1. God judges at all times; but the subject of this book is the last judgement
I AM going to speak about the day of God’s final judgement, as far as he will grant me, and to assert it in the face of the irreligious and the unbelieving; and I must start by laying down as, so to speak, the foundation of the building, the evidence of inspired Scripture. Those who refuse to believe that evidence attempt to contravert it with false and fallacious quibbles of human ingenuity, designed either to establish that what is proffered as evidence from the holy Scriptures has some different meaning or to deny altogether that it is divinely inspired. For I am of the opinion that no man on earth who understands these statements as they were uttered and believes that they were spoken by the supreme and true God through the mouths of holy souls, can fail to yield his assent to them, whether he openly acknowledges this or, because of some fault, is embarrassed and afraid to do so, or even, with an obstinacy closely akin to madness, makes every effort to defend with the utmost energy what he knows or believes to be false against what he knows or believes to be true.
Now it is a belief held by the whole Church of the true God, in private confession and also in public profession, that Christ is to come from heaven to judge both the living and the dead, and this is what we call the Last Day, the day of divine judgement – that is, the last period of time; for it is not certain for how many days this judgement will extend. But no one who reads the holy Scriptures, however inattentively, is unaware that it is the normal use of those documents to use the word ‘day’ for ‘time’. Now when talking of the day of God’s judgement, we add the word ‘last’ or ‘final’ the reason is that God is even now judging, and he has been judging from the beginning of the human race, when he expelled the first human beings from paradise and barred them from the tree of life as perpetrators of a great sin. Yes, and even before that he undoubtedly gave judgement when he ‘did not spare the angels who sinned’,1 the chief of whom, the author of his own ruin, ruined man in his envy. And it is by God’s deep and just judgement2 that the life of demons in the air of our sky and the life of men on this earth is most miserable, being full of errors and anxieties. But even if no one had sinned, it could only have been by his good and right judgement that he would have maintained in eternal blessedness the whole rational creation, as with perfect constancy it held fast to him as its Lord.
Moreover, not only does he give an all-embracing judgement on the race of demons and on the human race, condemning them to misery as the deserved retribution for the first sins of the race; he also judges the particular actions of individuals performed by the decision of their will. For the demons beg that they may not suffer torment;3 and it is certainly not without justice that they are spared or tormented according to their particular degree of wickedness. Men also are punished by God for their deeds, often openly, always secretly, either in this life or after death, although no human being acts rightly unless he is supported by divine help, and no demon or man acts wickedly unless he is permitted by the same divine and completely just judgement. For, as the Apostle says, ‘There is no injustice in God’;4 and, as he says in another place, ‘His judgements are inscrutable, and his ways untraceable.’5
Now in this book I shall discuss, as far as God gives me power, not those first judgements, nor those judgements in the meantime, but the last judgement itself, when Christ is to come from heaven to judge the living and the dead. For that day is obviously now called the Day of Judgement in a special sense, in that no room will be left on that day for the ignorant complaint that asks why this unjust man is happy and that just man unhappy. It will then be made clear that true and complete happiness belongs to all the good, and only to them, while all the wicked, and only the wicked, are destined for deserved and supreme unhappiness.
2. The diversity of human fortunes. God’s judgement not absent, but untraceable
In our present situation, however, we are learning to bear with equanimity the ills that even good men suffer, and at the same time not to set much store by the good things which the wicked also acquire. In this way there is salutary instruction from God, even in situations where God’s justice is not apparent. For we do not know by what decision of God this good man is poor, while that wicked man is rich; why this man is cheerful, though, in our opinion, his desperate moral character makes him deserve the tortures of grief, while that man, whose exemplary life convinces us that he deserves to be cheerful, is full of sorrow; why an innocent man leaves the court not merely unavenged but actually condemned, either overcome by the injustice of the judge, or overwhelmed by false evidence, while, in contrast, his criminal adversary gloats over him, as he goes away not only unpunished but even vindicated; why the impious man is hale and hearty, while the devout man pines away in weakness; why young men practise highway-robbery, and enjoy excellent health, while infants who could not have hurt anyone, even by word, are afflicted by all manner of cruel diseases; a useful member of society is snatched off by an untimely death, while one who, as it seems to us, ought never to have been born lives on long beyond the normal span; one whose record is full of crimes is exalted to high position, while another who is beyond reproach is hidden in the shadows of obscurity. Who could list or enumerate all the other examples of this kind?
Now if such cases exhibited some consistency in their very irrationality, as we may call it, if, that is, in this life (in which as the sacred psalm says, ‘man is like a mere nothing, and his days pass by like a shadow’6) only the wicked obtained the transitory goods of this world, and only the good suffered the transitory ills, this situation could be ascribed to the just, or even the benevolent, judgement of God. Thus those who were not to attain the eternal blessings which bring true happiness would be either deluded by temporal benefits in return for their wickedness or else, by God’s mercy, would be consoled by them, while those who were not to suffer eternal torments would be either afflicted by temporal ills in retribution for whatever sins, however small, they had committed, or would be trained by them to bring their virtue to perfection. But in fact, though there are good men in adversity and bad men in prosperity, which seems unjust, it remains true that, in general, bad men come to a bad end, and good men enjoy eventual success. And so the judgements of God become the more inscrutable and his ways the more untraceable.7
Thus we do not know by what judgement God causes these situations, or else allows them to happen; for in him there is the highest power, the highest wisdom, the highest justice, and in him there is no weakness, no unreason, no injustice. For all that, it is salutary for us to learn not to set great store by those things, whether good or bad, which, as we see, are common to good men and evil alike; but to seek instead those good things which are the special possession of good men, and to shun with particular care the bad things which are the distinctive property of evil men. However, when we reach that judgement of God, the time of which is in a special sense called the Day of Judgement and sometimes the Day of the Lord, then it will become plain that God’s judgements are perfectly just, not only all the judgements that will then be passed, but also all the judgements passed from the beginning, and all which are to be pronounced hereafter until that judgement day. At that day too, it will become evident by what just decision of God it comes about that at this present time so many, in fact almost all, of the just judgements of God are hidden from mortal perception and understanding. However, in this matter one thing is not hidden from the faith of the devout; and that is, that what is hidden is just
3. Solomon on the things shared, in this life, by good and bad
Solomon, as is well known, was the wisest king of Israel. He reigned in Jerusalem; and his book called Ecclesiastes is included by the Jews in their canon of holy Scripture. It begins with these words: ‘ “Vanity of vanities”, the preacher said, “vanity of vanities.8 All is vanity. What profit does a man gain for all his labour, all his toil under the sun?”’ This is the text to which he attaches the rest of his discourse, reminding us of the anxieties and errors of this life, while the passing seasons come and vanish away, this life in which there is nothing solid and stable which is retained in our possession; and in this vanity of all things under the sun he especially deplores the fact that, although wisdom excels folly as abundantly as light excels darkness, and the wise man has eyes in his head while the fool walks in darkness, nevertheless the same lot befalls all alike (meaning, of course, in this life spent ‘under the sun’); and he evidently refers to those evils which, as we observe, are the common portion of good men and bad men. He also remarks that good men suffer evils, as if they themselves were evil, and evil men acquire good things, as if they themselves were good. He says, ‘There is a vanity which is found on earth; the fact that there are righteous men who receive the treatment due to the ungodly; and there are ungodly men who receive the treatment merited by the righteous. This also, I say, is vanity.’9
This wisest of men devoted the whole of this book to pointing out this vanity, obviously with the sole intention that we should long for that life which is not made up of vanity under this sun, but of verity under the sun’s creator. Now, in this state of vanity, is it anything but a just judgement of God that man, having become like this vanity, this nothingness, should himself vanish into it? However, in the days of his vanity what matters most is whether a man resists the truth or obeys it, whether he has no part in true religion or participates in it; and this is important not in view of the acquisition of the good things of this life, or the avoidance of evils that pass away into nothingness, but in view of the future judgement, as a result of which the good will have good things and the evil will have evil things which will endure for ever. Our wise author sums it all up when he ends his book with these words: ‘Fear God, and keep his commandments, because this is the whole man; for God will bring up for judgement every action in this world, wherever any has been disregarded, whether good or evil.’10 Could he have made any statement shorter, truer, more salutary than this?‘ Fear God’, he says, ‘and keep his commandments, because this is the whole man.’ For anyone who really is anything is assuredly this – a keeper, I mean, of God’s commandments – since anyone who is not this is nothing, because he remains in the likeness of vanity, which is nothingness; he is not remade in the likeness of verity, or reality.‘ For every action in this world’ –whatever a man does in his life here – ‘whether good or evil, God will bring up for judgement, wherever any has been disregarded’, that is, wherever a man in this life is seen as contemptible, and therefore is not, in fact, seen. God sees even him, and does not disregard him, nor pass him over when he pronounces judgement.
4. Testimonies to the last judgement are to be adduced, first from the New Testament, then from the Old
My intention is to produce proofs of this last judgement of God from holy Scripture, and those are to be chosen first from the books of the New Testament, afterwards from the Old. For although the Old Testament is prior in time, the New Testament is to be put before the Old in order of importance, since the Old Testament is the herald of the New. The New Testament, therefore, will be quoted first, and then the Old will be brought in to confirm its evidence. The Old Testament contains the Law and the Prophets, while the New has the Gospel and the apostolic writings. Now the Apostle says, ̰Through the Law comes the consciousness of sin. But now God’s justice has been revealed, independently of the Law, the justice to which the Law and the Prophets bear witness, the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, for all who believe.’11 This righteousness of God belongs to the New Testament, and it has the testimony of the old books, that is, of the Law and the Prophets. First, then, the case must be presented, and afterwards the witness must be brought in. That this order is to be observed is shown us by Jesus Christ himself, when he says, ‘The scribe who is instructed in the kingdom of God is like a householder who brings out of his store-room things new and old.’12 He did not say ‘old and new’, which he obviously would have said had he not preferred to observe the order of value rather than the order of time.
5. Statements of the Lord and Saviour about God’s judgement at the end of the world
Thus, in rebuking the cities which had not believed although he had performed works of power in them, the Saviour himself says, ‘But I tell you, it will be an easier time for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgement, than for you.’13 And a little later, addressing another city: ‘Mark my words, it will be an easier time for the land of Sodom on the day of judgement, than for you.’14 Here he is most explicitly predicting that a day of judgement is to come. And he says in another passage:
The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgement with this generation, and they will condemn it; because they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and look, something more than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise up in the judgement with this generation, and will condemn it; because she came from the ends of the earth to hear Solomon’s wisdom, and look, something more than Solomon is here.15
In this passage we learn two things: that there is a judgement to come; and that it will coincide with the resurrection of the dead. For when he said this about the men of Nineveh and about the Queen of the South, he was undoubtedly speaking about the dead; and yet he said that they would ‘rise up’ at the day of judgement. And in saying ‘they will condemn’ he did not mean that they themselves would pass judgement; he means that the comparison of others with them would lead to the merited condemnation of the others.
Again, in another context, when speaking about the present intermixture of good men and wicked, and their subsequent separation (which will, of course, happen at the day of judgement) he brought in the comparison of the wheat sown and the tares sown later. This he explains to his disciples as follows:
The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world; the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom; but the tares are the sons of the Evil One; the enemy, who sowed them is the Devil; the harvest is the consummation of the age, and the reapers are the angels. So, just as the tares are collected and burned in the fire, that is what will happen at the consummation of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect from his kingdom all stumbling-blocks, and those whose deeds are wicked, and will consign them to a burning furnace: there will be weeping there, and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will shine as bright as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him listen. 16
In this passage he did not, it is true, use the term ‘judgement’, or ‘day of judgement’; but he gave a much clearer account of it in describing the details, and foretold that it would happen at the end of the age.
Similarly, he said to his disciples, ‘Mark my words; in the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man has taken his seat on his throne of majesty, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, as judges of the twelve tribes of Israel.’ 17 We learn from this that Jesus will judge, with his disciples. That is why he says to the Jews, in another place, ‘If I cast out devils by Beelzebub, by whom do your own people cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.’ 18 Now we are not to imagine that there will be only twelve men associated with him as judges, simply because he says that they will sit on twelve thrones. For by the number twelve is symbolized a kind of universal character in the multitude of those judging. For the numbers three and four are parts of seven; and seven is a customary symbol of universality. And the product of three and four is twelve, for three fours are twelve, as are four threes; and there may be other explanations of the number twelve which would give the same significance. Otherwise, since we are told that Matthias was appointed an apostle in the place of the traitor Judas,19 there will be no throne of judgement for the Apostle Paul who ‘laboured more than all of them’. 20 Yet Paul undoubtedly shows that he belongs to the number of the judges, with the other saints, when he says, ‘Are you unaware that we shall sit in judgement on angels?’ 21 The same consideration applies to the number twelve in reference to those who are to be judged. For the statement about being ‘judges of the twelve tribes of Israel’ does not mean that the tribe of Levi, the thirteenth tribe, is therefore not to be judged by them; or that only that people is to be judged and not the rest of the nations as well. And when Christ says, ‘in the renewal’ he means, without any doubt, the resurrection of the dead to be understood by that word ‘renewal’; for our flesh will be renewed by being made exempt from decay, just as our soul is renewed by faith.
I pass over a large number of passages which seem to refer to the last judgement, but turn out to be ambiguous on careful examination, or to have more relevance to some other subject. They may refer, for example, to the coming of the Saviour in the sense that he comes throughout this present age in the person of his Church, that is in his members, part by part and little by little, since the whole Church is his body; or the reference may be to the destruction of the earthly Jerusalem. For when he speaks of that destruction he generally uses language suitable to describing the end of the world and the last great day of judgement; so that the two events cannot possibly be distinguished except by comparing the parallel statements on this subject in the three evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke. For one sets out certain points more obscurely, another more plainly; and this comparison is needed to make it clear where statements referring to the same subject begin. I have been at pains to follow this procedure in a letter I wrote to Hesychius of blessed memory, bishop of Salona, a letter entitled ‘On the End of the World.’ 22
I shall now go on to quote the statements in the Gospel according to Matthew about the separation of the good and the evil by the instant and ultimate judgement of Christ.
When the Son of Man comes in his majesty; and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne of majesty; and all the nations will be gathered before him. Then he will separate them from one another, like a shepherd separating the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep on his right, and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right: ‘Come, you that have my Father’s blessing, take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For when I was hungry, you gave me food; when I was thirsty, you gave me drink; when I was a stranger, you took me in; when I was naked, you clothed me; when I was ill, you came to my help; when I was in prison, you came to see me.’ Then the righteous will reply: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and fed you; or thirsty, and gave you drink; a stranger, and we took you in; naked, and we clothed you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and came to see you?’ And the King will answer: ‘This is what I tell you: Whenever you did this for one of my brothers, even the least important, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those on the left: ‘Out of my sight, you accursed, into the eternal fire, made ready for the Devil and his angels.’
Then he gives a list of what they have not done, corresponding to the list of what those on the right have done. And when they make the corresponding reply by asking when they saw him in need of these things, he replies that what was not done to the humblest of his brothers was not done to him. He concludes the discourse with the words: Then those will go into everlasting punishment while the just go into everlasting life.’ 23
Now the evangelist John gives an account of a very explicit prediction by Jesus that the judgement would happen at the resurrection of the dead. For he said first, ‘For the Father does not judge anyone, but has given all judgement to the Son, so that all men may honour the Son, just as they honour the Father. Anyone who denies honour to the Son denies it also to the Father who sent him.’ Then he immediately added: ‘Mark my words carefully: I am telling you that he who listens to my words and puts his faith in him who sent me possesses eternal life, and does not come up for judgement, but has passed over from death to life.’ 24 Observe that he said here that the faithful will not come up for judgement. Then how will they be separated from the evil by judgement and stand on his right hand, unless in this passage he used ‘judgement’ for ‘condemnation’? For that is the kind of judgement into which those people will not come who hear his words and put their faith in the one who sent him.
6. The first resurrection, and the second
Jesus then goes on to say, ‘Mark my words carefully: I am telling you that a time is coming, in fact it has already come, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear shall live. For as the Father has life in himself, so has the Son, by the Father’s gift.’ 25 He is not yet speaking of the second resurrection, that is, the resurrection of the body, which is to come at the end of the world, but about the first, which is here and now. It is, in fact, to distinguish the two that he says, ‘The time is coming, in fact it is already come.’ This resurrection, however, is not the resurrection of the body, but of the soul. For souls also have their own death, in the shape of irreligion and sin, the death died by those referred to by the Lord when he says, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead’, 26 that is, ‘Let those who are dead in soul bury those who are dead in body.’ Thus he is speaking of those who are dead in soul, because of irreligion and wickedness, when he says, ‘The time is coming, in fact it has already come, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear shall live.’ By ‘those who hear’ he means ‘those who obey and believe, and who persevere to the end’. And he does not here make any distinction between the good and the evil. For it is good for all to hear his voice, and to come to life by passing over from the death of irreligion to the life of devotion.
It is of this death that the apostle Paul is speaking when he says, ‘Therefore all mankind had died; and he died for all, so that men, when they are alive, should not live for themselves henceforth, but should live for him who for their sake died and rose again.’ 27 So all men are dead in sin, without any exception at all, whether that sin is original sin or voluntary sin – in addition to that – commited either in ignorance of what is right, or by failing to do what is known to be right. And for all these dead, there died the one man truly alive, that is, the one who had no sin at all. And his purpose was that those who are alive through the forgiveness of sins should henceforth live not for themselves but for him who died for all mankind, on account of our sins, and rose again for our justification 28 so that we may put our faith in him who justifies the irreligious, 29 and being brought from irreligion to righteousness – brought as if from death to life – might thus be able to take part in the first resurrection which is here and now. For in this first resurrection only those take part who will be blessed for eternity, whereas in the second, about which Jesus is soon to speak, he will teach us that the blessed and the wretched alike take part. The one is the resurrection of mercy, the other the resurrection of judgement. That is the meaning of the verse in the psalm, ‘I will sing to you, Lord, of mercy and of judgement.’ 30
Jesus goes on to speak of this judgement, in saying, ‘And he has given him authority to pass judgement, because he is the Son of Man.’ Here he is showing that he will come to judge in the body in which he came to be judged; that is the point of saying ‘because he is the Son of Man’. Then he adds the words relevant to our present topic: ‘Do not be surprised at this, that the time is coming when all who are in the grave will hear his voice and will come out; those who have done right will rise to life, those who have done wrong will rise for judgement.’31 This is ‘judgement’ in the sense in which he used the word a little before, meaning ‘condemnation’, when he said, ‘He who listens to my words, and puts his faith in him who sent me, has everlasting life, and will not come up for judgement, but has passed over from death to life.’ This means that by taking part in the first resurrection, which effects the passage from death to life, he will not come up for condemnation, which is what he means by the term ‘judgement’, as he does also in this other place, where he says, ‘Those who have done wrong will rise for judgement.’ And so anyone who does not wish to be condemned in the second resurrection must rise up in the first. For ‘the time is coming, in fact it has already come, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live’, that is, they will not come into condemnation, the ‘second death’, as it is called. Into this death, after the second resurrection, the resurrection of bodies which is to come, they will be hurled who do not rise up in the first resurrection, the resurrection of souls. ‘For the time is coming’ (and here he does not say ‘and in fact it has come already’ because it is to be at the end of the world, that is, at the last and greatest judgement of God) ‘when all who are in the grave will hear his voice and will come out.’ He does not say, as in the first resurrection, ‘and those who hear it will live’. For not all will live, that is, not all will have that life which, because it is a life of bliss, is the only life truly worthy of the name. For obviously they could not, without life of some sort, hear and come forth from the grave in the resurrection of the body.
Now he tells us in the next verse why they will not all live.‘Those who have done right’, he says, ‘will rise to life’ – they are those who are to live – ‘but those who have done wrong will rise for judgement’ – they are those who are not to live, because they are to die the second death. They have, in fact, done wrong because their life has been wicked. And their life has been wicked because in the first resurrection, the resurrection of souls which is here and now, they have not risen to a new life, or they did once so rise, but have not continued in that new life to the end. There are thus two rebirths, of which I have already spoken above: one according to faith, which comes here and now through baptism, and the other in the body, a rebirth which will come in its freedom from decay and death, as a result of the great and last judgement. Similarly, there are two resurrections: the first, the resurrection of the soul, which is here and now, and prevents us from coming to the second death; and the second, which is not now, but is to come at the end of the world. This is not the resurrection of the soul but of the body, and by means of the last judgement it will consign many to the second death, and bring others to the life that knows no death.
7. The two resurrections, and the millennium. The descriptions of John in the Apocalypse, and their interpretation
The evangelist John also spoke about those two resurrections in the book called the Apocalypse; but he spoke in such a way that the first of them has been misunderstood by some of our people and, besides this, has even been turned into ridiculous fables. Now this is what the apostle John says in the book just mentioned:
Then I saw an angel descending from heaven, holding in his hand the key of the abyss and a chain. He seized the dragon, that serpent of old, whose other names are the Devil, and Satan; and he chained him up for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it up and sealed it over him, so that he could no more lead astray the nations until the thousand years should be ended. After that he must be let loose for a short time.
Then I saw thrones, and those who sat on them; and judgement was given. And the souls of those slain because of their witness to Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshipped the beast and its image, or received its mark on their forehead or hand, these reigned with Jesus for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not come to life until the end of the thousand years. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the man who shares in this first resurrection. Over them the second death has no power; but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and will reign with him for the thousand years.32
Now some people have assumed, in view of this passage, that the first resurrection will be a bodily resurrection. They have been particularly excited, among other reasons, by the actual number of a thousand years, taking it as appropriate that there should be a kind of Sabbath for the saints for all that time, a holy rest, that is, after the labours of the six thousand years since man’s creation, when in retribution for his great sin he was expelled from paradise into the troubles of this mortal condition. Scripture says, ‘With the Lord, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day’, 33 and, on this assumption, there follows, after the completion of six thousand years – six of these ‘days’ – a kind of seventh day of Sabbath rest for the final thousand years, with the saints rising again, obviously to celebrate this Sabbath.
This notion would be in some degree tolerable if it were believed that in that Sabbath some delights of a spiritual character were to be available for the saints because of the presence of the Lord. I also entertained this notion at one time. But in fact those people assert that those who have risen again will spend their rest in the most unrestrained material feasts, in which there will be so much to eat and drink that not only will those supplies keep within no bounds of moderation but will also exceed the limits even of incredibility. But this can only be believed by materialists; and those with spiritual interests give the name ‘Chiliasts’ to the believers in this picture, a term which we can translate by a word derived from the equivalent Latin, ‘Millenarians’. It would take too long to refute them in detail; we ought instead to show how this scriptural passage is to be taken.
Now the Lord Jesus Christ himself says, ‘No one can get into the house of a strong man and carry off his property, without first tying up the strong man.’34 By the ‘strong man’ he intends us to understand the Devil, because the Devil had the power to take the human race into captivity. The ‘property’ that Christ was to carry off represents those whom the Devil held in his possession; but they were to become Christ’s faithful followers. It was to tie up this ‘strong man’ that the angel, in the apostle’s vision in the Apocalypse, was ‘descending from heaven, holding in his hand the key of the abyss and a chain’. And ‘he seized the dragon’, he says, ‘that serpent of old, whose other names are the Devil, and Satan, and he chained him up for a thousand years.’ That means that he put a check and a bridle on his power to lead astray and to hold in possession those who were to be set free.
Now the thousand years, as it seems to me, can be interpreted in two ways. It may indicate that this event happens in the last thousand years, that is, in the sixth millennium, the sixth day, as it were, of which the latter stretches are now passing, and a Sabbath is to follow that has no evening, the rest, that is to say, of the saints, which has no end. Thus our author used the term ‘a thousand years’ to denote the last part of this millennium – or ‘day’ – which remained before the end of the world, employing the figure of speech by which the whole stands for the part. Alternatively, he may have intended the thousand years to stand for the whole period of this world’s history, signifying the entirety of time by a perfect number. For, of course, the number 1,000 is the cube of 10, since 10 multiplied by 10 is 100, a square but plane figure; but to give height to the figure and make it solid 100 is again multiplied by 10, and we get 1,000. Moreover, it seems that 100 is sometimes used to stand for totality; for example, the Lord promised anyone who left all his possessions and followed him that he would ‘receive a hundredfold in this world’, 35 and we may say that the Apostle is explaining this when he speaks of ‘seeming to have nothing, and yet possessing everything’, 36 because at an earlier time it has been said that ‘the entire world is included in the wealth of a man of faith.’ 37 If this is so, how much more does 1,000 represent totality, being the square of 10 converted into a solid figure! Hence when we read in the psalm, ‘He has always remembered his covenant, the word which he gave to a thousand generations’, 38 there is no better interpretation of those words than by taking ‘a thousand generations’ as signifying ‘all generations’.
‘And he threw him’, says John, ‘into the abyss’, meaning, clearly, that he cast the Devil into the abyss; and ‘the abyss’ symbolizes the innumerable multitude of the impious, in whose hearts there is a great depth of malignity against the Church of God. Not that the Devil was not in them before; but the reason why he is said to be thrown there is that when he is excluded from believers he starts to have a greater hold on the irreligious. For any person is more securely in the Devil’s possession when he is not only estranged from God but goes on to conceive a gratuitous hatred for God’s servants.‘And he shut it up’, it continues, ‘and sealed it over him, so that he could no more lead astray the nations until the thousand years should be ended.’ ‘Shut it up’ means that ‘the angel put a ban on the Devil, so that he could not come our’ he was forbidden to pass the barrier – to ‘transgress’. While the addition of ‘and sealed it’ seems to me to signify that God wished it to be kept a secret who belongs to the Devil’s party, and who does not. For in this world, to be sure, this is kept a secret, since it is uncertain whether he who seems to be standing firm is destined to fall and whether he who seems to lie fallen is destined to rise again.
Now because he is bound and shut up by this ban the Devil is prohibited and inhibited from leading astray the nations which belonged to Christ but were in time past led astray by him or held in his grip. For God chose those nations before the foundation of the world, to ‘rescue them from the power of darkness and transfer them to the kingdom of his beloved Son’, as the Apostle says.39 For there is no one among the faithful who is not aware that the Devil even now leads nations astray and drags them off with him into eternal punishment; but not those peoples destined for everlasting life. No one should be disturbed by the fact that the Devil often leads astray even those who have already been reborn in Christ and are walking in the ways of God. For ‘the Lord knows those who belong to him’; 40 and the Devil leads none of them astray into eternal condemnation. For the Lord knows them, as God knows (from whom nothing is hidden, not even any of the things yet to be) not as a man knows; for a man sees another man as he is at that time (if indeed he really sees him, when he does not see his heart), but he does not see what kind of a man even he himself is to become in the future. This, then, is the purpose for which the Devil is bound and shut up in the abyss; so that he may no longer lead astray the nations of which the Church is made up, nations whom he led astray and held in his grip before they were a Church. For what is said is not ‘that he should not lead anyone astray’ but ‘that he should not lead the nations astray’, by which the writer undoubtedly meant the Church to be understood; ‘until the end of the thousand years’, that is, either what remains of the sixth day (which consists of one thousand years), or all the years to come which will complete the history of the world.
As for the words, ‘so that he should no longer lead astray the nations until the thousand years should be ended’, this statement is not to be taken as implying that he will afterwards lead astray only those nations of which the predestined Church is composed, which he had formerly been prevented from seducing by the fact that he was bound and shut up in the abyss. But there are two possibilities: either the saying employs that mode of expression which is found with some frequency in Scripture, as for example in the psalm which says, ‘So our eyes are fixed on the Lord our God until he has mercy upon us’, 41 which does not mean that when God has shown mercy the eyes of his servants will cease to be fixed on him; or else the true sequence of the sentence is, ‘And he shut it up and sealed it over him until the end of the thousand years’; and the significance of the interpolated clause, ‘so that he should not lead the nations astray’, is not to be understood from its place in the sentence, but separately; in fact, as if it were added at the end. Thus the whole sentence would run, ‘And he shut it up and sealed it above him until the thousand years should be ended, so that he could no longer lead the nations astray’; that is, the reason why he shut him up until the thousand years should be ended, was to prevent him from leading the nations astray.
8. The binding and unloosing of the Devil
‘After this’, the narrative continues, ‘the Devil must be unloosed for a short time.’ Now if the binding and shutting up of the Devil means that he cannot lead the Church astray, will his unloosing mean that he can do so again? God forbid! For he will never seduce that Church which was predestined and chosen before the foundation of the world, the Church of which it is said that ‘the Lord knows those who belong to him.’ And yet there will be a Church on earth at that time also when the Devil is due to be unloosed, just as there has been a Church on earth from the time of the world’s foundation, and as there will always be, represented by its members as each new generation succeeds the generation that passes away. In fact, a little after this John says that when the Devil has been unloosed he will lead nations astray throughout the world and draw them into waging war on the Church, and that the number of the Church’s enemies will be as the sands of the sea.’And they went up’, he says, ‘over the breadth of the land, and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city; and fire came down on them from heaven and devoured them. And the Devil, who seduced them, was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet are; and they will be tormented day and night for ever.’ 42
Now this refers to the last judgement; but I thought it should be quoted at this point for a particular reason: to prevent anyone from supposing that in the short time when the Devil will be let loose there will be no Church on this earth, either because he will find no Church here when he is unloosed or because he will have annihilated it by all kinds of persecutions. And so the Devil is bound throughout the whole period embraced by the Apocalypse, that is, from the first coming of Christ to the end of the world, which will be Christ’s second coming, and the meaning of the binding is not that he ceases to seduce the Church during that interval called ‘the thousand years’, as is shown by the fact that when unloosed he is evidently not destined to lead it astray. For assuredly if his binding meant that he is unable, or not allowed, to lead it astray, his unloosing can only mean that he is now able, or permitted, to do so. But God forbid that this should be the case! Instead, what the binding of the Devil means is that he is not permitted to exert his whole power of temptation either by force or by guile to seduce men to his side by violent compulsion or fraudulent delusion. For if he were permitted for so long a time, a time when so many were so insecure, he would overthrow very many of the faithful or prevent very many from believing, and those would be the kind of men to whom God did not will that this should happen. It was to prevent his achieving this that he was bound.
But the Devil will be unloosed when the ‘short time’ comes; for we are told that he is going to rage with all his strength, and with the strength of his supporters for three years and six months.43 And yet those against whom he has to wage war will be the kind of people who cannot be conquered by his great attack and all his stratagems. But if he had never been unloosed his malign power would not have been so clearly seen, and the endurance of the Holy City would never have been so clearly proved in its utter faithfulness; above all it would not have been so manifest what good use the Omnipotent was to make of the Devil’s great wickedness. The Omnipotent did not debar him altogether from putting the saints to the test; but he threw out the Devil from their inner man, the seat of belief in God, so that they might profit from his outward assault. And he tied him up among those who belong to his party, lest by pouring out his malice and exercising it to the utmost of his power he should hinder or break down the faith of countless weak persons, by whom the Church was to be filled up and multiplied, destroying the faith of some who already believed, hindering the faith of others who were on the point of believing. In the end the Omnipotent will unloose him, so that the City of God may behold how powerful a foe it has overcome, to the immense glory of its Redeemer, its Helper, its Deliverer. What are we, to be sure, in comparison with the saints and believers of the future, seeing that so mighty an adversary will be let loose against them, whereas we have the greatest peril in our struggle with him although he is bound? And yet there is no doubt that even during this period of time there have been, and there are today, some soldiers of Christ so wise and brave that even if they were living in this mortal condition at the time when the Devil is to be unloosed, they would take the most prudent precautions against his stratagems, and withstand his assaults with the utmost steadfastness.
Now this binding of the Devil was not only effected at the time when the Church began to spread beyond the land of Judaea into other nations, at various times; it is happening even now, and will continue to happen until the end of the age, when he is to be unloosed. For even now men are being converted to the faith from the unbelief in which the Devil held them in his power, and without doubt they will go on being converted to the end of the age; and this ‘strong man’ is obviously being bound in the case of every man who is snatched away from him, as part of his property. And the abyss in which he is confined is not done away with when those are dead who were alive at the time when he was first shut up; others have taken their place, as new generations are born, and they go on being replaced until this age comes to an end. These are men who hate the Christians, and in the dark depths of their hearts the Devil is shut up every day, as in an abyss. On the other hand, it is a matter of some question whether during those last three years and six months, when the Devil is unloosed and will be raging with all his strength, anyone will join the faith who has not previously been of the faith. For if the ‘property of the strong man’ is snatched away even when the strong man is unloosed, that would be inconsistent with the statement that no one ‘enters the house of a strong man to take off his property, without first tying up the strong man’.44 It seems, therefore, that this statement forces us to suppose that in that period, brief though it is, no one will join the people of Christ, but the Devil will do battle with those who are found to be already Christians; and although some of them will be defeated and will follow the Devil, they will not be people belonging to the predestined number of the sons of God. For it is not for nothing that the same apostle John who wrote this Apocalypse says of some people, in his epistle, that ‘they went out from our company, but they did not really belong to us; if they had belonged to us, they would have stayed with us.’ 45
But what happens to the little ones? For it would be too incredible to suppose that at that time there will be no infant children of Christians, already born, who will be caught unbaptized, or that none will be born during that very period; or that if there are such, they will not somehow or other be brought by their parents to the ‘washing of rebirth’.46 And yet if this happens, how are those pieces of ‘property’ to be snatched away from the Devil when he is unloosed, seeing that ‘no one enters his house, to take off his property, without first binding him’? But in fact we must in preference believe that there will be instances both of people falling away from the Church and of new members being added, even in that period. We may be sure that there will be sufficient courage shown by parents in seeking baptism for their little ones and by those who come to believe for the first time in that period to give them victory over that ‘strong man’, even though he is not bound – that is, even though he plots with all his tricks and attacks with all his strength, those people will have the vigilance to be aware of him and the endurance to withstand him, and so his’ property’ will be snatched from him even though he is not bound.
That will not mean that the statement in the Gospel will be proved false, that no one ‘enters the house of a strong man, to take off his property, without first binding the strong man’. For the truth of the statement is seen in the observance of this order: first comes the binding of the strong man, then the seizure of his property; and this is followed by such a multiplication of the Church among all nations far and wide, by the accession of both strong and weak, that as a result of a robust confidence in things divinely predicted and fulfilled, the Church is strong enough to carry off the Devil’s property even though he has been unloosed. It is indeed true that we have to admit that ‘since wickedness abounds, the love of many people grows cold’, 47 and that those who are not entered in the book of life will give way in large numbers before the unexampled magnitude of the persecutions and deceptions of the Devil, now unloosed; it is equally true that we must suppose that the good whom that time shall find faithful will prevail over the Devil. And besides those there are some who up to that time have been outside the Church, who will then, with the help of God’s grace, and by the study of the Scriptures (in which is foretold, besides other things, the very end which they now perceive approaching) become more resolute to believe what they did not believe before, and strong enough to overcome the Devil, even when unloosed. If this is what will happen, then the binding of the Devil must be said to come first, so that there may follow the seizure of his goods, both when he is bound and when he is unloosed; for this is the meaning of the words, ‘Who will enter the house of a strong man, to take away his property, without first binding the strong man?’
9. The nature of the kingdom of the saints, lasting a thousand years; and its difference from the eternal kingdom
In the meantime, while the Devil is bound for a thousand years, the saints reign with Christ, also for a thousand years; which are without doubt to be taken in the same sense, and as denoting the same period, that is, the period beginning with Christ’s first coming. We must certainly rule out any reference to that kingdom which he is to speak of at the end of the world, in the words, ‘Come, you that have my Father’s blessing, take possession of the kingdom prepared for you’; 48 and so, even now, although in some other and far inferior way, his saints must be reigning with him, the saints to whom he says, ‘See, I am always with you, right up to the end of the world’; 49 for otherwise the Church could surely not be called his kingdom, or the kingdom of heaven. For it is obviously in this period that the scribe is ‘instructed in the kingdom of God’, the scribe, whom we mentioned above, who ‘brings out of his store things new and old’.50 And it is from the Church that the reapers are to collect the tares which the Lord allowed to grow together with the wheat until the harvest, as he explains when he says, ‘The harvest is the end of the world, and the reapers are the angels. And so, just as the tares are collected and burned in the fire, that is what will happen at the consummation of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect from his kingdom all stumbling-blocks.’ 51 Can he here be speaking of a kingdom where there are no stumbling-blocks? If not, then they must be collected from this kingdom which is the Church in this world.
Moreover, Christ says, ‘Anyone who breaks one of the least of those commandments, and teaches other people, will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven, whereas anyone who keeps the commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.’ 52He speaks of both men as being in the kingdom of heaven, the man who does not keep the commandments which he teaches (for the meaning of ‘to break’ is ‘not to observe’, ‘not to carry out’) and the man who carries them out, and teaches others to do the same; but he calls one ‘least’ and the other ‘great’. And immediately he goes on to add, For I tell you that unless your righteousness far exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees’, that is, of those who break what they teach (for he says of the scribes and Pharisees in another place, ‘For they talk, but they do not practise’ 53) – unless ‘your righteousness far exceeds theirs’, that is, unless you do not break, but instead carry out, what you teach, ‘you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.’
So then we must understand the kingdom of heaven in one sense as a kingdom in which both are included, the man who breaks what he teaches, and the man who practises it, though one is the least and the other is great in the kingdom, while in another sense it is a kingdom into which there enters only the man who practises what he teaches. Thus where both are to be found we have the Church as it now is; but where only the one kind will be found, there is the Church as it will be, when no evil person will be included. It follows that the Church even now is the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of heaven. And so even now his saints reign with him, though not in the same way as they will then reign; and yet the tares do not reign with him, although they are growing in the Church side by side with the wheat. For those people reign with Christ who do what the Apostle speaks of when he says, ‘If you have risen again with Christ, show a taste for the higher wisdom, where Christ is seated at God’s right hand; let your aspirations rise to that higher realm, and do not confine them to this earthly sphere.’ 54 Of such people he also says that ‘their true home is in heaven.’ 55Ultimately, those people reign with him who are in his kingdom in such a way that they themselves are his kingdom. But in what way can those people be the kingdom of Christ who, to mention nothing else, although they are included in it until the collection and removal of all stumbling-blocks at the end of the world, are nevertheless seeking their own interests in that kingdom, and not the interests of Jesus Christ? 56
It is therefore of this kingdom at war, in which conflict still rages with the enemy, that the Apocalypse is speaking in the passage we are considering. In this kingdom sometimes there is fighting against vices that attack us, though sometimes they submit to being ruled, until that kingdom of perfect peace comes where the King will reign without opposition. And so the passage is also concerned with the first resurrection, which is now in being. For the apostle first says that the Devil is bound for a thousand years, and afterwards unloosed for a short time; and then he gives a summary of what the Church does during those thousand years, or what is done in it, when he says, ‘I saw thrones, and those who sat on them, and judgement was given.’ 57 This must not be supposed to refer to the last judgement The thrones are to be interpreted as the seats of the authorities by whom the Church is now governed, and those sitting on them as the authorities themselves. And it seems clear that the best interpretation of the judgement given is that referred to in the words: ‘Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ 58Hence the Apostle says, ‘What have I to do with judging those outside? As for those inside, surely you yourselves judge their cases?’ 59 And the Apocalypse continues, ‘The souls of those who were slain because of their witness to Jesus and because of the word of God’, and we take this with the words that follow later: ‘reigned with Jesus for a thousand years’.60 These are, clearly, the souls of the martyrs, their bodies being not yet restored to them.
For the souls of the pious dead are not separated from the Church, which is even now the kingdom of Christ. Otherwise they would not be commemorated at the altar of God at the time of the partaking of the body of Christ, nor would it be of any avail to have recourse to the Church’s baptism in time of peril, for fear that this life should end without baptism, nor to have recourse to reconciliation at such time, if it happens that one is separated from this body under penance or through one’s own bad conscience. Why are such steps taken, unless it is because the faithful are still members of this body, even when they have departed this life? And therefore their souls, even though not yet with their bodies, already reign with him while those thousand years are running their course. That is why we read, in another place in the same book: ‘Blessed are the dead who the in the Lord. Yes, indeed, says the Spirit, from henceforth they may rest from their toils: for their deeds go with them.’ 61 And so the Church now begins to reign with Christ among the living and the dead. For ‘this is the reason’, says the apostle, ‘why Christ died, that he might be Lord of both the living and the dead.’ 62 But this reign after death belongs especially to those who struggled on truth’s behalf even to death; and that is why it is only the souls of the martyrs that are mentioned in the Apocalypse. Nevertheless we take the part as implying the whole, and interpret it as meaning that the rest of the dead also belong to the Church, which is the kingdom of Christ.
The narrative continues, ‘And any who had not worshipped the beast or his image or received his mark on their foreheads or their hands’, 63 and we ought to understand this as referring to the living and the dead alike. The next question, what this beast stands for, needs more careful investigation; it would not, however, be repugnant to the true faith to understand the beast to represent the godless city itself, and the people of the unbelievers, contrasted with the people of the faith and the City of God. ‘His image’, to be sure, seems to me to stand for ‘his pretence’, the pretence shown, that is, in those people who profess the faith but live the lives of unbelievers. For they put up a show of being what they are not, and they are called Christians, not because of a truthful representation of Christianity, but because of an illusory resemblance to it. For it is not only the open enemies of the name of Christ and his most glorious City who belong to this beast; there are also the tares which are to be gathered at the end of the world and taken from Christ’s kingdom, that is, from the Church. And who else can be meant by ‘those who do not worship the beast or his image’ except those who follow the instruction of the apostle by not ‘taking the yoke with the unbelievers’? 64 For ‘do not worship’ means ‘do not consent’, ‘are not subordinate to’. And ‘do not receive his mark’ refers to the sign of guilt, ‘on their foreheads’ because of their profession, ‘on their hands’ because of their activities. Those who have no part in those evil practices, therefore, whether they are still alive in the mortal body, or have departed this life, are reigning even now with Christ, in a way appropriate to this period, during all the intervening time, symbolized by the number of the years – a thousand.
‘The rest of them’, it says, ‘did not come to life.’ 65 For ‘the time has already come when the dead hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear shall live.’ 66 The rest of them, it follows, will not live. But the next words in the Apocalypse, ‘until the thousand years are ended’.must be taken to imply that they did not come to life when they should have done so, that is, by passing over from death to life. That is why, when the day comes on which the resurrection of the body also is effected, they will come out of the grave not to life but for judgement, to the condemnation, that is, which is called the second death. For anyone who has not come to life until the end of the thousand years – anyone, that is, who during the whole of that period when the first resurrection is going on has not heard the voice of the Son of God, and passed over from death to life – will pass, at the second resurrection, the resurrection of the body, into the second death, with his body. For John goes on to add, ‘This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the man who has a part in this first resurrection’, 67 that is, who participates in it. Now the man who participates in it is the man who not only comes to life again from the death of sin, but continues in this condition of new life.’Over them’, says the Apocalypse, ‘the second death has no power.’ This implies that death has power over the rest, who were described earlier as ‘those who did not come to life until the end of the thousand years’.68 For in all that period of time, which John calls ‘a thousand years’, however long the life of any of those people in the body during that time, they did not come to life again from the death in which their impiety held them. This coming to life again would have made them sharers in the first resurrection; and then the second death would have had no power over them.
10. The notion that resurrection has reference only to the body, not to the soul
Some people have the idea that ‘resurrection’ can only mean the resurrection of the body, and they maintain that this first resurrection also will be that of the body. For, they say, only what can fall can rise again; now bodies fall when they the, in fact, corpses are called cadavera from the fact that they fall (cadendo). Consequently, they say, there cannot be a resurrection of souls, only of bodies. But what have they to say in reply to the Apostle, who speaks of such a resurrection? For when he says, ‘If you have risen with Christ, show a taste for the higher wisdom’, 69 he was surely addressing those who had risen again in the ‘inner man’, not the outer. He expresses the same thought elsewhere in different words, when he says, ‘So that, just as Christ rose again from the dead in the glory of the Father, we also may walk in a new way of life.’ 70 The same idea underlies this saying, ‘Awake, you sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ 71
Now as for their statement that only those who fall can rise, and their consequent assumption that resurrection refers only to bodies, why do they not listen to such sayings as, ‘Do not depart from him, for fear you may fall’, 72 and, ‘in relation to his own Master he stands or falls’, 73 and, ‘Anyone who thinks he is standing firm should beware in case he may fall’? 74 For the fall that we should beware of is, I imagine, the fall of the soul, not that of the body. If, therefore, resurrection is of things that fall, and if souls also fall, then assuredly it is to be admitted that souls rise again.
One further point on this passage: the statement that ‘death has no power over them’ is followed by these words: ‘But they will be priests of God and of Christ, and will reign with him for a thousand years.’ 75 This clearly does not mean only the bishops and presbyters, who are now called by the distinctive name of ‘priests’ in the Church; but just as we call all Christians ‘Christs’ in virtue of their sacramental anointing (chrisma) so we call them all ‘priests’ because they are members of the one Priest. And the apostle Peter says of them that they are ‘a holy people, a royal priesthood’.76 It is to be observed that in this passage John conveys the suggestion, though briefly and in passing, that Christ is God, when he says, ‘priests of God and Christ’, that is of the Father and the Son, although it was in respect of the ‘form of a servant’ 77 and as Son of Man that Christ was ‘made a priest for ever in the line of Melchisedech’.78 This is a point I have mentioned more than once in this work.79
11. Gog and Magog, the agents of the Devil’s persecution towards the end of the world
‘And when the thousand years are over’ the narrative continues, ‘Satan will be unloosed from his prison, and will go out to lead astray the nations in the four corners of the earth, and he will draw them into war; these are Gog and Magog, and their number is like the sands of the sea.’ 80 He leads them astray, we see, so that he can draw them into war. For he has been leading them astray before this, by all means at his command, using multifarious kinds of evil. But ‘he will go out’ means Tie will burst out of his lair of hatred into open persecution’. This, in fact, will be the last persecution, when the last judgement is imminent, and this persecution will be suffered throughout the whole world by the holy Church, the universal City of Christ being persecuted by the universal city of the Devil, each at the height of its power on earth. For the nations called Gog and Magog are not to be taken as standing for some barbarian peoples, whose home is in some particular part of the earth, whether the Getae and the Massagetae (as some have guessed on account of the initials of their names), or some other peoples of foreign race, outside Roman sway. It is indicated, in fact, that they exist all over the world, when the first statement about ‘nations in the four corners of the earth’ is followed by the remark that those nations are Gog and Magog. I find that the names mean: Gog, ‘a roof; Magog, ‘from the roof, 81 or, as we might say, the house and the one who proceeds from the house.
These, then, are the nations in which, according to our interpretation given above, 82 the Devil is shut up, as it were, in an abyss; and the Devil himself is, in a way, one who rushes out and proceeds from them; as they are ‘the roof, he is the one who proceeds ‘from the roof. If, on the other hand, we refer both names to the nations, instead of applying one to them and the other to the Devil, then they will be ‘the roof because the ancient enemy is shut up in them and, in a sense, covered by them; and they will also be ‘from the roof when they burst out from covert into overt hatred. As for the words, ‘and they went up over the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city’, 83 this clearly does not mean that they have come, or will come, to one place, as if the camp of the saints and the beloved City are to be in some one place. For these are simply the Church of Christ spread all over the world. It follows that wherever the Church is at that time, and it will be among all the nations –which is the meaning of ‘over the breadth of the earth’ – there the camp of the saints will be, and there God’s beloved City. There it will be surrounded by all its enemies – for they also will be present along with that City, among all nations – in the savagery of that persecution. That is, the City will be hemmed in, hard pressed, shut up, in the straits of tribulation, yet it will not abandon its warfare, which is here called ‘the camp’.
12. The fire that consumed Gog and Magog: and the fire of the last punishment
‘And fire came down from heaven and devoured them.’ This must not be supposed to describe the last punishment, which is to come with the sentence, ‘Out of my sight, accursed ones, into the eternal fire.’ 84 For then, to be sure, they themselves are to be flung into the fire, instead of having fire coming down from heaven upon them. This fire from heaven, in fact, is rightly taken to mean the firmness of the saints, which will keep them from giving way to those who rage against them and from carrying out the wishes of these opponents. For the heaven is the ‘firmament’ through whose ‘firmness’ these attackers will be tormented with blazing zeal, since they will be unable to draw the saints of Christ to the part of Antichrist. This zeal will be the fire that devours them, and it will be ‘from God’, since it is by the gift of God that the saints are made invincible, and that is what torments their enemies. For while ‘zeal’ has a good sense in ‘the zeal of your house has consumed me’, 85 it has an opposite sense in ‘Zeal has taken hold of the uninstructed people, and now fire will consume those opponents.’ 86 Notice the phrase ‘and now’, which clearly rules out a reference to the last judgement. Alternatively, the fire that comes down from heaven and devours them may mean the blow that is to be dealt to persecutors of the Church when Christ comes and finds them alive in the earth and when he kills the Antichrist with the breath of his mouth.87 But even so this will not be the final punishment of the impious; that last punishment is the punishment they are to undergo after the resurrection of the body.
13. The relation of the persecution of Antichrist to the thousand years
This last persecution, which is to be inflicted by Antichrist, will last for three years and six months; I have already stated this, and it is also laid down earlier in the Apocalypse, and in the book of the prophet Daniel.88 Brief though this time is, it is a proper matter for debate whether it is included in the thousand years during which the Devil is said to be bound, while the saints reign with Christ, or whether this short space is to be added, as an extra period. For if we say that it is within the thousand years, then it will be seen that the reign of the saints with Christ is not coextensive with the binding of the Devil, but lasts a longer time. For the saints will surely reign with their King even in that persecution, in fact, especially at that time, when they will overcome all its great evils, at a time when the Devil is no longer bound, and so can persecute them with all his might. How is it, then, that Scripture limits both the Devil’s binding and the reign of the saints to the same period of the thousand years, if the Devil’s binding is to come to an end three years and six months before the end of the thousand-year reign of the saints with Christ?
On the other hand, if we say that this brief space of persecution is not to be reckoned in with the thousand years, but added to them instead, then the statements of the narrative can be understood in their literal sense. First comes the statement, ‘The priests of God and of Christ will reign with him for a thousand years.’ This is followed by, ‘And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be unloosed from his prison.’ 89 Taken in this way, the meaning is that the reign of the saints and the imprisonment of the Devil are to end at the same time. Then the time of the persecution belongs, we believe, neither to the reign of the saints nor to the imprisonment of Satan – both lasting a thousand years – but is to be reckoned as an additional period. But on this supposition we shall be forced to admit that the saints will not reign with Christ in that time of persecution. Yet who would dare to say that his members will not reign with him at that time when they will cleave to him most closely and strongly and at a time when the fiercer the assault of war the greater the glory of refusal to yield, and the richer the martyr’s crown?
Alternatively, if they are not to be accounted as destined to reign, because of the tribulations they are to endure, it will follow that in earlier times also, during those thousand years, all the saints who suffered tribulation must not be accounted as having been reigning with Christ during the actual time of their tribulation. Accordingly, those whose souls the author of the Apocalypse writes that he beheld, those who were ‘killed because of their witness to Jesus and because of the word of God’, 90 did not reign with Christ when they were suffering persecutions, and they themselves were not the kingdom of Christ, although Christ possessed them in a pre-eminent sense. Now this, to be sure, is utterly absurd, a conclusion to be repudiated at all costs. In fact, it is certain that the victorious souls of the glorious martyrs, at least, after overcoming all their sufferings and after the end of all their hardships, reigned with Christ, when they had laid down their mortal members; and they are still reigning, until the thousand years are ended, so that they may go on reigning when they have received their bodies, which will then be immortal.
Thus, during those three and a half years, the souls of those slain for their witness to Christ, both those which had already left their bodies and those which are destined to leave them in the last persecution, will reign with him until this mortal age is ended and we pass over to that kingdom where there will be no death. Hence the reign of the saints with Christ will last for more years than the Devil’s imprisonment in chains, because they will reign with their King, God’s Son, during the three and a half years also when the Devil is no longer bound. The conclusion is, then, that when we hear these words: ‘The priests of God and of Christ will reign with him for a thousand years; and when the thousand years are ended Satan will be unloosed from his prison’, we should take it in one of two ways: either the thousand years of the reign of the saints is not ended, but the imprisonment of the Devil in chains is at an end, so that both sides have their thousand years, that is, their particular totality of years, though the length of the periods differs, the reign of the saints being longer, while the imprisonment of the Devil is shorter in duration; or else, since three years and six months is a very short space of time, it may be assumed that it does not require taking into account, whether it appears to diminish the Devil’s bondage or to increase the length of the reign of the saints. This is like the question of the four hundred years which I discussed in the sixteenth book of this work; 91 for there were rather more than four hundred, and yet they were given in round numbers as four hundred. There are many similar forms of expression to be found in the sacred writings, if one looks out for them.
14. The condemnation of the Devil and his followers; and a summary account of the resurrection of the body and the final judgement
This mention of the last persecution is followed by a brief epitome of all that is still to be suffered by the opposing city, together with its leader, at the last judgement.’Then the Devil, their seducer, was flung into the lake of fire and sulphur, into which the beast and the false prophet had been cast. And they will be tormented day and night for ever.’ 92 The correct interpretation of ‘the beast’, is, as I said earlier, 93 the ungodly city itself; while its ‘false prophet’ stands either for Antichrist, or for that ‘image’, that is that pretence, about which I spoke in that passage. After this, the author gives a summary account of the last judgement itself, which will take place at the resurrection of the dead, that is, of the body, describing how it was revealed to him. Then I saw a great white throne, and the One who sat on it: from his presence heaven and earth fled, and no place was left for them.’ 94 He does not say, ‘I saw a great white throne, and the One who sat on it, and from his presence heaven and earth fled’, because this had not yet happened, that is, it did not happen before judgement had been passed on the living and the dead. What he says is that he saw sitting on the throne the One from whose presence heaven and earth fled – but that happens afterwards. For after the judgement has been accomplished this heaven and this earth will, of course, cease to be, when a new heaven and a new earth will come into being. For it is by a transformation of the physical universe, not by its annihilation, that this world will pass away. Hence the Apostle’s statement, ‘The form of this world is passing away, and I want you to be spared anxiety.’ 95 It is, then, the outward form, not the substance, that passes.
Now when John has described his vision of One sitting on a throne, from whose presence heaven and earth fled – a vision to be fulfilled hereafter – he continues, ‘Then I saw the dead, great and small; and the books were opened. Then another book was opened, the book of the life of every man; and the dead were judged according to their deeds, on the record in those books.’ 96 He speaks of ‘books opened’ and ‘a book’, and he did not omit to describe what kind of a book this was: it was ‘the book of every man’s life’. The ‘books’ mentioned first must therefore be taken as the sacred books, old and new, which were opened to show what commandments God had given in them, with orders that they should be fulfilled, while the other book, the book of every man’s life, was to show which of these commandments each man had fulfilled or failed to fulfil. If this book is imagined as a material volume, who could estimate its size or length? How long would it take to read a book containing the whole life of every person? Or are we to suppose that there will be the same number of angels present as men, and that each man will listen to the account of his life being read by the angel assigned to him? If so, there will not be one book for all, but one for each person. However, the scriptural passage intends us to take it as one book, since it says, ‘Another book was opened.’ Consequently, we must understand this to mean a kind of divine power which will ensure that all the actions, good or bad, of every individual will be recalled to mind and presented to the mind’s view with miraculous speed, so that each man’s knowledge will accuse or excuse his conscience, 97 and thus each and all will be judged simultaneously. This divine power is no doubt called a ‘book’ because it ensures the recollection of the facts, and those facts are, as we may say, ‘read’ in this process.
Then, to make it clear who the dead are, the small and the great, who are to be judged, the author recapitulates 98, as if going back to make a point which he had omitted, or rather postponed. ‘The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death and Hades gave back the dead which they had in their keeping.’ 99 This, beyond any doubt, took place before the judgement of the dead; and yet the judgement is described first. This is what I meant by saying that the author went back, by way of recapitulation, to make a point which he had left out. But after that he keeps to the order of events; and to make that order clear, he repeats in its own place, and here more appropriately, what he has already said about the dead who were judged. For after saying, ‘The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave back the dead that they had in their keeping’, he straightway adds what he has stated a little before: ‘And they were judged, each of them on the record of his actions.’ This is the same as he has said above: ‘The dead were judged on the record of their actions.’
15. The meaning of the dead given up by the sea, and by Death and Hades
Now who are meant by the dead who were in the sea, and whom the sea gave up? It cannot be meant that those who the in the sea are not in Hades; or that their bodies are preserved in the sea; or – a still more absurd suggestion – that the sea had in its keeping the good dead, while Hades had the wicked. Who could entertain such a notion? Some people, however, make the very reasonable assumption that in this context the sea stands for this age. On this assumption, when the author wanted to express symbolically the fact that judgement is to be passed on those whom Christ will find on earth still in the bodily frame, at the same time as on those who are to rise again, he called them ‘the dead’, including in that category the good, of whom it is said, ‘You are dead, and your lives are hidden with Christ in God’, as well as the wicked, of whom it is said: ‘Let the dead bury their dead.’ 100 There is also another reason for calling them dead, the fact that they wear mortal bodies; which is why the Apostle says, ‘The body, to be sure, is dead because of sin: but the spirit is life because we have been justified’; 101 thus pointing out that in a man who is alive and still in the bodily frame there is a body which is dead and a spirit which is life. He did not say, we notice, that the body is ‘mortal’, but that it is ‘dead’, although a little later he describes the same bodies as ‘mortal’, which is the more usual description. We conclude, then, that ‘the sea gave up the dead who were in it’ means that this age gave up all who belonged to it, because they had not yet died.
‘And Death and Hades gave back the dead whom they had in their keeping.’ The sea ‘gave them up’, because these people presented themselves in the condition in which they were found, whereas Death and Hades ‘gave them back’, because they recalled them to the life from which they had departed. And it may be that there was good reason for finding it insufficient to say ‘Death’ or ‘Hades’, and for using both terms: ‘Death’, perhaps, with reference to the good, who could suffer only death, and not hell as well; ‘Hades’ with reference to the wicked, who suffer punishment also in hell. For if there seems no absurdity in the belief that the holy men of old, who held a faith in the Christ who was still to come, dwelt in regions far removed from the torments of the ungodly, but still in the nether world, until Christ’s blood and his descent to those regions should rescue them from that place, then surely from that time onwards the good believers, now redeemed by the shedding of his blood as their ransom, have no experience at all of Hades, as they wait to receive back their bodies and to receive the good things they deserve.
The statement that ‘they were judged, each of them on the record of their actions’, is followed by a brief description of the manner of the judgement: ‘Then Death and Hades were flung into the lake of fire’, these terms signifying the Devil (as responsible for death and the pains of hell) and, together with him, the whole society of the demons. This has, in fact, already been said more explicitly, in the anticipatory statement that ‘the Devil, their seducer, was flung into the lake of fire and sulphur.’ And the somewhat obscure additional clause, ‘into which the beast and the false prophet had been cast’, is here replaced by the more explicit statement: ‘Then those whose names were not found in the book of life were flung into the lake of fire.’ This ‘book’ is not an aid to God’s memory, to prevent him from making a mistake through forgetfulness! What is symbolized is the predestination of those to whom eternal life will be given. For God is not unaware of their existence, so that he has to refer to the book to know about them. The fact is that his foreknowledge of them, which is infallible, is itself the book of life in which they are written, that is, they are known beforehand.
16. The new heaven and the new earth
Having ended his prophecy of the future judgement of the wicked, the author has now to treat also of the good. And so, after his brief development of the Lord’s statement that ‘these will go into everlasting punishment’ he proceeds to the development of the connected statement that ‘the righteous will go into eternal life.’ 102 John goes on to say, ‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth have vanished, and there is no longer any sea.’ 103 This will come to pass in the order already described by anticipation, where he has said that he saw One sitting on a throne, and heaven and earth vanished from his presence.104 For after judgement has been passed on those who are not recorded in the book of life and they have been flung into the lake of fire (a fire whose nature and whose situation in the world or the universe is, I conceive, known to no one, unless perhaps the Spirit of God has revealed it to someone) then the form of this world will pass away in a blazing up of the fires of the world, just as the Deluge was caused by the overflowing of the waters of the world. Thus in that blazing up, as I call it, of the fires of the world, the qualities of the corruptible elements which were appropriate for our corruptible bodies will utterly perish in the burning, and our substance itself will acquire the qualities which will be suited, by a miraculous transformation, to our immortal bodies, with the obvious purpose of furnishing the world, now renewed for the better, with a fitting population of human beings, renewed for the better even in their flesh.
As for the statement that ‘there is no longer any sea’, I should find it hard to say whether it is dried up by the intense heat, or whether the sea also is to be changed for the better. We are indeed told that there is to be a new heaven and a new earth; but I do not recall having anywhere read anything about a new sea, unless it is what is found in the same book, the description of ‘what seemed a sea of glass, like crystal’.105 But the author was not speaking in that place about the end of the world, nor does he appear to have meant the sea in the literal sense, but ‘what seemed a sea’. In fact, just as the prophetic style of speech is apt to mingle metaphorical with literal expressions and so, as it were, to veil the meaning, similarly it may be that the words, ‘there is no longer any sea’, referred to the ‘sea’ about which he had just said that ‘the sea gave up the dead that were in its keeping’. For from that time the rough weather and the storms of this age will cease to exist; and ‘the sea’ is used as an allegory of this stormy age.
17. The unending glory of the Church after the end
Then I saw the great City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready like a new bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: ‘See, the dwelling of God with men; and he will dwell among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. And he will wipe away every tear from their eyes; death shall be no more, and there will be no mourning or crying, nor any pain; for the old order of things has passed away.’ And the One who sat on the throne said: ‘See, I am making all things new.’ 106
This City is said to come down from heaven because the grace by which God created it is heavenly. That is why he says to it, through the mouth of Isaiah, ‘I, your creator, am the Lord.’ 107 This City has been coming down from heaven since its beginning, from the time when its citizens began to increase in number as they have continued to increase throughout the period of this present age, by the grace of God which comes from above by means of the ‘washing of rebirth’108 in the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven. But through the judgement of God, which will be the last judgement, administered by his Son Jesus Christ, the splendour of that City will be made apparent, by God’s gift. So great will be that splendour, and so new, that no traces of age will remain, since even our bodies will pass from their old corruption and mortality into incorruption and immortality.109
Now it would show excessive effrontery, as it seems to me, to take this as referring to the period in which the City reigns with its King for a thousand years. For our author says quite explicitly, ‘God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death will be no more, and there will be no mourning or crying, nor any more pain.’ And who could be so absurd, so crazed with a love for perverse argument, as to have the hardihood to maintain that in the midst of the troubles of this mortal state not only the holy people but every individual saint who lives this life, or will live it, or has lived it, has no tears and no sorrows in this life? The truth is rather that the more holy a man is, and the deeper his longing for holiness, the more abundant is his weeping when he prays. Do we not hear the voice of a citizen of the Jerusalem above in such utterances as these: ‘My tears have been my only food, day and night’, and: ‘Every night I shall soak my bed and drench my couch with my tears’, and: ‘My groaning is not hidden from you’, and: ‘My sorrow was renewed’? 110 Are we really to suppose that those people are not God’s children who ‘groan, in oppression because they do not wish to be stripped, but rather to have the new clothing put on, so that this mortal element may be absorbed by life’? 111 Or those who, though ‘having the first-fruits of the Spirit, are groaning inwardly while they await their adoption, the setting free of their body’? 112 And was not the apostle Paul a citizen of Jerusalem above, and was he not all the more a citizen when he felt deep sadness and continual grief in his heart for the Israelites, his brothers in the physical sense? 113
Moreover, when will ‘death be no more’ in that city? Surely only when it will be said, ‘Death, where is your strife? Death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin.’ 114 Without doubt there will be no more sin when it will be asked: ‘Where is it?’ But in our present state it is not some weak citizen of that City, but our author, John himself, who cries out in his epistle, ‘If we say that we are without sin, we are fooling ourselves and we are remote from the truth.’115
Now in this book called the Apocalypse there are, to be sure, many obscure statements, designed to exercise the mind of the reader; and there are few statements there whose clarity enables us to track down the meaning of the rest, at the price of some effort. This is principally because our author repeats the same things in many ways, so that he appears to be speaking of different matters, though in fact he is found on examination to be treating of the same subjects in different terms. But there is nothing like this in the statement that ‘God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, and there will be no more sorrow or crying, nor will there be any more pain.’ The reference here to the world to come, to immortality and the eternity of the saints, is as clear as day; for then, and only then, will those painful things cease to be. So clear is it that if we suppose the statements to be obscure we must not expect to find any clarity in our reading of the holy Scriptures.
18. The statements of Peter about the last judgement
Now let us see what the apostle Peter also has written about this judgement I n the last days.’ he says,
there will come those who scoff and who live for the indulgence of their own desires; and they will say: ‘Where is the promise of his coming? Our fathers have gone to their rest, but from then onwards everything has gone on just as it has been from the beginning of creation.’ For they choose to ignore the fact that there were heaven and earth in days of old, created (by God’s word) of water and with water: by means of which the world of that time was flooded by water and perished. But the heavens and earth that now exist have been kept in store (again by God’s word) to be reserved for the fire until the day of judgement, the day of the destruction of the ungodly. But there is one thing, dear brothers, that you must not fail to notice: that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow in fulfilling his promise, as some people imagine; but he is patient for your sake, because it is not his will that anyone should be lost, but that all should be turned to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come, unexpectedly, as a thief comes; and on that day the heavens will pass away in a mighty rush, and the elements will blaze up into disintegration, and the earth and all things on the earth will be burnt up. And since all things are to perish, consider what kind of people you ought to be. You must live lives of holiness, looking for the day of the lord and hastening towards its coming; that day which will set the heavens on fire, for their disintegration, and melt the elements with the heat of the flames. Nevertheless, we remember his promise, and we look forward to new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness makes her abode.116
He has said nothing here about the resurrection of the dead, but he certainly has enough to say about the destruction of this world. Moreover, in mentioning the Deluge that happened in time gone by, he seems to be warning us, in a way, of the extent of the destruction which, as we are to believe, will come upon the world at the end of this age. For he says that the world which then existed was destroyed, and not only the cirle of the earth but the heavens also, which we are undoubtedly to take as standing for the heavens of this lower air, for that part, that tract of the sky. which the waters overwhelmed in their rising. Thus it was the whole, or almost the whole, of the windy air – Peter calls it ‘heaven’, or rather ‘the heavens’, but he surely means the lower parts, not the highest parts where the sun, moon, and stars are stationed – it was this air that was converted into a liquid state and in this way perished along with the earth, whose former aspect was certainly wiped out by the deluge. ‘But the heavens and earth that now exist have been kept in store, again by God’s word, to be reserved for the fire until the day of judgement, the day of the destruction of the ungodly.’ Accordingly, the heavens and the earth, that is, the world which replaced the world destroyed by the Deluge, was stored away from that water, and is itself reserved for the last fire, until the day of judgement, the day of the destruction of the ungodly. For he does not hesitate to say that there will be a destruction of men also through this mighty transformation; and yet their substance will remain, although in eternal pains.
Now perhaps someone will ask this question: If the world is to blaze up, after the judgement, until it is replaced by a new heaven and a new earth, where will the saints be in the actual time of the conflagration, since they will have bodies and therefore must be in some material place? We can reply that they will be in the higher regions to which the flames of that fire will not rise, in the same way as the waters of the Flood did not rise to that level. For they will have bodies of such a nature that they may be in whatever place they choose. But in any case they will have become immortal and exempt from decay and so they will not have much fear of the fire of that conflagration, seeing that the corruptible and mortal bodies of the three men could remain alive and unharmed in the burning furnace.117
19. Paul’s statements in his epistle to the Thessalonians about the appearance of Antichrist, preceding the Day of the Lord
I am aware that there are many statements in the Gospels and the Epistles about this last divine judgement which I have to pass over, for fear this volume might run on to an excessive length. But I must not on any account pass over what the apostle Paul writes to the Thessalonians.
I beg you, my brothers, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and of our gathering to him, that you do not let yourselves be disturbed in mind or terrified, either by some ‘inspired’ utterance or statement or some letter purporting to be from us, giving it out that the Day of the Lord is at hand. Do not let anyone lead you astray in any way. For that day cannot come without being preceded by the coming of the Apostate118 and the revelation of the Man of Sin, the Son of Perdition, who is the Adversary. He exalts himself over everything that is called god or is the object of worship, so that he even seats himself in the temple of God, displaying himself as if he were a god. Do you not remember that I told you this when I was still with you? And you know what now restrains him, so that he will be revealed only at the right time. For the secret power of wickedness is already at work; only let him who now restrains, restrain him until he is removed from the scene. Then that wicked one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will kill him with the breath of his mouth, and will annihilate him by the radiance of his coming. But the coming of the wicked one is in accordance with Satan’s way of working, accompanied by every kind of miracle and sign and by lying portents, and all manner of deception that wickedness can use on those who are on the way to destruction, because they did not welcome the love of truth so that they might be saved. That is why God will subject them to the influence of delusion, so that they may believe a he, and may all be brought to judgement, all who did not believe the truth, but gave their support to wickedness.119
No one can doubt that Paul is here speaking of Antichrist, telling us that the day of judgement (which he calls the Day of the Lord) will not come without the prior coming of a figure whom he calls tne Apostate, meaning, of course, an apostate from the Lord God. And if this appellation can rightly be attached to all the ungodly, how much more to him! There is, however, some uncertainty about the ‘temple’ in which he is to take his seat. Is it in the ruins of the Temple built by King Solomon, or actually in a church? For the Apostle would not say ‘the temple of God’ if he meant the temple of some idol or demon. For that reason some people would have it that Antichrist means here not the leader himself but what we may call his whole body, the multitude, that is, of those who belong to him, together with himself, their leader. And they suppose that then it would be more correct to say, following the original Greek, that he ‘takes his seat as the temple of God’, instead of ‘in the temple of God’, purporting to be himself God’s temple, that is, the Church: in the same way as we say, ‘He sits as a friend’, meaning ‘like a friend’ – there are customary expressions in this form.
As for the statement, ‘and you know what now restrains him’ -that is, what is stopping him, what is the cause of his delay – ‘so that he will be revealed only at the right time’, Paul did not choose to speak explicitly, because, as he says, they knew it. And that is why we who have not their knowledge, are anxious to arrive at the Apostle’s meaning; but we find ourselves unable to do so, for all our efforts, especially as his next statement makes the meaning still more obscure. For what does he mean by saying, ‘For the secret power of wickedness is already at work; only let him who now restrains, restrain him until he is removed from the scene, and then the wicked one will be revealed‘? I admit that the meaning of this completely escapes me. For all that, I shall not refrain from mentioning some guesses at the meaning which I have been able to hear or read.
Some people suppose those words to refer to the Roman imperial power, and they think that the reason for Paul’s reluctance to write more explicitly was the fear of incurring a charge of slander, in wishing ill to the Roman Empire when it was hoped that it would last for ever. On this assumption ‘the secret power of wickedness already at work’ would be intended as a reference to Nero, whose actions already seemed like those of Antichrist. Hence there are people who suggest that Nero is to rise again and become Antichrist, while others suppose that he was not killed, but withdrawn instead so that he might be supposed killed120 and that he is still alive and in concealment in the vigour of the age he had reached at the time of his supposed death, until ‘he will be revealed at the right time for him’ and restored to his throne. For myself I am much astonished at the great presumption of those who venture such guesses.
On the other hand, when the Apostle says, ‘Only let him who now restrains, restrain until he is removed from the scene’, there is no incongruity in believing this to refer to the Roman imperial power, saying, in effect, ‘Let him who now reigns, reign until he is removed from the scene’, that is, until taken away. ‘Then the wicked one will be revealed’: there is no doubt that this means Antichrist. However, there are others who think that ‘you know what restrains’ and ‘the secret power of wickedness’ refer only to the evil people and the pretended Christians who are in the Church, until they reach such a number as to constitute a great people for Antichrist; this, they hold, is ‘the secret power of wickedness’ because it is, evidently, concealed. And they suppose the Apostle to be exhorting the faithful to hold on with perseverance to the faith they hold. In their view, he is saying, ‘Only let him who holds hold on, until he is removed from the scene’, meaning ‘until the secret power of wickedness, now concealed, departs from the Church’. They also find a reference to this ‘secret power’ in what John the evangelist says in his epistle: ‘My children, it is the last hour! You have been told that Antichrist is to come, and now many antichrists have appeared; which is how we recognize that this is the last hour. They went out from among us, but they did not belong to us; if they had belonged, they would surely have stayed with us.’121 So in that hour which John calls ‘the last hour’, before the end, many heretics went out from the company of the Church; similarly, on this interpretation, at the actual time of the end there will go forth from the Church all who do not belong to Christ but to that last Antichrist, and it is then that he will be revealed.
Thus there are different interpretations of the obscure words of the Apostle, put forward by different commentators. But the general meaning of what he said is not doubtful. Christ will not come to judge the living and the dead without the prior coming of his adversary, Antichrist, to seduce those who are dead in soul – although their seduction depends on the judgement of God, which is now concealed. For, as it is said, ‘The coming of the wicked one is in accordance with Satan’s way of working, accompanied by every kind of miracle and sign and by lying portents, and all manner of deception that wickedness can use on those on the way to destruction.’ It is, in fact, at that time that Satan will be unloosed, and by the agency of that Antichrist he will carry on his work with every kind of miracle of his, marvellously, yes, but mendaciously. It is a continual matter of debate whether these are called ‘signs and lying portents’ because he is going to deceive mortal senses by illusions, by appearing to do what he does not really perform, or because, while they are genuine prodigies, their effect will be to draw men into falsehood, in that people will believe that they could only have been achieved by the power of God, being unaware of the strength of the Devil, and especially his strength when he has received such power as he never before enjoyed. For when fire fell from heaven and wiped out, in one sweep, all the large household and the numerous flocks of holy Job, and a whirlwind rushed down and overthrew his house and slew his children,122 those were no illusions; and yet they were the work of Satan, to whom God had given this power.
Now the reason for the description, ‘signs and lying portents’, will become more evident when they happen. But whatever the reason, those who are led astray by those signs and wonders will be those who deserve to be led astray, ‘because’, in the Apostle’s words, ‘they did not welcome the love of truth so that they might be saved.’ And the Apostle had no hesitation in adding, ‘for this reason God will subject them to the influence of delusion, so that they may believe a lie.’ God, that is, will ‘subject them to that influence’ in the sense that, by a just decision of his own, he will allow the Devil to perform those feats, although the Devil performs them with a wicked and malignant design. ‘That they may all be brought to judgement’, he says, ‘all who did not believe the truth, but gave their support to wickedness.’ Thus they will be led astray after being judged, and after being led astray they will be judged. But when they have been judged they will be led astray by those judgements of God, secretly just, and justly secret, that judgement he has never ceased to exercise since the first sin of rational creatures; and after being led astray they will be judged by that last and open judgement administered by Jesus Christ, who is to judge with perfect justice, though it was with utter injustice that he himself was judged.
20. Paul’s teaching in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians about the resurrection of the dead
In this passage the Apostle says nothing about the resurrection of the dead. However, in his first epistle to the same Thessalonians he writes as follows:
We do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep; we want to prevent your sorrowing like the rest of mankind, who are without hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again; if so, through Jesus, God will likewise bring, along with Jesus, those who have fallen asleep in his faith. For we have this to say to you as the word of the Lord: that we who are left alive until the coming of the Lord shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven at the word of command, at the sound of the archangel’s voice, and the trumpet-call of God; and the Christian dead will rise first, then we who are left alive shall be caught up, along with them, in the clouds, to meet Christ in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord.123
The Apostle’s words show with the utmost clarity that there will be a resurrection of the dead when Christ comes; and assuredly the purpose of his coming will be to judge the living and the dead.
But it is continually being asked whether those whom Christ is to find living in this world (represented in the Apostle’s picture by himself and his contemporaries) are never to the at all, or whether in that precise moment of time when they are caught up in the clouds, along with those rising again, to meet Christ in the air, they will pass with marvellous speed through death to immortality. For it must not be said that it is impossible for them to the and to come to life again in that space of time when they are being carried on high through the air. We are not to take the statement that ‘we shall always be with the Lord’, as meaning that we are to remain for ever in the air with the Lord. He himself will assuredly not remain there; he will pass through as he comes. The meeting with him, we may be sure, will take place as he comes, not while he lingers there; and we ‘shall be with the Lord’ in the sense that we shall have immortal bodies and so we shall be with him everywhere. The Apostle himself seems to demand that we should take his words in this sense; that is, we should take it that those whom the Lord will find alive here will undergo death and receive immortality in that brief space of time. He confirms this interpretation when he says, ‘In Christ all men will be brought to life‘, and by his statement in another passage, dealing directly with the resurrection of the body: ‘The seed you sow does not come to life unless it first dies.’124
If so, how can those whom Christ finds alive here come to life in him by receiving immortality, without dying, when we see that this was the point of the saying that ‘the seed you sow does not come to life unless it first dies’? Or it is not correct to speak of human bodies as being ‘sown’ unless they in some way return to the earth at death (as in the sentence divinely pronounced on the transgressor, the father of mankind: ‘Earth you are, and to earth you will go’125) then we have to admit that those whom Christ, at his coming, will find not yet parted from the body, are not covered by the words of the Apostle and of Genesis – being caught up in the clouds they are certainly not sown, since they neither go to the earth nor return to it, whether they experience no death at all or the for a short space in the air.
But there is yet another saying of the Apostle that comes to mind; it is what he said to the Corinthians on the subject of the resurrection of the body. ‘We shall all rise again’, he says, or according to other manuscripts, ‘We shall all sleep.’126 Since, then, the resurrection cannot happen without a preceding death and we can only interpret sleep in this passage as meaning death, how can it be that ‘all’ sleep and rise again, if so many whom Christ is to find in the body will neither sleep nor rise again? If, then, we believe that the saints who are found alive at Christ’s coming and are caught up to meet him will part from their bodies in that same snatching up and will straightway return to those bodies, now immortal – if we assume this, we shall encounter no difficulties in the words of the Apostle, either when he says, ‘The seed you sow does not come to life unless it first dies’, or when he says: ‘We shall all rise again’, or, ‘We shall all sleep.’ For they also will not be brought to life again unless they first the, however momentarily, and so they will not be debarred from resurrection, which for them is preceded by a sleep – an extremely short sleep, it is true, yet still a sleep. If it comes to that, why should we think it incredible that all those many bodies are, in a fashion, ‘sown’ in the air, where they come to life again straightway, a life exempt from death and decay? After all, we believe the explicit statement of the Apostle, that the resurrection will happen ‘in the twinkling of an eye’,127 and that the dust of corpses of remote antiquity will return with such ease and with a speed beyond all reckoning to limbs which are to live a life without ending.
We are not even to conclude that those saints are to be exempt from the sentence pronounced on man, ‘You are earth, and to earth you will go’, on the assumption that their bodies, when they die, will not fall back to earth, but just as they will die in the actual process of being caught up, so they will also rise again while they are being borne up into the air. ‘To earth you will go’ means, we may be sure, ‘On losing your life you will go back to what you were before you received life’, that is, ‘when the breath of life has left you you will be what you were before you received that breath’ (for, as we know, it was into a face of earth that God ‘breathed the breath of life’ when man was made a living soul‘). It is tantamount to saying, ‘You are animated earth, which you were not before: you will be inanimate earth, as you were before.’ This is the condition of all the bodies of the dead, even before they begin to putrify, and it will be the condition of the bodies of those saints, if they die, wherever they the, when they are deprived of life, only to receive it again straightway. Thus they will ‘go to earth’ because from being living men they will become earth, in the same way as what becomes ashes ‘turns to ashes‘, what becomes decrepit ‘goes into decrepitude’, what was clay and becomes a jar ‘turns into a jar’ – there are thousands of similar expressions. How this is to happen is something we can now only vaguely imagine with the poor little powers of our reason; but then, when it happens, we shall be able to understand. It is certainly our duty, if we wish to be Christians, to believe that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a resurrection in the flesh, when Christ comes to judge the living and the dead; it does not follow that our faith in this subject is vain just because we are unable to comprehend perfectly how this is to come about.
Our present obligation, however, is to show, as we promised above,128 what the ancient prophetical books foretold about this last judgement of God, as far as shall seem sufficient; and, in my opinion, it will not be necessary to treat them with any great length of exposition, if the reader will be at pains to make use of the help we have already furnished.
21. Isaiah on the resurrection, and on the judgement of retribution
The prophet Isaiah says, ‘The dead will rise again, and those who were in the graves will rise again, and all who are in the earth will rejoice; for the dew which comes from you is health for them; but the earth of the ungodly will fall.’129 All the earlier part of this passage is concerned with the resurrection of the blessed. But the words, ‘the earth of the ungodly will fall’, are correctly interpreted to mean that the downfall of condemnation will involve the bodies of the ungodly. And if we should decide to go on to a more attentive and detailed examination of what is said about the resurrection of the good we must refer to the first resurrection the statement that ‘the dead will rise again’, while the words that follow, ‘and those who were in the graves will rise again’, must be referred to the second resurrection. Now if we look for a reference to those saints whom the Lord is to find alive here, the next statement may be appropriately assigned to them: ‘And all who are in the earth will rejoice; for the dew which comes from you is health for them.’ ‘Health’ in this passage we may correctly interpret as ‘immortality’; for health in the fullest sense is health which is not continually restored by food – by daily medicines, as it were.
In the same fashion, after first giving hope to the good about the day of judgement, the same prophet then proceeds to strike terror into the wicked. He says,
This is what the Lord says: ‘See, I am turning towards them like a river of peace, and like a torrent that inundates the glory of the nations. Their sons will be carried on the shoulders and will be comforted on the knees. Like a son whom his mother comforts so I will comfort you. And in Jerusalem you will be comforted, and you will see, and your heart will rejoice, and your bones will rise up like the grass. And the hand of the Lord will be known to his worshippers, and he will threaten the insolent. For see, the Lord will come like a fire, and his chariot like a tempest, to wreak vengeance in his indignation and devastation with the flames of fire. For by the fire of the Lord all the earth will be judged and all mankind by his sword. Many will be wounded by the Lord.130
In his promise to the good we should undoubtedly understand the ‘river of peace’ as meaning the overflowing abundance of his peace, and there could be no greater peace than that. With this peace we shall, assuredly, be refreshed in the end as if with water. We have in fact spoken of this in the previous book, and spoken to overflowing! This is the river which he says he will direct towards those to whom he promises bliss so great that we may understand that all things in that region of felicity, that region in the heavens, are fully supplied by this river. But because the peace of incorruption and immorality will flow thence upon earthly bodies also, he says that he will ‘direct’ (or ‘turn down’) this river so that it may flow, as it were, from the realms above even to the lower regions and may put men on the same footing as the angels.
By ‘Jerusalem’, moreover, we must understand not the Jerusalem who is enslaved along with her children, but our free mother, the Jerusalem which, according to the Apostle, is eternal in the heavens.131 There, after the hardships of our anxieties and worries in this mortal state we shall be comforted like little children carried on the mother’s shoulders and nursed in her lap. For that unaccustomed bliss will lift us up, untrained and immature as we are, and support us with tenderest caresses. There ‘we shall see, and our heart will rejoice.’ The prophet does not expressly say what it is that we shall see; but what can it be but God? For thus the promise of the Gospel will be fulfilled in us, where it says, ’Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.’132 And we shall see all those things which we do not see now; but even now, because we believe, we imagine them, up to the poor capacity of our human minds; though our idea of them falls incomparably short of the reality. ‘And you will see’, says the prophet, ‘and your heart will rejoice.’ Here, you believe; there, you will see.
However, for fear that we should suppose, because he says, ‘Your heart will rejoice’, that the blessings of that Jerusalem belong exclusively to the spirit, he goes on to say, ‘And your bones will rise up like the grass’, thus touching on the resurrection of the body, as if repairing an omission; for this resurrection will not happen after we have seen: we shall see after it has taken place. He has, in fact, spoken earlier about the new heaven and the new earth in the course of his description of the things promised to the saints at the end, often repeated in many different images. ‘There will be a new heaven and a new earth; and they will not remember the former heaven and earth, and the memory of them will not come to their mind; but they will find joy and gladness in the new creation. See, I shall make Jerusalem a gladness and my people a joy; and I shall be glad in Jerusalem and rejoice in my people; and no more will there be heard in her the voice of weeping’133, and the rest of the promises which some people try to refer to that life in the body during those thousand years. For metaphorical and literal expressions are intermingled, in the prophetic manner, so that a sober attentiveness may arrive at the spiritual meaning by a painstaking effort which is both useful and salutary; whereas the indolence of the flesh and the slowness of an uninstructed and untrained mind is content with the superficial, literal meaning and thinks that no inner meaning is to be sought. These remarks must suffice for the prophetic utterances in Scripture which precede the passsage under discussion.
To return to the passage from which we digressed: when the prophet says, ‘and your bones will rise up like the grass’, he is certainly describing the resurrection of the body, but he goes on to show that it is only the resurrection of the good that he is now speaking of. He does this by adding, ‘and the hand of the Lord will be known to his worshippers.’ This must surely mean the hand of one who distinguishes his worshippers from his despisers. He refers to the latter in the words that follow without a break. ‘And he will threaten the insolent’, he says, or, as another translator renders it, ‘the unbelieving’. At that time he will not threaten them: the words that are now spoken in menace will then be fulfilled in practice. ‘For see’, he says, ‘the Lord will come like a fire, and his chariots like a tempest, to execute vengeance in his indignation and devastation with the flames of fire. For by the fire of the Lord all the earth will be judged, and all mankind by his sword. Many will be wounded by the Lord.’ ‘Fire’, ‘whirlwind’, ‘sword’, all stand for the punishment of judgement; for the prophet says that the Lord himself will come as a fire, to those, of course, to whom his coming is to bring punishment. But the ‘chariots’ (the word used is plural) we appropriately take as standing for the ministering angels. As for the statement that the whole earth and all mankind are judged by the fire and the sword of the Lord, we must understand the reference here to be not to the spiritual and holy but to the earthly and carnal, such people as are described as ‘having worldly wisdom’ and ‘carnally minded’, which is ‘death’; the people generally called ‘flesh’ by the Lord, when he says, ‘My spirit will not always remain in those men, because they are flesh.’134
The ‘wound’ referred to in the next statement, ‘Many will be wounded by the Lord’, is the ‘wound’ by which the second death will be effected. Now it is possible, to be sure, to take ‘fire’, ‘sword’ and ‘wound’ in a good sense. For the Lord said that he wanted ‘to send fire on the earth’; and the divided tongues ‘appeared to them to be flames of fire’ when the Holy Spirit came; and ‘I have not come’, said the Lord, ‘to send peace on earth, but a sword.’ And Scripture says that the word of God is a two-edged sword, because of its double edge, the two testaments; and in the Song of Songs the holy Church says that she is wounded by love, shot, as it were, by love’s arrow.135 But in the context of our passage, when we hear or read that the Lord is to come as an avenger, it is obvious how these words are to be understood.
Then, after a brief mention of those who will be destroyed in this judgement, where the sinners and the ungodly are symbolized by those who did not abstain from the foods forbidden by the old Law,136 the prophet gives a summary account of the grace of the new covenant from the first coming of the Saviour to the last judgement, which is our present subject. Thus he brings his discourse to an end. For he tells us that the Lord says that he is coming to assemble all the nations, and that they are to come and see his glory. ‘For’, as the Apostle says, ‘all men have sinned and lack the glory of God.’137 And the Lord says that he will leave signs on them – evidently in order that they may be amazed at them and come to believe in him; and that he will send out from their number men who have been saved, dispatching them to various peoples and to far-off islands, which have not heard his name or seen his glory; and that they will proclaim his glory among the nations and will bring in the brothers of those whom the prophet was addressing, that is, brothers in the faith of the chosen Israelites under God the Father; and that they will bring from all the nations a gift for the Lord on beasts of burden and on vehicles (these ‘beasts’ and ‘vehicles’ are rightly interpreted as symbolizing the divine assistance by the two types of God’s ministers, angelic and human) bringing their gift to the Holy City of Jerusalem, which is now spread throughout the world in the persons of the faithful people of God.138 For where men receive divine assistance, that is where men believe; and where they believe, that is where they come.
Then the Lord compares these newcomers to the children of Israel offering him their sacrifices in his house with psalms, as the Church now does everywhere. And he promises that he will accept some of them to be his priests and Levites;139 and we now see that fulfilled in the same degree. For now we do not see priests and Levites chosen from a clan, related by flesh and blood, which was the rule according to descent from Aaron, but, as was rightly established under the new covenant (where the chief priest, ‘in the line of Melchizedech’,140 is Christ) each man is chosen in accordance with the merit bestowed on him by God’s grace. They are not to be valued merely for that title, which unworthy men often acquire, but for something which is not common to good men and bad, namely holiness.
After speaking of that unmistakable and well-known mercy of God, which is even now bestowed on the Church, the Lord gives a promise of the final states which will be reached when the final judgement has separated the good and the wicked. He speaks through the mouth of the prophet (or the prophet speaks as representing the Lord) and says,
For as the new heaven and the new earth will remain before me, says the Lord, so will your race and your name remain, and month will follow month, and Sabbath will follow Sabbath. All mankind will come into my presence to worship in Jerusalem, says the Lord. And they will go out and will see the limbs of human beings who have rebelled against me. Their worm will not the, their fire will not be put out, and they will be a spectacle for all mankind.141
This was the point at which the prophet ended his book, the point at which the world will come to an end. Some people, it is true, have given the translation ‘corpses of men’142 instead of ‘limbs of human beings’, meaning by ‘corpses’ the visible punishment of the body, although the word ‘corpse’ is normally used only of lifeless flesh, whereas those bodies will be alive, since otherwise they could not feel any torments; unless perhaps those bodies also may without absurdity be called ‘corpses’ on the ground that they are the bodies of dead men, that is, of men who will fall into the second death – hence the words I have quoted above from the same prophet: ‘But the earth of the ungodly will fall.’143 Yet who could fail to see that cadavera (‘corpses’) are so called from falling (cadendo)?144 At the same time, it is obvious that those translators used ‘men’ to convey the same meaning as ‘human beings’. For no one is likely to assert that women who transgress will not incur that punishment! The fact is that both sexes are included under the more important sex, especially as that was the sex from which woman was created. But the point of the greatest relevance to our subject is that the words ‘all flesh will come’ refer also to the good, for God’s People will be made up of men of every race – though not all mankind will be there, since many will be enduring punishment. In fact (and this is the point I was establishing) ‘flesh’ is the word used in reference to the good as well as the bad, and ‘limbs’ or ‘corpses’ in reference to the wicked; and this makes it plain that the judgement by which the good and the wicked are separated into their appropriate final states will certainly follow the resurrection of the body, and thus our faith in this resurrection is strengthened by the use of these terms to describe the facts.
22. The saints’ knowledge of the punishment of the wicked
But how is it that the good will ‘go out’ to see the punishment of the wicked? Are we to imagine that they are to leave their blessed abodes by a bodily movement and to proceed to the region of punishment, so that they may view the torments of the wicked in bodily presence? Certainly not. It is by their knowledge that they will ‘go out’; and the expression conveys the idea that those who are being tormented will be outside. That is also why the Lord calls that region ‘outer darkness’, in contrast to the ‘entrance’, referred to when the good servant was told to ‘enter into the joy of your. Lord’.145 The intention of this expression is to prevent any notion that the wicked enter in so that they may be known, and to insist that the good go out to them in virtue of the knowledge which will make them recognize the wicked for what they are; they will be aware of the situation outside. Those who are undergoing punishment will not know what is happening inside, in the joy of the Lord; whereas those who are in that joy will know what is happening outside, in the ‘outer darkness’. That is the reason for saying ‘they will go out.’ those who are ‘outside’, in relation to the good, will assuredly not be hidden from the good. For if the prophets were able to know those things before they had happened, because God was present, in however small a degree, in the minds of those mortals, how can the immortal saints fail to know what has already happened, at the time when ‘God will be all in all’?146
The ‘seed’, then, and the ‘name’ will stand fast in that blessed condition of the saints – the seed mentioned by John when he says, ‘his seed remains in him’, and the name referred to in another message delivered by Isaiah: ‘I will give them an everlasting name.’147 ‘Month will follow month, Sabbath will follow Sabbath’ is as much as to say, ‘Moon after moon, rest after rest’. And the good will have both ‘moon’ and ‘rest’ when they pass from these old shadows of time into the new lights of eternity.
In the punishment of the wicked, on the other hand, the unquenchable fire and the undying worm are differently explained by different authorities. Some people, in fact, refer both to the body; others refer both to the soul. Yet others refer the fire to the body in the literal sense, and the worm to the soul in the metaphorical sense, and this interpretation seems more credible. But there is no time to discuss this difference at the moment; for the subject I have undertaken to deal with in this book is the last judgement, which effects the separation between the good and the wicked; their actual rewards and punishments have to be discussed in greater detail at another time.
23. Daniel’s prophecies about Antichrist, the judgement, and the reign of the saints
Daniel prophesies about the last judgement in such a way as to predict also the prior coming of Antichrist, and to continue his narrative as far as the eternal reign of the saints. He begins with his prophetic vision of the four beasts, symbolizing four kingdoms, and the fourth of these is overcome by a king who is recognized as Antichrist. This is followed by the eternal reign of the Son of Man, who is understood to be Christ; and then Daniel says, ‘As for me, Daniel, my spirit shuddered in my dwelling, and the visions of my head disturbed me. And I approached one of the bystanders, and asked him the truth about all those things; and he told me the truth.’148
Daniel then tells what he heard from him of whom he had inquired about all those matters, putting it as if it were the bystander giving explanation to him. ‘These four beasts: four kingdoms will arise on earth, which will be removed; and the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it for ever, for ever and ever. Then I enquired carefully’, he says,
about the fourth beast, which was different from every other beast, far more terrible, with iron teeth and bronze claws, chewing and crushing to pieces and trampling underfoot what remained. And I asked about the ten horns on his head, and about the other horn which came up and struck down three of the former horns; this horn had eyes and a mouth uttering great boasts, and it looked bigger than the rest of them. I watched it making war on the saints, and getting the better of them, until the Ancient One came and gave the kingdom to the saints of the Most High, when the time came for the saints to take possession of the kingdom.149
This, says Daniel, is the question he asked. And he goes on to give the reply he received. ‘Then he said’ (that is, the man questioned gave this reply),
The fourth beast is the fourth kingdom which will be on the earth. It will prevail over all kingdoms: and it will devour the whole earth, and trample on it and destroy it. And the ten horns: ten kings will arise. And after them will arise another who will surpass in wickedness all who preceded him. He will humble three kings, and will speak insulting words against the Most High; and he will harass the saints of the Most High, and will conceive the notion of changing times and laws. And power will be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time. Then a court will sit, and they will take away his sovereignty, to be destroyed and finally brought to nothing. Then the kingdom and the power and the might of all the kings under the whole heaven will be given to the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all principalities will serve and obey him.
‘Here’, says Daniel, ‘the discourse ended. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly disturbed me, and my appearance was altered. But I kept those words to myself.’
Some commentators have interpreted those four kingdoms as the Assyrians, the Persians, the Macedonians, and the Romans. Those who would like to know how appropriate this interpretation is should read the commentary on Daniel by the presbyter Jerome, a most learned and detailed study. Yet anyone who reads the passage in Daniel, even if half-asleep, cannot conceivably doubt that the reign of Antichrist is to be endured, if only for a brief space of time, with its bitter savagery against the Church, until by the final judgement of God the saints receive their everlasting kingdom. It is, we know, abundantly clear, from the number of days given in a later passage,150 that ‘a time and times and half a time’ stand for ‘a year, two years, and half a year’ – three and a half years, though in the Scriptures this is often given in months. For although ‘times’ in Latin looks like an indefinite expression, the original word is dual, a form not found in Latin: but Greek has the dual form, and so, it is said,151 does Hebrew. Hence ‘times’ means here ‘two times’. I confess, indeed, that I fear we may be mistaken in respect of the ten kings whom Antichrist, as it seems, is to find, who are ostensibly ten men; I am afraid, that is, that Antichrist may come unexpectedly, seeing that there are not as many kings as that in existence in the Roman world. But it may be suggested that the number ten signifies the total number of kings after whom he is to come, in the same way as totality is frequently signified by a thousand, or a hundred, or seven,152 or by several other numbers – there is no need to give a list of them here.
There is another passage in Daniel which runs as follows:
Then there will be a time of distress unparalleled from the first beginning of mankind on the earth until that time. When that time comes all your people will be preserved who are found recorded in the book. And many of those who are sleeping in the heaped-up earth will rise up, some to eternal life, some to shame and eternal disgrace. Then those who understand will shine like the brightness of the vault of heaven, and many of the just will shine like the stars for all eternity.153
This passage closely resembles the statement in the Gospel quoted earlier,154 at least in regard to the resurrection of the dead. For those who are described there as being ‘in the graves’ are here described as ‘in the heaped-up earth’, or, as others translate it, ‘in the dust of the earth’; and as it is said there that ‘they will come out’, so here ‘they will rise up’; there it says that ‘those whose actions have been good will come out to the resurrection of life, but those whose actions have been evil, to the resurrection of judgement’, and in this passage, similarly, ‘some to eternal life, some to shame and eternal disgrace’. And it must not be regarded as a discrepancy that the Gospel mentions ‘all who are in the graves’, while the prophet, instead of saying ‘all’, says ‘many of those who are sleeping in the heaped-up earth’. For Scripture often puts ‘many’ for ‘all’. For example, it was said to Abraham: ‘I have appointed you as the father of many nations’, but, in another place, ‘In your descendants all nations will be blessed.’155
On the subject of the resurrection thus described the prophet Daniel receives a personal message a little later on, when he is told, ‘You also come and rest: for there is still a day before the completion of the consummation, and you will rest, and will rise again to receive your share at the end of time.’156
24. Prophecies in the psalms about the end of the world and the last judgement
The psalms contain many references to the last judgement, most of them being brief statements made in passing. But I shall certainly not fail to mention the most explicit statement in the psalms about the end of this world. ‘In the beginning you founded the world, Lord, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you endure; and they will all grow old like a piece of clothing, and you will change them like a garment, and they will be changed. But you are always the same, and your years will never end.’157 Why is it that though Porphyry praises the devotion of the Hebrews in their worship of a God who is great and true and terrible even to the divine powers,158 he charges the Christians with supreme folly in asserting that this world is doomed to perish? He supports the charge with quotations from the oracles of his gods. But observe this statement from the sacred Scriptures of the Hebrews. It is addressed to the God whom even the divinities themselves regard with dread; and it says, ‘The heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish.’
Now, are we to suppose that the world will not perish, when the heavens perish? For the heavens are the higher and the more secure part of the world. If this statement is displeasing to Jupiter, on whose oracle, as being of higher authority, the philosopher bases his attack on the credulity of Christians, why does he not make the same attack on the wisdom of the Hebrews, as being folly? For it is in their religious literature that the statement is found. Moreover if Porphyry so much approves of this Hebrew wisdom that he proclaims its merits by the utterances of his gods, as well as with his own voice, and if the statement that the heavens are doomed to perish occurs in that wisdom, why does his delusion reach such a pitch of futility as to cry out against this tenet of the Christian faith? Why condemn, along with the rest of that faith, or even above the rest, the belief that the world is to perish, which is necessarily entailed by the belief that the heavens will pass away? It is true that in the sacred books, which are the special property of us Christians, and are not shared by us with the Hebrews, that is, in the Gospels and the apostolic writings, one finds such statements as: ‘The form of this world is transitory’; ‘The world is passing away’; ‘Heaven and earth will pass away.’159 But I regard ‘transitory’ and ‘pass away’ as somewhat milder expressions than ‘perish’.
In the epistle of the apostle Peter, also, in which it is said that the world which then existed perished under the Flood of water, it is quite clear what part of the world is signified by the whole, and to what extent it is said to have perished, and what heavens were kept in store, to be reserved for the fire until the day of judgement and of the destruction of wicked men.160 Then he says, a little later, ‘The day of the Lord will come unexpectedly, as a thief comes; and on that day the heavens will pass away in a mighty rush, and the elements will blaze up into disintegration, and the earth and all things on the earth will be burnt up’; and he adds, ‘Since all things are to perish, consider what kind of people you ought to be.’161 Now these heavens which are doomed to perish may be taken to be the heavens which are, according to Peter, ‘kept in store, to be reserved for the fire’, and the elements which are to ‘blaze up’ may be taken to be those stormy, turbulent elements in this lowest section of the world, in which, he says, those same heavens are kept in store, while the higher heavens, in whose vault the stars are stationed, remain unharmed and continue in their own inviolate condition. In fact, even the scriptural statement that ‘the stars are to fall from heaven’162 – leaving aside the fact that it can much more plausibly be taken in another sense – demonstrates rather that the heavens are going to remain, if the stars are indeed to fall from them! For either this expression is metaphorical (the more probable interpretation) or else it describes something which will occur in this lowest heaven, albeit an event certainly more amazing than any phenomenon of these days. Something of this kind is that star in Virgil that
Trailing its torch coursed with bright light through heaven and ‘hid itself in the forest of Ida’.163
What I have quoted from the psalm, on the other hand, seems to leave none of the heavens outside the scope of this future destruction. For it says, ‘The heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish.’ And as none of them is outside the scope of God’s work, so none of them is withdrawn from the scope of the destruction. And yet our philosophers will not deign to support the piety of the Hebrews approved by the oracles of their gods, by quoting the expressions of the apostle Peter, whom they bitterly hate. They might, at least, avoid the supposition that it is the whole of the world that is to perish, by the argument that in the psalmist’s statement, ‘they shall perish’, the whole stands for the part, because it is only the lowest heavens that are to perish. This would be in line with the apostle’s use of ‘the whole for the part’ in his epistle, where he says that the world perished in the Flood, whereas in fact it was only the lowest part of it that perished, along with its own region of the heavens. But since, as I said, they will not condescend to approve Peter’s view, and to ascribe to the final conflagration only so much effect as we attribute to the Deluge – for they maintain that waters or flames could never wipe out the whole human race – their only course is to declare that the reason why their gods praised the wisdom of the Hebrews is that the gods had failed to read that particular psalm!
Again, in the forty-ninth psalm we see a reference to the last judgement of God in these verses: ‘God will come in manifest presence; he will not be silent. Fire will blaze before him; and around him will be a mighty tempest. He will summon the heaven above, and the earth, to judge among his people. Assemble his righteous ones before him, who put his covenant above sacrifices.’164 This we take as describing our Lord Jesus Christ, whose coming from heaven we await, to judge the living and the dead. For he will come in manifest presence, to execute just judgement on the just and the unjust – he who first came secretly, to be judged unjustly by the unjust. He, I repeat, ‘will come in manifest presence; he will not be silent’; this means that he will make his presence known by the voice of his judgement, he who when he first came in secret was silent before his judge, when he ‘was brought like a sheep to be slaughtered, and was speechless like a lamb in the presence of the shearer’, as we read in Isaiah’s prophecy of him,165 and as we see in the fulfilment of that prophecy in the Gospel story. As for the fire and the tempest, I have already said how those are to be understood when I treated of a similar passage in the prophecy of Isaiah. And as for ‘he will summon the heavens above’, the saints and the just are properly called ‘heaven’, and so this doubtless means what the apostle is describing when he says, ‘We shall be caught up along with them in the clouds into the air, to meet Christ.’166 For, if we take the superficial meaning, what is meant by the summoning of heaven ‘above’, as if it could be anywhere else than ‘above’? And as for the words following, ‘and the earth, to judge among his people’, if we take this with ‘he will summon’, that is, ‘he will summon the earth also’, instead of connecting it also with ‘above’, this seems to give a meaning in harmony with sound faith, in that ‘heaven’ is taken to mean those who will be associated with Christ in judging, while ‘earth’ means those who are to be judged. Thus we are to take ‘will summon the heaven above’ as meaning ‘he will summon the angels in the high exalted realms, and with them he will descend to execute judgement’; then ‘and he will summon the earth’ will mean ‘summon the men on earth to submit to judgement’. But if we have to take both ‘he will summon’ and ‘above’ with ‘and the earth’, the meaning will be: ‘He will summon the heaven above, and the earth above’; and in that case it is best, I think, to understand it as describing all those who will be caught up into the air to meet Christ, but ‘heaven’ will refer to their souls and ‘earth’ to their bodies.
Then ‘to judge among his people’ can surely only mean that he will separate by his judgement the good from the wicked, the ‘sheep’ from the ‘goats’. Then he turns to speak to the angels: ‘Assemble his righteous ones before him’, for a matter of such importance must needs be carried out by the ministry of the angels. If we ask further who those ‘righteous ones’ are whom the angels are to assemble, we have the answer in ‘those who put his covenant above sacrifices’. This is the whole life of the righteous, to put the covenant of God above sacrifices. For either it is the deeds of mercy which are ‘above sacrifices’, that is are to be preferred to sacrifices, in harmony with God’s declaration that he ‘desires mercy rather than sacrifice’;167 or, if ‘above sacrifices’ is taken to mean ‘in sacrifices’ in the same way as something which certainly happens in the world is said to be done ‘upon earth’, then in that case it is just those deeds of mercy that are undoubtedly the sacrifices which are pleasing to God – a point which I recollect having made in the tenth book of this work;168 and in those deeds of mercy the righteous ‘set up God’s covenant’ because they do them in view of the promises contained in the new covenant. Hence, when his righteous ones have been assembled and stationed on his right hand in the last judgement, Christ will undoubtedly say to them, ‘Come, you that have my Father’s blessing, take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat169 and so on – a public statement of the good deeds of the good, and the everlasting rewards which will be given them by the last sentence pronounced by the Judge.
25. The prophecy of Malachi about the last judgement and the purifying punishments
The prophet Malachiel or Malachi (who is also called ‘Angel’) is thought by some to be Ezra the priest (Jerome says that this was an opinion held by the Hebrews170), who was the author of some other works171 received in the canon. He gives a prophecy of the last judgement in the following passage:
See, he comes, says the Lord Almighty! And who will withstand the day of his coming, and who will be able to endure to look him in the face? For he comes like a refiner’s fire and like a fuller’s herb; and he will sit, refining and purifying as it were gold and silver. And he will purify the sons of Levi, and will pour them out like gold and silver. Then they will offer to the Lord sacrifices in righteousness, and the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord, as in the days of old and in years gone by. And I shall come to you in judgement, and I shall be a swift witness against sorcerers, and against adulterers, and against those who swear in my name falsely, and those who defraud the worker of his wages, and use their power to oppress the widows and maltreat the orphans and pervert judgement against the stranger, and have no fear of me, says the Lord Almighty. For I am the Lord your God; and I do not change.172
From these words it seems quite evident that in the judgement the punishments of some are to be purificatory. For how else are we to understand this passage: ‘Who will withstand the day of his coining, and who will be able to look him in the face? For he comes like a refiner’s fire and like a fuller’s herb; and he will sit, refining and purifying as it were silver and gold. And he will purify the sons of Levi, and will pour them out like gold and silver’? Isaiah also says something in the same strain, ‘The Lord will wash the stains of the sons and daughters of Sion, and will cleanse the blood from the midst of them by the breath of judgement and the breath of burning.’173 Now perhaps we might say that they are cleansed from their stains and purified in a certain sense when the wicked are separated from them by the penal judgement, and when the segregation and condemnation of the wicked effects the purgation of the rest, because thereafter they are going to live free from any contamination by such people. But Malachi says, ‘And he will purify the sons of Levi, and will pour them out like gold and silver; and then they will offer to the Lord sacrifices in righteousness, and the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord’; and in these words he is obviously pointing out that those who have been cleansed will then be pleasing to the Lord in respect of their sacrifices of righteousness; and that implies that they themselves will be cleansed from their own unrighteousness which rendered them displeasing to God. Moreover, they themselves, after their cleansing, will be sacrificial offerings in their complete and perfect righteousness; for what offerings do such people make which is more acceptable to God than the offering of themselves? However, the more searching examination of the question of purificatory punishment must be postponed to another time.
As for ‘the sons of Levi’, and ‘Judah’, and ‘Jerusalem’, we ought to take those as standing for the Church of God itself, assembled not only from the Hebrews but from other nations also. And we should understand not the Church in its present state, when ‘if we say that we have no sin we are fooling ourselves and we are strangers to the truth’,174 but the Church as it will be then, purified by the last judgement as a threshing-floor by the winnowing wind, and when those who need such purification have been so cleansed by fire that there will be no one at all who has to offer sacrifice for his sins. For all who offer such sacrifice are assuredly in a state of sin, and it is for their sins that they make their offering, so that when God has accepted their offering their sins may then be forgiven.
26. The sacrifices ‘pleasing to the Lord’ to be offered by the holy people
Now it was because God wished to make it plain that his City will not at that time continue to observe the custom of sacrifice that he said that the sons of Levi would offer sacrifices ‘in righteousness’; for that implies that they will not offer in sin, and consequently not for sin. Thus we can understand what is meant by the statement that follows: ‘Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and in the years gone by.’ We realize that it is in vain that the Jews promise themselves a return of the past times of their sacrifices according to the Law of the old covenant. For it was not in righteousness but in sin that they then offered sacrifices; for at that time it was chiefly and primarily for sins that they offered them, so much so that the priest himself (whom we are certainly bound to suppose to have been more righteous than the rest of the people) used to make offering, in accordance with God’s commandment, for his own sins first, and then for the sins of the people. That is why we are now obliged to explain the meaning of ‘as in the days of old and in the years gone by’. This may perhaps recall the time when the first human beings were in paradise. For at that time, when they were pure and untouched by any taint or stain of sin, they offered themselves to God as the most unpolluted sacrifices. But after they had been expelled from paradise because of their transgression and when human nature had been condemned in their persons, thenceforth ‘no one is free from stain’, as the Scripture says, ‘not even an infant who has lived but one day on the earth’;175 no one, that is, except the one Mediator, and any who have received the baptism of rebirth and who are still in early infancy.
But it may be replied that one may rightly claim that ‘sacrifices in righteousness’ are offered by those who offer in faith, ‘since the righteous man lives on the basis of faith’176 And yet a righteous man ‘deceives himself if he says that he has no sin’, and therefore he does not say so, simply because he lives on the basis of faith. And in any case, is anyone really going to assert that this time of faith is to be put on the same level as that final state when those who offer sacrifices in righteousness will be cleansed by the fire of the last judgement? For this reason, since we must believe that after such a cleansing the righteous will have no sin, then assuredly that time, as far as the freedom from sin is concerned, is comparable only with that time when the first human beings lived in paradise, before their transgression, in the felicity of utter innocence. This then, is the correct interpretation of ‘as in the days of old, and as in the years gone by’.
Isaiah also, after giving the promise of a new heaven and a new earth, proceeds to give some allegorical and enigmatic descriptions of the bliss of the saints; but my concern to avoid prolixity forbids me to attempt an adequate explanation of all of them. However, they in clude this statement: ‘As the days of the tree of life will be the days of my people’;177 and anyone who has the slightest knowledge of the holy Scriptures cannot fail to know where God planted the tree of life, from the fruit of which the first human beings were debarred when their own wickedness expelled them from paradise and a fiery guard of terror was set round that tree.
Now it may be contended that the ‘days of the tree of life’, mentioned by the prophet Isaiah, stand for the present days of the Church of Christ, and that Christ himself is prophetically called ‘the tree of life’, because he is himself the Wisdom of God, of which Solomon says, ‘Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her.’178 It may further be maintained that those first human beings did not spend ‘years’ in that paradise, in fact they were expelled from it so quickly that they did not produce a child there; and therefore, it may be said, that time cannot be meant by the words ‘as in the days of old and in the years gone by’. If this argument is advanced, I pass over the question, to avoid the necessity of a discussion of every detail, which would be a lengthy business, in order to establish one point with the support of incontestable truth.
In fact I notice another meaning to prevent our supposing that it was the return of the ‘days of old and years gone by’ of carnal sacrifices that was promised us, as a great privilege, by the prophet For the sacrificial victims, demanded by old Law, were unblemished specimens of each class of animal, without any defect whatsoever; and they symbolized holy men, without any sin at all, and only one such man has ever been found, and that man was Christ. Now at the judgement those who are worthy of such purification are to be purified even by fire; and after that there will be found in all the saints no sin at all; and in this condition they will offer themselves in righteousness, so that such victims will be unblemished and without any defect. And thus they will certainly be ‘as in the days of old and in the years gone by’ when the purest sacrificial victims were offered as a foreshadowing of this reality. For then there will be in the immortal flesh and mind of the saints this purity which was prefigured in the bodies of those sacrificial animals.
Then, turning to those who deserve not cleansing but condemnation, the prophecy continues: ‘And I shall come to you in judgement, and I shall be a swift witness against sorcerers, and against adulterers’ and so on; and, after a list of crimes deserving condemnation, it proceeds: ‘For I am the Lord your God; and I do not change.’ He says that he himself will be a ‘witness’ because in his judgement he has no need of other witnesses; and he will be ‘swift’ either because he is to come suddenly, and his judgement, which seemed so slow in coming, will be exceedingly swift in its unexpected coming; or else because he will convict men’s consciences without any lengthy speech. ‘For in the thoughts of the wicked man’, as the Scripture says, ‘inquiry will be made’; and the Apostle says, ‘Their thoughts will present the case against them and the case for them, on the day when God will judge the secrets of human hearts, according to my Gospel, through Jesus Christ.’179 In this way also we must understand that the Lord will be a ‘swift witness’, since he is going to recall to man’s memory, without delay, the evidence which will serve to convict and punish man’s conscience.
27. The separation of good and bad, making evident the distinction established at the last judgement
There is another passage from this prophet on the subject of the last judgement; and I have already quoted it in the eighteenth book,180 when dealing with another topic.
They will be mine, says the Lord Almighty, on the day when I take them into my possession; and I shall choose them as a man chooses his son who serves him. And I shall turn, and you will see the difference between a righteous and a wicked man, between a man who serves God and a man who does not serve him. For see, the day is coming, blazing like a furnace; and it will burn them up; and all the foreigners and the evil-doers will be stubble. The day that is to come will set them on fire, says the Lord Almighty, and there will be left in them neither branch nor twig. And there will arise for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness, and healing will be in his wings. You will go out, leaping for joy like calves released from their pens; and you will trample on the wicked, and they will be like ashes under your feet, says the Lord Almighty.181
This wide gulf between rewards and punishments, the rift that sunders the righteous from the unrighteous, is something we do not discern beneath the light of this sun in the futility of this life; but when it is revealed in the clear light beneath that sun of righteousness at the manifestation of that other life, then beyond doubt there will be a judgement such as there has never been.
28. The Law of Moses is to be spiritually interpreted
Malachi’s next verse, ‘Remember the Law of Moses my servant, which I delivered to him in Horeb for all Israel’,182 is opportune in recalling precepts and judgements, following as it does The declaration of the great distinction that is to be made between those who keep the Law and those who treat it with contempt. At the same time, the prophet’s intention is that men should learn to understand the Law in a spiritual manner, and find Christ in that Law; for Christ by his judgement is to effect the separation of the good from the wicked. It is, in fact, not for nothing that the same Lord says to the Jews, ‘If you believed Moses you would also believe me; for it was about me that Moses wrote.’183 Now it was surely by taking the Law in a material construction and by failure to realize that its earthly promises are symbols of heavenly realities that the people rushed to make complaints, even daring to say, ‘A man who serves God is a fool. What good does it do us that we have kept his commandments, and have walked as suppliants in the sight of the Lord Almighty? Now we call blessed those who are estranged from God; and all those whose actions are wicked are prospering.’184
By these words of theirs the prophet was in a sense driven to give warning of the last judgement, when the wicked will not enjoy even illusory bliss, but will be shown in their unmistakable wretchedness, whereas the good will not suffer any misery, not even temporal un-happiness, but will enjoy a manifest and everlasting felicity. The prophet has indeed quoted earlier some similar complaints of those people: ‘Everyone who behaves wickedly is good in the eyes of the Lord; such people have his approval.’185 They were brought, I say, to such complaints against God by taking the Law of Moses in a material sense. For this reason also the writer of the seventy-second psalm says that his feet were almost shaken and his steps unsteady – in fact, so unsteady that he stumbled – because he was jealous of the sinners, observing them at peace; so that he said, among other things, ‘How can God know about this? Is the Most High aware of it?’ And he said also, ‘Is it really to no purpose that I have kept my heart righteous and washed my hands among the innocent?’ But in the end he finds the solution to this difficult problem, which arises when the good appear to be wretched and the wicked seem happy; and he says, ”This difficulty is beyond me, until I enter the sanctuary of God and understand the last things.’186 For in the last judgement, we may be sure, things will not be like this; indeed, in the obvious wretchedness of the wicked and the obvious felicity of the righteous a state of things very different from the present situation will be revealed.
29. The coming of Elijah before the judgement, for the conversion of the Jews
Malachi thus admonishes his people to remember the Law of Moses, for he foresaw that for a long time yet they would not interpret it spiritually, as they ought to have done; and he continues, ‘See, I shall send you Elijah the Tishbite, before the great and splendid Day of the Lord; and he will turn the heart of the father to the son and the heart of a man to his neighbour, so that in my coming I may not utterly shake the earth.’187 The belief that in the final period before the judgement this great and wonderful prophet Elijah will expound the Law to the Jews, and that through his activity the Jews are destined to believe in our Christ, this is a very frequent subject in the conversation of believers, and a frequent thought in their hearts. The expectation that he will come before the coming of the Saviour in judgement is certainly not without good reason, since there is good reason for the belief that he is still alive; for he was carried up from the world of men in a fiery chariot, as holy Scripture testifies most explicitly.188 Well then, when he comes, he will explain in a spiritual sense the Law which the Jews now take in a material sense, and by so doing he will ‘turn the heart of the father toward the son’, that is, the hearts of the fathers towards the children – for the seventy translators have used the singular for the plural. The meaning, then, is that the sons, that is, the Jews, will interpret the Law as their fathers – that is, the prophets, including Moses himself – interpreted it. For it is thus that the heart of the fathers will be turned towards the children when the understanding of the fathers is brought to the understanding of the children. And ‘the hearts of the children will be turned to the fathers’ when children share the views of their fathers. The Septuagint here says, ‘the heart of a man to his neighbour’ – for fathers and sons are the closest of neighbours.
However, another and a more attractive meaning can be found in the words of the seventy translators, who translated in the manner of prophets.189 This meaning is that Elijah is to turn the heart of God the Father towards the Son, not, of course, by causing the Father to love the Son, but by teaching men that the Father loves the Son, so that the Jews also, who first hated the Son, will love this same Son, who is our Christ. For now, in the thought of the Jews, God keeps his heart turned away from our Christ, for that is what they suppose. And so in their thought God’s heart will be turned towards the Son when they themselves have their hearts turned by conversion, and have learnt of the love of the Father for the Son. The next words, ‘and the heart of a man to his neighbour’ – that is, Elijah will also turn the heart of a man to his neighbour – are surely best understood as meaning the turning of a man’s heart to the man Christ. For though Christ is our God ‘in the form of God’, he condescended to take ‘the form of a servant’190 and so to become our neighbour. This then, is what Elijah will achieve ‘so that, in my coming, I may not utterly shake the earth’. For ‘the earth’ stands for those whose wisdom is earthly, as to this day is the wisdom of the Jews, who are Jews only in the racial sense. It is from this defect that those complaints against God have arisen, when people say, ”The wicked have God’s approval’ and ‘The man who serves God is a fool.’191
30. The Old Testament prophecies of judgement give no explicit mention of Christ. But some passages, where God is the speaker, make it clear that he is identified with Christ
There are many other passages of holy Scripture witnessing to the last judgement of God, and to collect them all would be an excessively lengthy task. It must suffice that I have proved that judgement to have been foretold by both the Old and the New Testaments. What is not so explicitly expressed in the Old Testament as in the New is that this judgement is to be administered by Christ, that is, that Christ is to come from heaven as judge; and the reason for this uncertainty is that when in the Old Testament the Lord God says that he is going to come, or when it is said of him that he will come, it does not immediately follow that Christ is meant; for the Lord God means the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit. But this is a question which we must not leave without examining the evidence. In the first place we have to show how Jesus Christ speaks in the prophetic books in the character of the Lord God, and yet it is abundantly clear that Jesus Christ is speaking; so that in other places also when this is not immediately apparent, and yet it is said that the Lord God is come for that last judgement, it may be understood that Jesus Christ is meant.
There is a passage in the prophet Isaiah which clearly demonstrates the point I am making. For God says, through the mouth of the prophet,
Listen to me, Jacob, Israel whom I call. I am the first, and I am for all eternity. My hand laid the foundations of the earth, and my right hand established the heaven. I shall call them, and they will stand together, and they will all be assembled and will listen. Who has announced this to him? It is for love of you that I have performed your will upon Babylon, so that I might remove the offspring of the Chaldeans. I have spoken, and I have called him. I brought him hither and prospered his plans. Draw near to me and listen to this. From the beginning I have not spoken to you in secret; when these things were happening, I was there. And now the Lord God has sent me; and so has his Spirit.192
It is certainly Christ himself who is speaking; yet it would not be understood to be Jesus Christ, had he not added, ‘And now the Lord God has sent me; and so has his Spirit’. For he said this ‘in the form of a servant’, using here a past tense to describe a future event, a usage we find in the same prophet when he says, ‘He was led193 like a lamb to be slaughtered’, not ‘he will be led’, thus employing a past tense for an event in the future. And prophecy continually uses this mode of speaking.
There is another passage, in Zechariah, which plainly shows the Almighty sending the Almighty; and who can these be except God the Father sending God the Son? The passage runs, ”This is what the Lord Almighty says: “After glory he has sent me to the nations who despoiled you; for whoever has touched you is as if he touched the pupil of his eye. See, I shall raise my hand over them, and they will be plunder for those who had been their slaves; and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me.” ’194 Observe that the Lord Almighty says that he was sent by the Lord Almighty. Who would dare to take these words as representing anything but an utterance of Christ, speaking, obviously, to ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’, for he says in the Gospel, ‘I have been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’195 And here he compares them to the pupil of God’s eye because of God’s special feeling of affection for them; the apostles themselves were sheep of this kind. But after the glory, that is, of course, after his resurrection (for before the resurrection, as the evangelist says, ‘Jesus was not yet glorified’196) he was sent to the Gentiles also in the persons of his apostles, and so the saying in the psalm was fulfilled: ‘You will rescue me from the opposition of the people, you will set me at the head of the Gentiles.’197 The result was that those who had despoiled the Israelites, those by whom the Israelites had been enslaved when they were subject to the Gentiles, were not
merely to be despoiled in their turn in the same way; they were to become themselves the spoil of the Israelites. This, in fact, is what Christ promised to his disciples in saying, ‘I shall make you fishers of men’, and to one of them, ‘From now on you will be catching men.’198 Thus they did indeed become spoil, but for their good, as property snatched from that ‘strong man’, a strong man bound with greater strength.199
Similarly, the Lord speaks through the same prophet and says,
When that day comes, I shall seek to remove all the nations who come against Jerusalem; and I shall pour out over the house of David and over the inhabitants of Jerusalem the spirit of grace and mercy. Then they will look at me because they have gloated over me; and they will mourn for him as if for one very dear, and they will grieve as men grieve for an only son.200
Now can we think that it is in the power of anyone but God to remove all the nations hostile to the holy city of Jerusalem and all who ‘come against her’, that is, are opposed to her, or, as others translate it, ‘come over her’, that is, to subject her to themselves? And ‘to pour out over the house of David and the inhabitants of that city the spirit of grace and mercy’? This is without doubt an act of God, and the words are spoken, through the prophet, in the person of God; and yet Christ demonstrates that he is the God who achieves this great act, those divine acts, by adding, ‘Then they will look at me because they gloated over me, and they will mourn for him as for one very dear, and they will grieve as men grieve for an only son.’
For on that day even the Jews will certainly repent, even those Jews who are to receive ‘the spirit of grace and mercy’. They will repent that they gloated over Christ in his suffering, when they look at him as he comes in his majesty, and recognize him as the one who formerly came in humility, whom they mocked at in the persons of their parents; however, those parents themselves, who committed that great impiety, will rise again and see him, but now for their punishment, no longer for their correction. And so it is not the parents who are to be taken as meant in the passage when it says, ‘and I shall pour out upon the House of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem the spirit of grace and mercy: and they will look at me because they gloated over me’; it is, nevertheless, those who come from their stock that are meant, those who are to believe at that time through the work of Elijah. But just as we say to the Jews, ‘You put Christ to death’, although it was their parents who did this, so they will grieve for having in a sense done themselves what was actually done by those from whose stock they have descended. Thus, although they have received the spirit of grace and mercy and, being now members of the faith, will not be condemned along with their impious parents, they will nevertheless grieve as if they themselves had done what was done by their parents. They will grieve, therefore, not because they feel guilty of this crime, but because they feel the emotions of true religion.
It is true that where the Septuagint has ‘they will look at me because they gloated over me’, a translation directly from the Hebrew gives ‘they will look on me whom they pierced’; and this yields a more explicit description of the crucified Christ. And yet the ‘gloating’ which the seventy translators preferred to give as their rendering was in evidence in the whole of his passion. For they did in fact gloat over Christ when he was arrested, when he was bound, when he was judged, when he was clothed with humiliating garments as an insult, and was crowned with thorns; when he was struck on the head with a reed, and received homage on bended knees in mockery; when he carried his cross, and when in the end he hung upon that cross. Thus it is not by following one translation only but by joining together both translations, by reading ‘pierced’ as well as ‘gloated’, that we recognize here in greater detail the reality of the Lord’s passion.
So when we read in the prophetic books that God is to come to execute the last judgement we are bound to take it that Christ is meant, even though there is no other indication of him, simply because it is the judgement; because, although the Father will judge, it is through the coming of the Son of Man that he will execute judgement. For the Father himself in his own manifest presence ‘judges no one; he has entrusted all judgement to the Son’.201 And the Son will be manifested as man for his execution of judgement, just as it was as a man that he was judged. For can anyone else than Christ be meant when God speaks in similar terms through Isaiah, using the name of Jacob and Israel, from whose line Christ received his body? This is what the Scripture says:
Jacob is my servant; I shall lift him up: Israel is my chosen one; my Spirit has taken him to himself. I have given my Spirit to him; he will bring forth judgement for the nations. He will not cry out, nor will he cease to speak, and his voice will not be heard outside. He will not break a crushed reed, and he will not quench a smoking wick; but he will bring forth judgement in truth. He will shine and will not be broken down, until he establishes judgement on the earth. In his name the nations will put their hope.202
In the Hebrew the names ‘Jacob’ and ‘Israel’ are not found, but simply ‘my servant’. Doubtless the seventy translators wished to warn the reader of the full meaning to be given to this phrase, to point out, that is, the reference to ‘the form of a servant’ in which the Most High showed himself in utter humility; and so, to signify him, they put in the name of the man from whose line Christ took that ‘form of a servant’.203
”The Holy Spirit was given’ to him, as was shown by the appearance of a dove, according to the testimony of the evangelist.204 He ‘brought forth judgement to the nations’, because he foretold the judgement to come which had been hidden from them. In his gentleness Tie did not cry our’, and yet ‘he did not cease to speak’ in his proclamation of the truth; but his voice was not, and is not, ‘heard outside’ because he is not obeyed by those who are outside and are cut off from his body. And it was the Jews themselves that ‘he did not break’, or ‘quench’, those persecutors of his, who are likened to a ‘crushed reed’ which has lost its perfection, and a ‘smoking wick’ which has lost its light; he did not break or quench them, because he spared them, since he had not yet come to judge them but to be judged by them. He certainly ‘brought forth judgement in truth’ by predicting to them the judgement, when they were to be punished if they persisted in their malignity. His face ‘shone’ on the mountain;205 his fame shone in the whole world. He is not ‘broken’, or crushed, because neither in his own person nor in his Church has he yielded to his persecutors so as to cease to be. And so that event has not happened of which his enemies have spoken, or still speak, when they say, ‘When will he the and his name perish?’206 – nor will it happen before ‘he establishes judgement on the earth’.
Here it is, then, made manifest, the hidden thing for which we were looking. This, in fact, is the last judgement which he will establish on the earth when he himself comes from heaven. And we now see fulfilled the last words of the prophecy about him: ‘In his name the nations will put their hope.’ This, at least, cannot be denied; and its truth should lead to a belief in that statement which is shamelessly denied. For who would have expected an event which even those who still refuse to believe in Christ now see in process, along with us, and because they are unable to deny it, they ‘gnash their teeth and waste away’?207 Who would have expected that the nations would put their hope in the name of Christ, at the time when he was arrested, bound, scourged, ridiculed, crucified; when even his disciples had lost the hope in him which they had by then begun to have? The hope that was then held scarcely by the one thief on the cross is now held by nations scattered far and wide, who are signed with the sign of that very cross on which he died, so that they may not the for ever.
There is no one therefore who denies or doubts that the last judgement, as it is foretold in holy Scripture, is to be executed by Jesus Christ, unless it is someone who, with an unbelievable kind of animosity or blindness, does not believe in those sacred writings, which have by now demonstrated their truth to the whole world. And so in that judgement, or in connection with that judgement, we have learnt that those events are to come about: Elijah the Tishbite will come; Jews will accept the faith; Antichrist will persecute; Christ will judge; the dead will rise again; the good and the evil will be separated; the earth will be destroyed in the flames and then will be renewed. All those events, we must believe, will come about; but in what way, and in what order they will come, actual experience will then teach us with a finality surpassing anything our human understanding is now capable of attaining. However, I consider that these events are destined to come about in the order I have given.
Two books relating to our task remain for the fulfilment, with God’s help, of my promises. One of them will treat of the punishment of the wicked; the other of the felicity of the righteous. In them, as God shall grant, I will in particular refute the human arguments which some wretched creatures gnaw over, pluming themselves on their own wisdom, in disparagement of the divine predictions and prophecies, while they despise, as false and laughable, the wholesome nourishment of the faith. Those, on the other hand, who are wise by God’s standards hold to the truth and the omnipotence of God as the strongest proof of things which seem incredible to men, and yet are included in the holy Scriptures, whose truth has already been vindicated in so many ways. Such people are convinced that God could not conceivably have lied in the Scriptures, and that he can do what to the unbeliever is impossible.