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In 1 Cor. 15:25 Paul writes, "The last enemy that will be abolished is death."
Most Christians, it seems, have not really pondered the implications of that statement. Paul's explanation of that verse comes immediately afterward: "For He has put all things in subjection under His feet." Obviously, "all things" includes death itself.
And yet most Christians today believe that the second death is unending. It is assumed that the second death will NEVER be abolished. When death is destroyed, they say, only a minority of mankind will benefit. But is that really what Paul says here?
Look at the order of events. We live our lives in the generation into which we are born. We die at some point. We are raised from the dead either in the first or second resurrection. If we qualify as priests of God to reign with Him, we are raised in the first resurrection, where death is abolished for that smaller group of people (Rev. 20:4-6).
However, since "the rest of the dead lived not again till the thousand years were finished" (Rev. 20:5), it is plain that 1 Cor. 15:25 is not fulfilled at that time.
So what about the second resurrection? At that time, ALL the dead are raised (Rev. 20:12, 13). At that point, everyone who has ever lived will be alive to stand before the Great White Throne. Those who died without a knowledge of Christ will be there. Many believers will be there with them, as Jesus said in John 5:28, 29, provided that they did not qualify as rulers in the Kingdom.
Whoever they are, here is where every knee will bow. Paul says in Phil. 2:10, 11,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Is that where death is abolished?
Well, this is a summarized quotation from Isaiah 45:22-25, which says,
22 Turn to Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. 23 I HAVE SWORN by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance. 24 They will say of Me, "Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength."
So the God who cannot lie has made a vow and will not change His mind on this issue, that "every knee will bow" to Him. Will this be by compulsion? Will their bows affect their destiny and relationship with God? Or will they merely be forced to bow just to make a point, after which time they will all be lost forever?
We are told that every tongue will "swear allegiance" (NASB). It is more than a confession. It is an oath by which they "swear allegiance" to Jesus Christ, who sits on the throne to judge all men.
Verse 24 is the confession of Phil. 2:11, "Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength." Wow. THIS is how they "confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father." That sounds like a confession of faith to me, especially when Paul says in 1 Cor. 12:3, "no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit."
This does not sound like an insincere forced confession. Who will argue at that point? Anyone? Would they not ALL believe?
Why, then, are we told that their belief will not benefit them? Was there some sort of divine deadline for salvation? What about Hebrews 9:27?
27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment...
Alright. I agree that men die once, and then comes the day of judgment at the Great White Throne. So what? The verse says nothing about a deadline for salvation. The context, in fact, implies the opposite:
28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without sin, to those who eagerly await Him.
So just as men die once and then comes the judgment, so also has Christ come once to die, and then comes a second appearance for the purpose of salvation. Do we not agree on this two-step sequence? The second appearance is "for salvation." All of this is a reference to the Law, which prophesies of the two appearances of Christ.
In Lev. 14, He comes to die as the first dove, but is released alive as the second dove in His second appearance. Likewise, in Lev. 16, He comes to die as the first goat, but is released alive as the second goat in His second appearance. In both cases, the second is "for salvation."
Though Heb. 9:27, 28 did not go into detail, it is plain that it says nothing about a deadline for salvation. Why would it be important for God to have every tongue confess Him as Lord and to swear allegiance to Him--if that confession was worthless to them?
In my view, the only deadline is for qualifying as "priests" who "reign with Him for a thousand years." One's present life time is the deadline in becoming an overcomer who is given aionian life at the time of the first resurrection. In the second resurrection, confessing belief (faith) in Christ will be done by all, not because it is mandatory, but because all obstacles to faith will be removed. His existence and His deity will be self-evident. The power of the Holy Spirit will convict everyone of their sin, and they will come fully into agreement with Him.
Let us continue reading Isaiah's prophecy (Is. 45:24, 25), which Paul quoted,
24 They will say of Me, "Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength." Men will come to Him, and all who were angry at Him shall be put to shame.
Yes, there will be a lot of embarrassed looks in that day. This is the Hebrew way of saying that they will totally "lose face" and have to acknowledge that they were wrong. Their anger at Him was unjustified. I have found that many unbelievers are simply angry with God. Many of them were former believers who turned away from God on account of what they saw and heard in Church.
In that day at the Great White Throne, the truth will be known about God's character. Those Christians who misrepresented His character will be proven wrong. The sinners who were angry at God for threatening sinners with unending torture will learn the truth of His great Love for His creation. They will learn that the plan was not to torture 99% of humanity, but to save them. They will learn that God's judgments were designed to correct His children, not to inflict unending pain.
25 In the Lord all the offspring of Israel will be justified and will glory.
Isaiah was speaking to an Israelite audience, most of whom were unbelievers. In fact, a few chapters later, Isaiah records how God cast Israel out of the land for their sin. Yet "all the offspring of Israel will be justified." Will they be justified in spite of their sin? or will they all come to the point of faith in Christ, confessing Him as Lord--which will then provide the basis for their justification???
The entire context shows that most of the Israelites were unbelievers during their life time on earth; that at some point later, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess Him as Lord; and that every Israelite unbeliever will be justified by faith. When? Well, since it is appointed for all men to die and then comes the judgment, it is apparent that they will all be justified at the Great White Throne. That is where they will obtain their justifying faith.
And not just those unbelieving Israelites, but ALL who are raised at that time. Paul says, "every knee will bow." Paul obviously includes the whole world, or "the all" (ta panta).