The Final Sequence
Events Timeline Summary
In the previous chapters of this series, I’ve presented the biblical details of
- the certainty of judgment;
- the Nether World;
- the Resurrection of Life and the Resurrection of Judgment;
- the fact that the Lord Christ is the Judge of the Living and the Dead;
- the Judgment of the Nations; and,
- the Great White Throne Judgment.
By design, the purpose of each chapter is to present that topic as it is taught in the Scriptures. Each chapter is presented relatively independently of the others, in a manner similar to a topic or chapter from a Systematic Theology text.
It’s now time to look at their aggregate context and purpose: namely, what is the Final Sequence of events culminating with the Great White Throne Judgment and the punishment of the Outer Darkness? Can we “put these pieces together” into a single, seamless, “essentially-chronological” narrative to observe the powerful, elegant and beautiful justice of the Lord Almighty? Can we determine, with good clarity and full biblical confidence—and basically in chronological order—what will happen when the judgments begin to break forth, beginning with the return of the Lord Christ?
The answer is a “careful yes”.
[That which follows is intended to represent both the main milestones along with pertinent details of events, both that have already taken place and will take place in the future.
For some events, it is difficult to ascertain with certainty which one precedes or follows another, since both appear to take place at essentially the same time. The texts that I cite below are clear regarding the fact of an event, but sometimes are not found with attendant temporal clues as to when they take place. For these I depend on their inferences, context and logic.
This sequence presented here may not prove to be exact, but it should be a very close approximation of that which is certain to happen.]
[Please note: as I presented in the chapter on the Nether World, for simplicity and consistency I refer to the place of final punishment as the Outer Darkness rather than by its multiple synonyms of Eternal Punishment/Eternal Fire/Lake of Fire/Second Death.]
As we begin, we need to review some details regarding the devil and his origin and fall, along with the fall of Adam.
The details provided in Eze 28 (which speaks metaphorically of the devil as the King of Tyre) teach us that the devil, the “cherub who covers”, was originally placed in Eden:
You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering: the ruby, the topaz and the diamond; the beryl, the onyx and the jasper; the lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald; and the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, was in you. On the day that you were created they were prepared. You were the anointed cherub who covers, and I placed you there. You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked in the midst of the stones of fire.
Furthermore, there is the unambiguous statement that the devil was created “blameless” during the original creation event:
You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created until unrighteousness was found in you.
However, sometime prior to Adam’s fall the devil was corrupted by his own position, power, and beauty:
Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor.
The Bible does not tell us how much time passed from the creation of Adam and his wife until that point during which Eve was deceived and Adam rebelled. (That is, we don’t know if it numbered in days, weeks or months.) But it must be the case that it was during that interval that the devil became corrupted, after which he tempted Eve:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”
It was at that point that the devil successfully tempted and deceived Eve; Adam, however, actively and deliberately (again, not from deceit!) rebelled against God for reasons that are not stated:
1 Tim 2.14
And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.
Of course, we all know that the devil’s temptation succeeded and all mankind, through its representative Adam, sinned against the Lord God and thereby initiated the fall of mankind. The Apostle Paul describes the event in one of the most significant texts in all of Scripture:
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned …
As a result of the devil’s rebellion (along with those angels who followed him), the Lord prepared the Outer Darkness as that place in which He would forever consign them for punishment (once the formal judgment had taken place):
Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;
So, at this point we have the first three events of the Final Sequence:
As previous chapters in this series have shown, the judgment of all mankind by the Lord Christ is certain and that process of judgment begins when the Lord returns.
For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son … For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man.
Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
The Lord begins the process of judgment by changing the topography of the earth’s surface. Unthinkably huge land masses will be moved:
Heaven was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved from their places.
The next major event to place on the timeline is the return of the Lord Christ; it is a complex event that consists of many components that occur in rapid succession and/or overlap. I’ll highlight several here.
The Lord Christ returns and at approximately the same time the First Resurrection takes place for all those who are the Lord’s true people:
Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
1 The 4.15-17
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
The topography of the earth continues to be changed in major ways, beginning at Jerusalem with the splitting of the Mount of Olives:
In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south.
And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon.
And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. … And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army.
And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.
Now it will come about that in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it.
The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
Behold, the LORD lays the earth waste, devastates it, distorts its surface and scatters its inhabitants
Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley; then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
And the LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be one, and His name one. All the land will be changed into a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem; but Jerusalem will rise and remain on its site from Benjamin's Gate as far as the place of the First Gate to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the king's wine presses.
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.
The Lord Christ builds His temple, from which He begins His earthly rule over all peoples:
Then say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the Lord. Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the Lord, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.”’
Psa 96.11-13 (cf., Psa 98.7-9)
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all it contains; let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the Lord, for He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in His faithfulness.
But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; … These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. ... But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.”
2 The 1.6-10
For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed.
“I will announce the decree of the Lord:
He said to Me, ‘You are My Son,
Today I have fathered You.
Ask it of Me, and I will certainly give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the ends of the earth as Your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware.’”
and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father;
And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne.
From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.
The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
The Lord will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of Your enemies.”
[This is the reason that He "rules with a rod of iron". As the texts above say, when the Lord Christ returns it will be to a hostile planet (contrary to the eschatological fantasy of the postmillenarian and possibly some dispensationalists).]
So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.
For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore.
And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city…
and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
It is now time for the Great White Throne Judgment.
[Again, remember the distinctions between the Judgment of the Nations and Great White Throne Judgment.]The first terrifying step is the complete termination of the cosmos (the universe!) itself:
2 Pet 3.10-13
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.
And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.
and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; depart from Me, all you evildoers.’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out. And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God.
And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
There is something here which I need to emphasize:
As I have just shown from the Scriptures in Luk 13, the lost will observe the Lord's true (saved) people being ushered into the eternal kingdom. Therefore, it must also be true that the lost just witnessed the beginning of the new creation since that had to take place first!
Imagine the shock and dismay of the lost evolutionists, those proponents of any theory of the beginning of the universe and life that doesn’t include the LORD and His power. Imagine those who denied, with fanatic fervor and “scientific reasoning”, that the LORD even exists, much less that He created all things by the power of His word alone, choosing rather to believe in an impossible accident.
It certainly must be true these, beginning at the moment of their death with its attendant realization of the terror of Hades and torment, suddenly realize “Those pesky, crazy, fanatical, backward, unscientific, unthinking and ignorant Christians were right! How could we have been so self-deceived?”
The scene is magnificent at every level: the (now resurrected to judgment) evolutionists witnessing the sheer power and glory of God in His act of new creation ex nihilo, the beauty and brightness of that new creation, the saints of their God being ushered into that new creation while the lost dead are suddenly and irrevocably yanked from that "truly once in a lifetime" scene and cast—irrevocably—into the Outer Darkness!
Their memory will haunt them for all eternity because they willingly and knowingly rejected the clear truth of the Bible:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.
The perfect justice of God is seen in every detail! His judgment is truly elegant and beautiful!
And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
EDIT Feb 2019: A later article will detail that one of the errors of the amillennial heresy is that it denies the new creation, favoring instead a "renewed" earth that continues some/much of the current earth and its culture.
That last point is very important and explains why—even after the appearance of the New Heaven and New Earth—the Lord’s people are said to be in grief (note the context—these are not tears of joy! They are tears associated with "mourning, crying, pain"—the "first things".):
And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
There is a wonderful verse in Isaiah that explains what is happening and why:
For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.
When the Lord declared in Rev 21.5 “I am making all things new”, it must be the case that this includes the memories of His true people. This "new memory" won't include anything of that which was temporal and fallen.
Notice, His people were still filled with grief at this commencement because their memories at that point in time were still "old", locked into the "first things":
- memories of past sins, failures and squandered opportunities,
- memories of lost friends and family who had just been thrown into the Outer Darkness,
- and likely, innumerable other burdens.
How could any person, having fully experienced God’s glory and holiness, ever be content if “old” memories persist? They would inevitably, completely and unconditionally haunt us.
The Lord knows this, and this is the point: the Lord, through Isaiah, declares that everything that we ever experienced in time and space, every event of our lives—the “former things”—pass into nothingness and are forgotten forever.
All things will be new. When the Lord’s true people experience “being made new”, it will be as if we have been with Him forever with no memory of what we now know as “this life”.
It can’t be otherwise.
The Final Sequence is complete; afterward is eternity!