beings in the bowels of the earth will burst forth in flaming torrents upon the surface.
Those majestic trees which God has caused to grow upon the earth, for the benefit of the inhabitants of the old world, and which they had used to form into idols, and to corrupt themselves with, God has reserved in the earth, in the shape of coal and oil to use as agencies in their final destruction. As he called forth the waters in the earth at the time of the flood, as weapons from his arsenal to accomplish the destruction of the antediluvian race, so at the end of the one thousand years he will call forth fires in the earth as his weapons which he has reserved for the final destruction, not only of successive generations since the flood, but the antediluvian race who perished by the flood. (Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, p. 87).
In the original flood, water also poured down from above. Likewise, it is to be expected that fire will rain down from the heavens. The great source of this would be from nature spiraling into chaos since we know that it does not come from God personally. When God’s presence was withdrawn from the earth in Noah’s day, both the sun and the moon were affected. Therefore, when God’s presence is again withdrawn in the same way at the close of the millennium, the sun could very well again be affected. In its final stages of decay, resulting from the effects of sin in this earth, it could erupt in great explosions, projecting streams of fire far out into the solar system and onto this earth. If this is to be so, then fire from above would mingle with the fire from beneath exactly as the waters did when this earth was flooded. The Great emissions from the broken crust of the earth would spew high into the air, raining back down upon the earth, enveloping the whole earth in a sea of flame on which the Holy City will ride as did the ark. Within it, the ransomed will be safe and secure until the destruction is completed.
But these geophysical and perhaps solar fires are not of sufficient heat to dissolve the elements of creation. Also, what kind of heat is it that takes spirit beings out of existence? We do not know what kind of material a spiritual being is made from, but the substance of wicked angels will also be dissolved along with the substance of the human bodies.
Just as at the showdown between God and Baal on Mount Carmel, where the fire of God burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the rocks, and the water, so also will the final fire utterly consume all matter itself. This would be a nuclear fire. It is the energy that sustains all of matter, all of the universe. It is the word of God, by whom all things consist. (see Colossians 1:16, 17; John 1:1-3; Acts 17:28).
The nuclear binder is represented in Scriptures as “fire from the Midst,” and when it is brought forth, it is as the Word of God being withdrawn, His sustaining power being removed from matter itself. All that would have been damaged by being in contact with sin will be left to dissolution and will “consume away” “into smoke,” as depicted in the Biblical language of the process of oxidation or burning fire.
Satan, having the greatest measure of iniquity upon himself, will be the last wicked being alive. Dying alone, with no place left for him anywhere in God’s universe and with none to stand with him in his attempted kingdom, (for a kingdom requires subjects), he utters his final desperate gasp, requesting release from life. He now expires of the unquenchable fire and simultaneously goes to the physical annihilation of the “lake of fire,” the “first from the midst,” the total meltdown of all things that sins has marred, where it is also said that the beat and the false prophet, the wicked host, already are (Revelation 20:10).
(There are two senses in which these are depicted as already in the lake of fire. In the first sense, the earth is by now already well on its way to being converted to a seething molten mass by the fire reservoir. In the second sense, where the lake would be defined as the fire of nuclear dissolution, they are said to be in the lake already in that they have been utterly consigned to the ultimate cessation of being, i.e., although their consciousness and breath are gone, the substance of their bodies, even though perhaps vaporized into steam and smoke, must now go out of actual existence.)
In Jeremiah 48 we have a prophecy against the latter-day judgment of Moab, and here also is represented a destruction by this same fire: “But a fire shall come out . . . a flame from the midst . . . and shall devour the brow (region) of Moab, the crown of the head of the sons of tumult” (verse 45).
This will be the last fire, the cleanup fire, the very ultimate manifestation of wrath, after all the wicked have perished in the unquenchable fire of emotional agony and as the physical fires of nature gone to wrath have also broken forth and escalated into this fervent heat of “atomic meltdown.” Peter speaks also of this fire, which ends with a new heaven and a new earth being created: “The heavens will pass away with great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (II Peter 3:10-13).
The deadly experiment will be ended, and it will be demonstrated eternally that through it all God did not change. When sin entered it changed angels, human beings, the animals, and the operations of nature, but it did not change God. Nothing was introduced into His ways after the coming of sin that was not there before. He never destroyed before sin entered, never executed, never punished, never forced. The entry of sin did not cause Him to begin doing any of these things in order to solve the problems sin imposed upon Him.
Satan and evil angels did their utmost to provoke Him to anger and arise to sweep away the rebellious inhabitants of the earth, but He would not be provoked, angered, insulted, or hurt. He emerges from the whole miserable test as immaculate as He entered it. Satan has not been able to sustain a single point against him, and it is shown that the way of the cross – the power of self-sacrificing love, which serves, no matter what the cost to the server – is stronger than all the ways of force combined.