Faith in the Last Days - J. Thomas
20 - AGE TO COME, PARADISE, ABSENT FROM THE BODY

THE BIBLE reveals, or rather treats of the two states, the present and the future. We may almost say of the past and future, for the present is no sooner here than it is gone; so that the past becomes as it were a completive present. Of the future state we know nothing but as it is revealed in the scriptures. What do they testify as to this state? That like the past, and present, it has to do with the living and not the dead. State is organization, individual and physical, or national; but death is dissolution and the reverse in everything. The scriptures also testify that the future state is a constitution of things upon earth growing out of those that now exist as the elements thereof; and that is subdivisible into two eras, the Millennium, or "Age to Come", (Matt. 12:32; Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30; Heb. 2:5; 6:5) and that which succeeds it, called "the Ages of the Ages". (Eph. 3:21) The, Age to Come is styled "the economy of the fulness of times" (Eph. 1:10) by Paul, and "the New Heavens and New Earth wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Pet. 3:13) by Peter, as contrasted with the Mosaic economy in which ungodly men and scoffers, walking after their own lusts, had rule over Israel. The Age to Come is intermediate between "the times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24) and the Ages of the Ages; and is the only "intermediate state" treated of in the word of the truth of the gospel. The Age to Come is the New Heavens and Earth of Isaiah 65:17, and 66:22; the era contemporary with the kingdom of God, when his son Jesus Christ our Lord shall sit upon the throne of his father David as king of Israel and Emperor of the world.

The Ages of the Ages are the New Heavens and New Earth spoken of by John in the Revelation 21:I. They are also the third Heavens, (2 Cor. 12:2) or Paradise in full development, beheld by Paul in vision. The earth undergoes great changes at their introduction, for when established there is "no more sea". They commence with the folding up of the heavens of the Age to Come like a vesture; for these shall be changed, having then waxed old as doth a garment. The constitution of the kingdom is changed at that epoch; for sin being taken away from among men, and death its punishment abolished, the element of priesthood must be removed. Then the end will have come when the Son shall deliver up the kingdom to the Father that God may be all in all. (1 Cor. 15:23-28) From this end the Ages of the Ages take their rise, and things on earth are changed no more.

A resurrection from among the dead marks the introduction of a future state. It precedes the Age to Come; and it precedes the Ages of the Ages; the former being the resurrection of the Firstfruits of God's creatures, and therefore termed the First Resurrection; the latter, a thousand years after at "the End". "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the Second Death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years." (Rev. 20:6)

Now the subject matter of the "great salvation" (Heb. 2:3) is the Kingdom and Age to Come to which believers are introduced by a resurrection from among the dead. We affirm this on the authority of Paul in his letter to the Hebrews. "How shall we. escape", says he, "if we neglect so great salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord?" (Heb. 2:3) " For unto the Angels he has not put into subjection the future habitable concerning which we speak." (Heb. 2:5) Here then we learn that when the Lord Jesus began to preach he spoke about the future habitable.

But what is the future habitable? The answer is found in the testimony of Luke concerning what Jesus preached. He informs us that when the people of Capernaum besought him to remain among them, he refused, saying, "I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also, for therefore am I sent". Mark also says that "after John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God draws near repent ye, and believe the gospel" (Luke 4:43; Mark 1:14, 15). In preaching about the future habitable, then, Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom. Now a "habitable", is a place or country capable of being inhabited; a "future habitable", (Heb. 2:5) a country uninhabitable in the present, but habitable hereafter. This is true of the Land of Israel, called the Land of Promise, because God promised it to Abraham and Christ (Gen. 12:7; 13:15; 15:7,8,18; Gal. 3:16-19). At present, it is uninhabitable by Jesus and those who neglect not the "great salvation", (Heb. 2:3) for "the uncircumcised and the unclean" (Isa. 52:1) possess it: but when it becomes the area on which is erected the kingdom of God -- upon which David's tabernacle and throne are existing in their glory -- the enemy will have been expelled from the country; and it will be inhabited by the Twelve Tribes of Israel, "a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation" (Exod. 19:4-6), the subjects of the kingdom; and by Jesus and the Saints, his co-heirs and brethren, the inheritors of its glory, honour, immortality, and dominion. The Land will then be the habitable land , concerning which, says Paul, we speak.

This condition of the Land of Promise will be manifested in the Age to Come, of which "the Son given" to Israel is the "father" or "founder" (Isa. 9:6-7). Concerning the country, then become "a heavenly country", (Heb. 11:16) Jehovah [Yahweh] saith to the Saints, and to his people Israel, by the mouth of the prophet, "Hearken unto me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord: look unto Abraham your father, for I called him alone, and blessed him. For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden (Paradise) of the Lord: joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody" (Isa. 51:1-3). No one who understands this testimony (and before he gives his opinion he should read the whole chapter to the tenth verse of the next) can be at a loss to answer the question, "What and where is Paradise?" It is the Land of Israel made like Eden and the garden of the Lord, when Jerusalem, the holy city, puts on her beautiful garments, being henceforth "no more" the habitation of the uncircumcised and unclean. (Isa. 52:1)

This is Paradise -- the Land of Israel with the Kingdom of God established upon it in the Age to Come . Paradise is neither the grave, nor in Hades; but the Holy Land converted into the garden of the Lord. It is a word that signifies the same thing as the kingdom of God; and when the Lord Jesus sits upon the throne of his father David on Mount Zion, he will then and there be "the Tree of Life in the midst of the Paradise of God" (Rev. 2:7; 22:2,14). We must eat of this tree if we would live for ever; for it is "our life". It is a Vine-Tree, with Twelve Branches, and "Twelve Fruits"; and the unwithering "leaves are for the healing of the nations" (John 15:1,5; Psa. 1:3). In other words, the work of healing the nations of their spiritual and political maladies is assigned to Jesus on the throne of David to the apostles on the twelve thrones of the house of David and to the Saints associated with them in the kingdom. These things are the topics of the great salvation which began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto their contemporaries by the apostles that heard him, God also bearing them witness.

Now the righteous dead can only attain to this hope by a resurrection from among the dead; and the righteous living who may witness its manifestation, by being changed, or immortalized in the twinkling of an eye. "The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence"; (Ps. 115:17) "the dead know not any thing"; (Ecc. 9:5) "in death there is no remembrance of thee, 0 Lord; in the grave none can give thee thanks"; (Psa. 6:5) "the grave cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth: the living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I, Hezekiah, do this day", (Isa. 38:18,19) "whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor, knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave whither thou goest". (Ecc. 9:10) These testimonies are true, and entirely set aside the foolish speculations of "the learned" with respect to the dead while in the power of death. If a man would praise the Lord; if he would remember Him; if he would celebrate His name and give Him thanks; if he would hope in His truth; if he would do any thing, and have any knowledge and wisdom after he departs this life, he must rise from the dead. Paul was thoroughly convinced of this; hence his anxiety as expressed in his letter to the Philippians that "he might know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable to his death: if by any means he might attain to the resurrection from among the dead" (Phil. 3: 10,11). Does the reader imagine in the face of these testimonies that Paul had "a desire to depart" (Phil. 1:23) into the death-state; that he thought there was anything to gain in that region of darkness and silence by dying; or that he considered that when dead he should be "present with the Lord". (2 Cor. 5:8) No, Paul said none other things, and believed none other things than what Moses and the prophets testified; and these writers are in entire harmony with himself and all that is written in the New Testament, and this men would soon discover if they understood the Old.

Paul knew that as a living man in any sense he stood related only to two states, the present and the future; and that as a dead man he would know nothing, he could offer no praise, he could have no recollection of the past and no hope for the future. The interval between dying and rising again he well knew was a perfect blank -- an interval of which he would have no consciousness. Being therefore unconscious of it (and it is only the living that are conscious that such an interval exists), dying and rising became to him, though really centuries apart, but two successive acts, following each other in the twinkling of an eye. This must be of necessity, for there is no account taken of time by the dead. The testimony says they know nothing; consequently they know no more about time than they do about anything else. If we understand this we are delivered from the perverting influence of the heathen philosophy, or mythology of "spirit worlds" (which have no existence save in the mesmerized imaginations of clairvoyant familiars and those who deal with them) which constitutes the mysticism of sectarianism, the flesh-eating "canker" that destroys the truth.

Paul then knew only of presence with the body, and presence with the Lord, both of them, however, bodily states; for, he says, speaking of presence with the Lord, "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things in body, according to that he hath done, whether good or bad". (2 Cor. 5:10) "The things" are the things promised and threatened. He hopes to receive "the things" promised, such as glory, honour, immortality, and the kingdom; and he hoped to receive them also "in body". He knew he could not receive them if he were not existing bodily; for as disorganized dust and ashes he could possess nothing. Presence with the Lord, then, is bodily presence; and this is absence from the body of mortal flesh: for when the faithful are "present with the Lord", (2 Cor. 5:1,2,8) their bodies have suffered transformation, being then incorruptible and deathlessly living, having put on immortality; which putting on is their being "clothed upon by their house from heaven", (2 Cor. 5:1,2,8) or being built up of God from the ruins of their mortal body, or former house, which had been dissolved or reduced to dust. This "building of God" (2 Cor. 5:1,2,8,) is erected in the rising from the dead.

So long as believers are flesh and blood they are "at home in the body", (2 Cor. 5:6) and absent from the Lord; for "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God", (1 Cor. 15:50) because it is corruptible and mortal; and until they do inherit the kingdom, they cannot be present with him: for it is in the kingdom he appears and meets them. They walk by faith now; they walk by sight then; but in the death-state there is no walking at all, for they walk neither by faith nor sight there, no knowledge nor wisdom existing in the grave whither they go. The apostle evidently did not expect to be present with the Lord in the death-state. He leaves us without a doubt on this subject; for he tells the Saints in Corinth that "God who raised up the Lord Jesus, shall also raise them up by Jesus, and shall present him and Timothy with them". (2 Cor. 4:14) He did not expect his own presentation to precede theirs; but that he with them and the rest of the Saints should all be ushered into the Lord's presence together at his coming, when those of them turned to righteousness by him should be his glory, and joy, and crown of rejoicing evermore (1 Thess. 2:19).

The apostle's mind was fixed on the Age to Come, its kingdom, honour, glory and immortality, and not upon the dark, loathsome, and gloomy grave in which he was to moulder in unconsciousness till the trump of God awaked him(1 Thess. 4:16; 1 Cor. 15:52). The things of the kingdom and Age to Come are "the things which are not seen", (2 Cor. 4:18) and are enduring. They are not yet seen by the natural eye; but are discerned by the eye of faith by the light of the divine testimony. These unseen, and as yet unrevealed things, existing only in promise, are the subject of the faith which justifies, and by which the ancients obtained a good report. Paul's faith agreed with his definition of it, as "the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1) for says he in relation to the "far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory", (2 Cor. 4:17) "we look at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal": (2 Cor. 4:18) therefore he saith in another place, "If then ye be risen with Christ (by faith of his resurrection, and by being baptized in hope of being planted in its likeness), seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead (to earthly things) and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:1-4).

Was Paul's hope and expectation different from that he set before the Colossians and others? Assuredly not. He sought for those things which are from above, and his affections were upon them. He walked in the belief of them, and hoped to realize them at the appearance of the Lord in glory. He would then be present with him, and not a moment before. He expected life and glory to be brought to him when the Lord shall depart from God's right hand on his return to Olivet. Walk so as ye have us for an example; for our citizenship, says he, belongs to the heavens; from whence also we wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change the body of our humiliation, in order that it may become of a like form to the body of his glory according to the power whereby he is able also to subdue all things to himself (Phil. 3:17,20,21). After this who can scripturally affirm that Paul expected life, glory, and incorruptibility, and to be present with the Lord, at the instant of death; or who is so blind that he cannot see that he looked for all these things when he should appear before the judgment seat of Christ in company with the Saints at the epoch of their resurrection? He took no account of the period of his unconsciousness in the grave; but connected the present with the future as continuous, which they are in fact to the generations of the living, by whom in alone any interval is perceived at all, and that only in relation to the dead. The living perceive the lapse of time between dying and rising again; but the dead do not.

We shall now conclude this exegesis of the passage before us by the following paraphrase of the text (2 Cor. 5:1-10): For we know that if our mortal body be dissolved in the dust, we are to receive a new body and a new habitation, a building from God, a house not made with hands, enduring in the New Heavens. For in the midst of the things which are seen we groan, earnestly desiring that our habitation which is from heaven may be clothed upon us: if so be that being raised and appearing before the tribunal of Christ we shall not be found naked or destitute of the wedding garment. For we that are surrounded by the things seen and temporal do groan, being burdened: not that we desire to enter the death state by being unclothed or divested even of mortal life, but clothed upon by putting on immortality, that mortality may be swallowed up of life. Now he that has begotten in us this earnest desire and hope is God, who has given us the spirit as the earnest of what we shall receive at the coming of the Lord. We are therefore always confident, having full assurance of faith, knowing that whilst we who believe are mortal, we are absent from the Lord (for while absent we walk by faith, not by sight); we are full of hope, I say, and rejoice rather to be delivered from mortality, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that whether present at his tribunal or absent from it, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ: that everyone may receive the things in body, according to that he hath done, good or bad.