Incorrigible Sinners

A feature of most developed justice systems is that the understanding and sanity of the offender is taken into account when determining the sentencing. Whilst God can do anything and is not confined by anything other than His own choices; He has chosen to limit Himself by rules of absolute Justice. Absolute Justice demands that man be given every opportunity to show that He is capable of righteous behavior or at least correction. Once he has shown himself to be incorrigible he can justly be assigned to everlasting penalty. The release of Satan at the end of the millennial kingdom amounts to the cross questioning of the last witness for the defense. In this essay we will look at the reasoning behind the release of Satan at the end of the thousand years and also summarize other views upon the subject.

One of the older defenses of the justice of God is given in Ezekiel 18, starting with the bald statement[1] "The soul who sins shall die." This would appear to be simple and incontrovertible. We also know that everyone has sinned[2] and thus would expect all to die. However verses 21&22 then muddy the waters saying that if a man turns from his sins and keeps God's statues then he shall live. Further verse 24 states that if a righteous man turns from righteousness then he shall die. These together pose two problems. The first is: how can God forget sin? Interesting in Ezekiel God's answer is essentially: "I'm God and I'm doing it right[3]." It isn't until Romans 3:26 that we find that it would be in the death of the Lord Jesus that God can be just in forgetting sin.

However the second problem that presents itself is: Is it fair that some people don't get a chance to repent? Obvious examples are infants; but many people have lives that are terminated in a manner we would deem premature. Is it fair they don't have a chance to turn around? The biblical answer to that one is the concept of original sin. As well as the sins that we commit we have a sinful nature. Thus the psalmist could say that he was sinful from conception[4] and Paul explains that once Adam had sinned death was going to reign through mankind even for those that did not sin in the manner Adam did[5]. Thus we see that whilst Ezekiel makes plain that it is for our own sin we die that judgment concerning our sinful natures has more corporate aspect. Mankind on mass is able to demonstrate what the human nature is even if individuals do not have that same opportunity.

In the context of ascertaining the behavior of a race we have already seen how enlightening the tribulation period will be. Subsequent to the rapture man will be left to his own devices for three and a half years and mayhem ensues. Then for three and a half years man will watch and suffer the wrath of God. He will have direct angelic and visual confirmation that he is fighting God and yet the vast majority will choose to fight God rather than submit to him. Thus during the tribulation man will show that if left alone he does not grow towards God but instead grows away from Him.

Typically the last ditch position of any good defense lawyer with a clearly guilty client is the nature verses nurture argument. Their client is not inherently bad; but because they had a poor upbringing they became bad. It some ways this argument has a degree of superficial credibility. Not since Adam has anyone been raised in idyllic conditions. And whilst we know that we are blessed because we believe "through faith and not sight"[6] there most of us have thought at some point that the occasional glimpse would make things a little easier. Thus the millennial kingdom may be thought of, at one level, as a huge nature verse nurture trial. However, it is not just a game. We are told that Satan has to be released[7]. Thus it is clear that God has chosen to prove, not simply assert, that man is incorrigible.

We know that everyone entering the millennial kingdom will have eternal life, the rest having been purged at the outset[8]. We know that conditions will be idyllic[9], the Lord Himself will be visible and probably available to meet. Everyone will be attending Jerusalem three times a year so will know true theology. Christ will be administering the justice system Himself with a rod of iron; it is possible that wayward children only have 100 years to straighten before facing capital punishment[10]. Whatever the precise conditions, and we don't know all the details, we can safely say that they are conditions that should produce children walking in the correct pathway. And they must be doing so outwardly or they would have been punished. Yet when Satan is loosed they choose to believe a lie rather than the truth they have been experiencing for hundreds of years. Further they choose to fight against God, even though they will know from relatively recent history that this is almost certainly doomed to failure. They will indeed choose to die rather than live a life in fellowship with God.

This shows that mankind truly is incorrigible. Thus whilst not every person will have lived under all of these conditions it will show that by nature we would have been sinners independent of our nurture. Thus God can be just in judging us for those sins that we did commit. I believe it is no accident that it is straight after the rebellion following the millennium that the great white throne is introduced together with the lake of fire. They are grim and permanent endings; but they are just given the nature of the problem.

The views I have presented here are clearly my own but they do not differ markedly from other believers who take Revelation at as close to face value as possible[11]. However this interpretation is almost entirely antithetic to many of the older school reformed commentators. Adam Clark for example in his notes on Rev 20:7 simply recites the verse in paraphrase and then states it is 'utterly incapable of the sense generally put upon them'. He offers no reason why: this is because he has already deviated so far from a literal interpretation of this book that he has almost no way to make sense of the latter passages.

Barnes is almost able to form a bridge by suggesting: "All that is necessary to be supposed is that there would be, in certain parts of the world, a temporary outbreak of wickedness, as if Satan were for a time released from his chains." Whilst that may appear as an interpretation it is in many ways less adequate that Clarke. The Bible describes a huge army more numerous than the sand of the sea gathered together that are eaten by fire. This is hardly the localized skirmish envisioned by Barnes.

The British Family Bible goes a little further and assumes a world-wide apostasy; but again no battle. Matthew Henry, Poole and the People's New Testament commentary follow the BFB down this line. William Burkitt alone follows a line of assuming this passage is at least somewhat literal; although he still believes it is the church that is being attacked.

I believe I have shown in this brief essay that the release of Satan at the end of the millennium is necessary to show the true nature of man. Specifically that irrespective of the conditions he is raised under or the blessings he receives or the exposure he has to God that he will from choice rebel and fight God. The millennium is the final stage of this proof process. Once it is complete and mankind has lost his final defense the great white throne can be ushered in and the preparations can begin for the final state.


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