Life in the Millennium, Part 1
Aug 23, 2016
John says nothing about life in the millennium, except for the fact that the resurrected ones will “reign with Christ” during that time. He passes quickly over a thousand years, eager, it seems, to speak of the climax of history—the great judgment of all mankind. I, on the other hand, am not in such a hurry, for I believe it is important for us to understand something about life on earth during this final “week” in the history of man.
In my early life in the church, I received a very good Christian education in a mission school. However, when it came to the topic of the Millennium, my teachers seemed short on knowledge and long on confusion. At times I was told that we would receive eternal life when we died and went to heaven. At other times I was told that we would receive our reward at the resurrection of the dead.
Likewise, we were taught that all souls were immortal, so the reward was not really immortality as such, but the quality of immortal life—either as eternal bliss or eternal torment.
The one thing we were never taught is the difference between eternal life and immortality, for this alone would have cleared up much of our confusion.
Mortal or Immortal Souls?
Immortality is a deathless condition. Most people believe that the body dies and that life as we know it is the process of dying. The Greeks, who were dualistic, believed that the body dies and that the soul is immortal. To them, the soul was spiritual, and so they used the terms soul and spirit interchangeably. The Hebrew view, however, says in Ezekiel 18:4,
4 Behold, all souls [nephesh] are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.
God claims ownership of all souls by right of creation, for Adam was made a living soul (Genesis 2:7 KJV). However, the soul is also responsible for sin, as we read here and in Numbers 15:28 KJV. Hence, when Paul says, “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23), he means that every soul has sinned—not just the people in general, but specifically their souls. For this reason, divine judgment for sin is meted out against the soul, not merely upon the body, and because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), therefore, it is the soul that dies as a judgment for sin.
The Hebrew view is developed clearly in the law and its view about the use and purpose of blood. “The nephesh (soul) of the flesh is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11). The NASB translates Leviticus 17:14, “For as for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life.” Both times the word nephesh is translated “life” but it literally refers to the "soul." The translators take it upon themselves to reinterpret nephesh to mean life itself, as if to imply that immortality resided in the soul, whereas the Scriptures teach that the nephesh has been sentenced to death on account of Adam’s sin.
The Fleshly Soul and the Spiritual Spirit
Whereas the Greeks drew a clear line of separation between the body and the soul, the law of God linked them together, not only by making both mortal, but also by the phrase “the soul of the flesh” in Leviticus 17:11. A better way to read this phrase is “the flesh’s soul” or simply “the fleshly soul.” In other words, the soul is fleshly, or carnal. It is not spiritual, as the Greeks imagined.
The Apostle Paul found it necessary to expound on this to the Corinthian church, which was situated in the midst of Greek culture. In 1 Corinthians 2:10-16 he shows the distinction between the soul and the spirit, saying,
10 For to us God revealed them [the revelations of God] through the spirit; for the spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God.
In other words, the source of revelatory knowledge is “the Spirit of God,” which speaks to “the spirit of the man.” Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 2:14,
14 But a natural [psykikos] man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritual appraised.
The Greek word psyche (soul) is the equivalent of the Hebrew word nephesh in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint). Hence, when Paul speaks of the “natural man” (NASB), it more literally refers to the “soulish man” and is the equivalent of the “old man” or Adamic identity of our own soul. That “old man,” Paul says, is supposed to be “crucified” with Christ (Romans 6:6 KJV), or put to death. That would not be possible if our souls were immortal.
In fact, The Emphatic Diaglott renders psykikos as “animal,” saying, “an animal man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:14). The animalistic nature of the human soul is the origin of the beast systems which have arisen in the world and which are described by both Daniel and John. Its selfishness and its survival instinct prevents the animalistic soul from hearing, obeying, or understanding spiritual things.
Paul sets forth the spirit of man in unity with the Spirit of God as being the “new man” or the new identity by which revelatory truth is communicated to us. Our spirit is capable of understanding spiritual things, while our soul is not. Hence, there are two “men” (or beings) in us: soul and spirit. These are distinct, for the soul is fleshly, while the spirit is spiritual. So Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 2:15, 16,
15 But he who is spiritual [that is, our spirit-self] appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.
Most people misunderstand Paul’s teaching, because they think he was referring to Christians vs. non-Christians as such. But Paul was personifying the soul and spirit, calling each a “man” (KJV) or “self” (NASB). The soul, being carnal, or fleshly, is incapable of receiving or of understanding spiritual things. Hence, the source of revelation by which we commune with God is through our spiritual man.
Preserving Spirit, Soul, and Body
Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24,
23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.
Clearly, we are a tripartite being, having spirit, soul, and body. Greek dualists thought that man was a body and a spiritual soul. Hebrew revelation links the body and soul and distinguishes the spirit from them.
But Paul prays that all three parts of us would be “preserved complete,” that is, guarded, kept, so as not to escape or be lost or thrown away. In one short statement, Paul reveals the final reward of the righteous. It is also the goal of the New Covenant, for it is based upon the One who calls us. Paul affirms that “He also will bring it to pass.” In other words, it is His responsibility to fulfill His word (vow) as expressed in the New Covenant.
Paul calls Him “the God of peace,” implying that spirit, soul, and body must ultimately be reconciled in order to be “complete” and “without blame.” This is a very Hebrew view, for it restores all three parts of man that were damaged by Adam’s sin. The great inner “war” (Romans 7:23) must end in reconciliation.
Whereas the Greeks had no hope for the body, seeking to separate the spiritual soul from the body and live immortally in a purely spiritual (soulish) existence, the Hebrews saw God’s creation as “good” and had received the revelation of a bodily resurrection. Whereas the present form of body (as we know it) will pass, a new body and a new soul await us that will be at peace with the spirit.
Death is a Return
Scripture teaches us that death is a return to an original state. Breaking this down into its component parts, the body returns to dust, the spirit returns to God, and the soul returns to “hades,” a state of unconsciousness that is usually referred to as “sleep.” This is most evident when we study the death of Jesus Himself. Joseph of Arimathea buried His body in his own tomb (Matthew 27:58-60). His soul went to hades (Acts 2:31). His spirit went to God (Luke 23:46).
James 2:26 tells us that “the body without the spirit is dead.” Neither is it the soul that goes to heaven, but the spirit. It is not the soul that is immortal, but the spirit. Both body and soul are said to die, but nowhere do we read that the spirit dies. Paul makes it clear that the spirit (i.e., the “spiritual man”) has a conscious mind that is distinct from the soul’s conscious (carnal) mind. Hence, the spiritual part of man returns to God in some state of consciousness, but the soulish mind dies with the body (Ecclesiastes 9:5).
The disintegration of the three parts of man at the time of death begins to be reversed by the resurrection. Resurrection is a re-creation, a coming together again of spirit and body, even as God breathed into Adam’s dust body to create a living soul (Genesis 2:7 KJV). However, the quality of one’s life at resurrection will depend upon one’s relationship with God. As Jesus said in John 5:29, some will receive “a resurrection of life,” while others “a resurrection of judgment.”
Since both groups come back to “life,” it is obvious that it is their quality of life that is different. Furthermore, with two resurrections, each having believers raised to life, it is obvious that there is also a distinction between believers and overcomers. There are, then, three main groups that we must consider: overcomers, believers, and unbelievers.
To be continued…
This is part 163 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.