There are many critiques that people raise against God. Usually, these critiques take a great deal of time to unpack and explain. For example: One of the critiques of Christianity that I've received from my friends is that God seems partial. At first pass, it seems that because God gave the Bible to the Jews, and then formed the Christian church that impacted primarily the Middle-East and southern Europe. So what about everyone in the Far East? What about those in sub-Saharan Africa? What about the Native Americans? If God loves everyone as Christians claim, how are these peoples supposed to know how to get to heaven? To this argument, I've supplied verses like Romans 2:14-15, Zechariah 13:6, but the full study is a bit more involved.
The Rebellion against God's government is a messy ordeal. If there were a clean way to deal with it while preserving everyone's free will and ensuring it would never happen again, I'm sure that God would have done it. The fact that the rebellion now continues after 6000+ years means that the questions about God's character cannot be resolved with a few verses here or there. They require hundreds of years of investigation and careful study. This is why God gives us the Millennium.
Crash Course in the Millennium
Throughout Revelation, we are told of a cosmic conflict between Satan and his angels, and Jesus and his angels (Revelation 12:7). This war was not a war of lightsabers or supernatural ballistic missiles. We're shown that this controversy resembled the conflict that happens in a court room. Satan 'accuses the brethren' (Revelation 12:10), and the angels loyal to God overcome by the 'word of their testimony' and by the evidence of the 'blood of the Lamb.'
Satan's case is thrown out of the heavenly courts. But Satan gained sympathy with a minority of angels. Satan's deception convinced one third of the angelic host (Revelation 12:4, Isaiah 9:15). These align themselves with his claims against God. And when the heavenly jury is no longer willing to take this case, Satan comes to earth and tries to present his case to each inhabitant of the earth (Revelation 12:12).
Thus, each human being is now caught up in this great conflict between God and Satan. Evils such as war, disease, and natural disasters come as a result of this conflict (Job 1:6-12, Matthew 13:24-30). Humanity is caught up in the middle, but is encouraged during this time to determine who they will serve as their ultimate master, and to prepare for a judgment to come. In the upcoming judgment, they will not only be judged themselves, but those who are found righteous, will become judges.
Satan is permitted to be the master of this earth (2 Corinthians 4:4) for a short time (Revelation 12:12). During his reign, angels take careful note of the deeds and misdeeds of fallen angels and humanity (Malachi 3:16). At the close of history, humanity has the opportunity to review these records, and judge both God and Satan (Luke 8:17, Hebrews 4:13, 1 Corinthians 4:5, 1 Corinthians 6:2-3).
And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season. And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (Revelation 20:1-4)
At the end of the world, God cuts Satan's reign short. The righteous are resurrected in Revelation 20:4, and they spend one-thousand years in the heavenly courts reviewing the details of Earth's history, carefully auditing every decision that God ever made (Matthew 19:28). During this time, they are able to investigate questions such as:
- Why did God heal person A, but not person B?
- Why did God provide a miracle at this instance, but not in this other instance?
- Why did God send a missionary to these people, but not these other peoples
- Why didn't God make Himself more visible to the athiests
- Why did God permit evil in the first place
Meanwhile, the Earth is barren and bereft of life (Jeremiah 4:23-26). The wicked are killed by Jesus' first coming at the beginning of the thousand years, and do not live again until the close of that period (Isaiah 24:22).
At this time, the righteous who were resurrected to take part in the judgment seem to be both convinced that God is fully just, and satisfied that He was fair throughout the entire conflict between God and Satan. The wicked are resurrected to receive their sentence (Isaiah 24:22), and at their corporate and individual condemnation every created being unanimously declares that the sentence they receive is just (Isaiah 45:23-25, Romans 14:11-12, Philippians 2:10). Satan's deception is exposed in all of its gory details before the whole universe, and he becomes the universal object of contempt (Ezekiel 28:17-19). Satan and all the wicked are destroyed and utterly consumed while the righteous are protected from the destruction between the walls of the new Jerusalem (Isaiah 26:19-21, Malachi 4:1).
A Millennium of Courtship
Before you marry someone, it's important that you get to know them. That's what dating is for. Before you commit to using a product for the rest of your life, it is good to have a chance to try it out. That's what trial periods and free samples are for.
Psalms 34:8 invites us to "taste and see that the Lord is good." We have about 70 years on this Earth to get to know our God before we die (Psalm 90:10), but these 70 years are a long-distance relationship, and we don't really get to see God face-to-face (1 Corinthians 13:12). As a remedy, God invites us to spend 1000 years with Him as an engagement period.
During a courtship or a trial period, you have a chance to examine your lover and thoughtfully decide whether this person is somebody with whom you want to spend the rest of your life. In this case, you have the all-important decision of determining if God is somebody you want to spend the rest of your eternity with. During this time, God makes Himself available to every scrutiny, so we can make an educated decision. In any reservation we had about God's character, such as why our reading of the Bible made Him seem patriarchal, genocidal, distant, partial, etc...., we will have an opportunity to study out for a thousand years, to consult with angels, and ask Jesus directly.
Why Don't the Wicked Take Part in the Judgment?
So if all of this opportunity to get their questions answered is available to the righteous during the millennium, why don't the wicked get the same opportunity? Why do these wicked rest in the grave for one thousand years awaiting their final judgment without a chance to examine the case for God?
The answer appears to be that if the opportunity were presented, they wouldn't take it up (Isaiah 26:10). God has loved both His enemies and His friends, Has sent blessings both the righteous and the wicked blessings, and extended an opportunity to know His grace during their lifespan on earth (Matthew 5:44-45). The criteria that He applies immediately before the judgment to decide who gets to participate and who is excluded is outlined in the parables of Matthew 22 and 25.
- Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14): God invites two classes of people. The first class of people ought to have had a close knowledge of the God. But rather than prioritizing God, particularly the Wedding (a symbol of God's second coming), they were too involved in their own acts of self-aggrandizement, and flatly rejected the invitation to participate. The second class was invited from the streets and byways, and though they did not have the prior relationship the first class had, they accepted God's offer. The primary difference was the interest the each class displayed prior to the wedding that determined whether they could participate.
- Parable of the Ten Talents (Matthew 25:14-30): Three individuals are each given a measure of the Master's resources. Two individuals occupy themselves with the investing of these resources, and when the Master returns, show that they were both thankful and dutiful with that which was entrusted them. The third individual admits that he did not spend any time or thought to improve upon that which his Master had given him.
- Parable of the Sheep and Goats (Matthew 25:31-46): Humanity is divided into two classes. One class behaved as citizens of a heavenly kingdom, the others did not. One class was given a passport to heaven, and the other was deported.
In each of these parables, we can assume that were grace to be extended to the party in the wrong, there would be no change of attitude or behavior, and they would continue in the ways the had previously acted (Isaiah 26:10).
To this assertion, the argument could be raised, "Ah, but if the wicked were truly shown who Jesus really was face-to-face, then they would have a chance to repent." God has already answered this critique:
- Lucifer was in the presence of God in the beginning, and still fought against Him (Ezekiel 28:13-14).
- Fallen angels witness Christ first-hand, and still do not repent (Matthew 8:29, Luke 4:34).
- The spiritual elite of Jesus' time behold His perfect life, and condemn Him anyway (Matthew 26:57-75).
So likewise, if Satan and the wicked were to be allowed into heaven during the thousand years, the righteous would not be able to actually do their job of investigating God's dealings with the wicked–the righteous would be so busy trying to put up with the rebellion.
Thus, if you want to learn about God for 1000 years, you should demonstrate your interest with the probationary time that you now have.
Every Individual Gets To Choose To Enter or Exit Heaven after the Millenium
Heaven has walls with gates in it (Revelation 21:12-14). One day, these gates will always be open be open (Revelation 21:25; Isaiah 60:11, 18-22). But not only will they be open after the judgment, they are open right now (Revelation 3:7, John 10:1-9, Luke 13:24, Revelation 4:1).
This pattern is shown in old-testament narratives. Perhaps as the most striking example, Noah preached to the antediluvian race for 120 years prior to the flood, urging them to repent (Genesis 6, Matthew 24:37-39, 2 Peter 2:5). The door to the ark was wide open, up until the moment that the Lord shut the door to the ark after Noah had entered it (Genesis 7:16). The door remained shut until the condemnation of the wicked was finished and the Earth was made new. Luke 17:26, 30 indicate that the final destruction of the wicked will follow a pattern similar to that of Noah and the ark. Every individual had the choice to get on the boat. All they had to do was enter the door at the last moment.
In the story of Lot, immediately before the destruction of Sodom, the citizens of the city surround Lot, his family, and the angels that are therein, and accuse Him of setting Himself as a judge over them (Genesis 19:9, cf. Psalms 118:10-11, Psalms 122:2,5; 1 Corinthians 6:2). When the enemies surrounded Lot's house, Lot was pulled into the gates, while the wicked were blinded by the door (Genesis 19:10-11, Luke 13:24). The angels ask righteous Lot if there is anybody that needs to be pulled inside that they may have overlooked during their investigation. Lot makes a final plea to his family, but nobody answers the call (Genesis 19:14). Although they still have a chance to escape, nobody chooses change sides. Lot flees Sodom, and once he enters the gates of Zoar, God destroys Sodom (Genesis 19:23, Isaiah 26:20-21) Luke 17:28 indicates that the story of the destruction of Sodom is a model of what the final destruction of the wicked will be like (2 Peter 2:6, Jude 1:7). Those in Lot's family had the opportunity to escape with Him. All they had to do was get to Zoar's gates.1
In my studies, it seems that at the close of the millennium, God in his mercy, extends one final invitation to the wicked. The gates of heaven remain open as the New Jerusalem descends. If anybody during their trial period in heaven has decided that God made an error, or He was at-fault for Lucifer's rebellion, or they decide that God truly was unfair and didn't give everyone a reasonable shot, they can choose to exit the open gates, and side with Lucifer in His final rebellion against God.
Conversely, if there are any outside the gates, who after seeing the new Jerusalem descending, who realize what is about to happen, and do not want to be caught up in the destruction of the wicked but want to live forever, they can run through the open gates and enter into heaven. Like the antediluvians and Sodom's family all they have to do is pass through the gates.
There is no evidence that this happens. "Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation, which keepeth the truth may enter in" (Isaiah 26:2). "Let favour be shewed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness: in the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the Lord (Isaiah 26:10)." Instead, they encircle the city to try to take it.
Satan, the mightiest of warriors, leads the van, and his angels unite their forces for this final struggle. Kings and warriors are in his train, and the multitudes follow in vast companies, each under its appointed leader. With military precision the serried ranks advance over the earth's broken and uneven surface to the City of God. By command of Jesus, the gates of the New Jerusalem are closed, and the armies of Satan surround the city and make ready for the onset.2
God does not shut the gates until every mind is made up either in support of Jesus or in ultimate rebellion of Jesus. The time has come in the parable of the wheat and the tares that every seed has come to ultimate fruition (Matthew 13:30). With every effort made for their salvation, and with every deed carefully inspected, every created being is fully made up in their eternal destiny. Their decision to enter, exit, or remain on the same side of the gates was none other than their own. The righteous remain in heaven, and at the Revelation of the justice and mercy of God, the wicked acknowledge the righteousness of God from outside the gates of the city (Proverbs 14:18, Revelation 15:3-4).
Every question of truth and error in the long-standing controversy has now been made plain. The results of rebellion, the fruits of setting aside the divine statutes, have been laid open to the view of all created intelligences. The working out of Satan's rule in contrast with the government of God has been presented to the whole universe. Satan's own works have condemned him. God's wisdom, His justice, and His goodness stand fully vindicated. It is seen that all His dealings in the great controversy have been conducted with respect to the eternal good of His people and the good of all the worlds that He has created. "All Thy works shall praise Thee, O Lord; and Thy saints shall bless Thee." Psalm 145:10. The history of sin will stand to all eternity as a witness that with the existence of God's law is bound up the happiness of all the beings He has created. With all the facts of the great controversy in view, the whole universe, both loyal and rebellious, with one accord declare: "Just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints." 3
It is only after these events transpire, that the wicked are destroyed. The destruction of the wicked was not God's intention (Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 33:11). The wicked choose to miss out on heaven, and because God's infinite love honors their free will, God grants them their request. And rather than allow them to suffer wickedness in perpetuity, God makes an utter end of rebellion, affliction, and suffering (Nahum 1:8-10).
There are many questions we have about God that a study of the Bible during our lifespan may not thoroughly satisfy. But sufficient evidence is presented in the Bible that God earnestly desires what is best for us, and wants us to grow into a relationship with Him that gives us good things. A two-year courtship is not sufficient to learn everything about a potential spouse, but it is sufficient to build a pretty good idea of whether this is somebody who genuinely loves you and wants the best for you. A thousand-year engagement would help you answer the rest of the questions that would remain.
In the past, God took emergency measures to preserve a knowledge of the true God in the world (the flood, the deliverance of Israel from their oppressors, etc...). The methods that He used to protect Israel from idolatry at times seem very barbarous for a God that claims to be loving. But, God promises that if you want to take Him up on His offer of eternal life, He will give you a 1000-year period to thoroughly investigate His character, especially in His dealings with sin, and whether He was just in the process. At the end of the 1000-year period, you can choose either to consummate or to break-off the engagement.
But God will not force you to come to the wedding if you're not willing. And all that is required of you to earn your way into the wedding is to accept the invitation that God extends to get to know Him better. Go on regular dates with Him in your morning devotions. Although you may not always see the beauty in His character, ask Him about those things that do not appear to be just and true. And make every effort to conduct your life on earth as if you were already a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. In this way, when the roster is taken up for jury duty during the millenium, you will not be disqualified.
Yet another narrative exists in the story of the Passover. God warned the Israelites that He was about to judge the cruelty of their Egyptian captors, and that they should protect themselves by putting the blood of the Passover lamb over the gates of their homes. The Israelites were told to remain in their homes until the Lord had passed over their homes. It's interesting to note that a similar exhortation is given in Isaiah 26:20-21 during the final destruction of the wicked. The wording in verse 20 explicitly indicates to wait until the indignation be "passed over". Poor Israelites, and even Egyptians also had the option of escaping the passover. All they needed to do was to go into the gates of their neighbor's house (Exodus 12:4). Also see Patriarchs and Prophets p. 279.2 ↩