THREE CLASSES OF HUMANITY
From the beginning of the record of mankind upon the earth, men and women have showed varying degrees of interest in the plan of God. There have been those God has classified as righteous, those classified exceedingly evil, and many more upon whom no judgment is passed. We read of righteous Abel who pleased the Lord with his offering, and wicked Cain whose offering was not accepted and who in anger slew his brother. At the same time people existed of whom we know nothing—except that they “dwelt in the land of Nod” and from them Cain chose a wife.
A righteous Noah preached to an unbelieving multitude, but only his wife, three sons and their wives were counted worthy to survive the deluge. We learn also of righteous Lot who, with his two faithful daughters, heeded the angels’ warning and escaped the burning city while their intended husbands spurned the warning and perished.
So it has been through all ages. Men have separated themselves by their actions. In the Biblical allegory of the creation God is said to have divided the light from the darkness. The light represented those enlightened; the darkness, the unenlightened. There was to be a distinct separation between the two. God has been in the dividing business ever since, separating between those who serve Him and those who serve Him not. But in actuality, He divides them as they divide themselves— by their own actions.
God does not see with human eyes, nor does He judge by human standards. Social standing, heredity, wealth or poverty do not weigh in God’s scale of values. Rather, God classifies them as they fit into His eternal plans and purposes.
In the beginning of His working with mankind on the earth, God made a proposition to all men: Obey and live; disobey and die. He knew from the beginning that all humankind would not be interested in what He had to offer, yet it was open to all. Some listened and entered into a covenant relationship with God by agreeing to serve Him, hence became covenant-makers.
The three classes, for purposes of this study, include all humankind who have lived during the first phase of God’s work upon earth (6,000 years), between the time that God first turned His attention toward the human race and the Second Advent of Christ. We first identify them as covenant-makers and non-covenant-makers. Then the covenant-makers are subdivided into two groups, those who keep their covenant and those who fail to keep it.
Our three basic groups, then, are as follows:
1 “Faithful” covenant-makers
2 “Unfaithful” covenant-makers
3 “Ungodly” who never agree to serve God
God is directly concerned with the covenant-makers, those who have learned of Him and have promised to serve Him. The third class is composed of the many who live and die oblivious to God and His plan.
In this lesson we will discuss these three classes and how they relate to God’s plan for the earth.
Throughout the Scriptures the emphasis is upon the righteous, those whom we call the faithful covenant-makers. We find them promised blessings without measure.
How did they gain such favored status? Were they predestined to be faithful? Was it a chance happening? Or did they of themselves do something to merit or be worthy of such favored treatment? First we will discuss the covenant-makers, who they are and by what standards they are classified. Because they are to be judged according to God’s standard, our only source of information must be the Bible.
In comparison to the great multitudes of humanity, few have ever covenanted to serve God. And of those who do covenant to serve Him, still fewer fulfill their obligations and earn the “Well done” of the Master in the end. The reason: God’s standards are high and men do not naturally desire to submit to God’s ways and thoughts. The things of earth, of here and now, which men can readily see, are more appealing. Men prefer the approbation of other men above the honor of a Heavenly Father they have never seen.
Who Is a Covenant-Maker?
Is everyone that ever heard of God in heaven a covenant-maker’? How can we determine who is under covenant and who is not?
A study of the Bible reveals that it is not by mere chance that an individual becomes a covenant-maker. Each one who is classed as a covenant-maker has exercised his or her own free will in choosing to enter the race for eternal life and by so doing has made himself subject to God’s law.
The plan of a covenant-relationship with God was established early in the history of Israel. This was the divine offer: “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: a blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today; and a curse, if you do not obey…” (Deut. 11:26-28). The commandments had been given to Israel by God on Mt. Sinai and had been recorded in a book by Moses according to the instructions of God. “Then he [Moses] took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has said will we do, and be obedient’” (Ex. 24:7).
Those who heard the words and agreed to do them became covenant-makers. This principle has continued in effect from the beginning, hence is applicable today. Those who have heard and learned of God’s plan and His requirements and have subsequently agreed to do what He commands are classified as covenant-makers.
Being a covenant-maker does not of itself guarantee one a place in the Kingdom of God. Not all covenant-makers prove true to their covenant, hence the division of the covenant-makers into two groups: faithful and unfaithful.
Class One: Faithful Covenant-Makers
God’s major concern is with the covenant-makers, those who have heard His call and have promised to serve Him. Of those who promise, only a small percentage live up to their vow. For this reason the faithful constitute the smallest of the three classes, nevertheless the Scriptures abound with information concerning them.
God set the standard for the faithful in these words spoken to Abraham: “I am the Almighty God; walk before Me, and be blameless” (Gen. 17:1). At the time Jesus began His ministry the standard had not changed, and in the familiar Sermon on the Mount He reiterated the Old Testament standard: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Still later Peter, quoting words Moses had received from God, voiced the same imperative: “Be holy; for I am holy” (I Pet. 1:16; Lev. 11:44).
God’s standard is and ever has been perfection of character. When His kingdom has been established no evil will be allowed in any of its inhabitants. Thus those who aspire to be a part of that Kingdom must remove all taint of sin from their lives. The faithful are those who have done this, who have lived up to this standard of perfection, adding the Christian graces until their character is above reproach.
What are some of the qualifications of the faithful covenant-makers?
They are overcomers.
To overcome is defined as “to get the better of in any conflict or struggle; to defeat; to conquer.” The overcomers have won the battle against sin and evil, they have conquered their natural inclination to evil. In Jesus’ last message to mankind we find much promised to the “overcomers.” “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God”; “He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death [penal death]”; “He who overcomes, and keeps My works to the end, to him I will give power over the nations”; “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on my throne., as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Rev. 2:7, 11, 26; 3:21).
They are “holy and without blemish.”
To be holy is “to be completely devoted to the service of God.” Those who earn this appellation are, in other words, morally perfect. They have heeded the words of the writer to the Hebrews: “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord,” and the counsel of the apostle Peter to “be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless” (Heb. 12:14; 2 Peter 3:14).
The great apostle Paul gave further instructions concerning holiness: holiness is perfected by cleansing “ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). “with the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26). Paul was instructed by Jesus Himself who earlier said, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken un you” (John 15:3).
Holiness is not perfected without conscious effort; there is nothing miraculous about it. One who attains the standard has applied all his mind, might and strength, taking up his cross daily to follow the Master.
They are “doers” of the Word.
To be a “doer” is to do what the Word says, DO. James commands: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only. . . . Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas. 1:22; 2:17). To be a doer of the word is to keep the commandments, to obey in all things.
They are “without fault.”
This is just another way of saying that the faithful have attained the standard God requires, moral perfection.
John the Revelator saw in vision those judged faithful and described them as those who “follow the Lamb [Christ] wherever He goes . . . . And in their mouth was found no deceit: for they are without fault before the throne of God” (Rev. 14:4-5). More than the keeping of the Ten Commandment law is required to meet this standard. It requires “casting down arguments, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
To reach the point where we can be said to be “without fault” will require the use of the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:13), “taking the shield of faith . . . without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Eph. 6:16; Heb. 11:6), and “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” which is “living, and powerful.... and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12).
This will require diligent effort on the part of the covenant-maker. “Glory, honor and immortality” are for “patient continuance in doing good” (Rom. 2:7).
They have added the Christian graces.
Peter gave detailed instructions about forming a Christian character. “Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love…be even more diligent to make your call and election sure…for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:5-7, 10-11).
The covenant-maker who adds the required virtues to his or her character is assured an entrance into the Kingdom. Only through diligent effort does one become faithful.
Titles Given to the Faithful
God’s high regard for those who keep His commandments is evident from the many titles given the faithful throughout the Scriptures. It is because of His love for the righteous that He has endured the wickedness of the wicked. It was written in the time of the kings that “the Lord would not destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that He had made with David, and since He had promised to give a light to him and to his sons forever” (2 Chron. 21:7).
Old Testament Titles
A Peculiar Treasure
At the time the commandments were first given to Israel, God said through Moses, “If ye will indeed obey My voice, and keep my covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people” (Ex. 19:5). This same term is also found in Psalm 135:4; and in Malachi those who hearkened and feared the Lord are referred to as “jewels,” which is given as “special treasure” in a marginal rendering.
A Special People
Again speaking through Moses God speaks of His people as “a special people,” not “more in number than any other people,” but “the least of all peoples” (Deut. 7:6-7).
Israel, God’s chosen
The term “Israel” is often used as representing God’s chosen ones and not the nation of Israel. Speaking of spiritual Israel Paul said, “They are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6). The true Israel whom God has chosen are the faithful, and of these God says, “I will place salvation in Zion for Israel My glory” (Isa. 46:13).
The Redeemed, or Ransomed
Again speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God describes His chosen as both ransomed and redeemed. Isaiah 35:10 and 51:11are almost identical in content, with one exception: The former speaks of them as “the ransomed of the Lord” and the latter “the redeemed of the Lord.”
The City of the Lord
God’s people are sometimes described as a “city,” meaning a group of people assembled together. Speaking prophetically, Isaiah said, “They shall call you, The City of the Lord, Zion of the Holy One of Israel.... And they shall call them, The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord: and you shall be called, Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken” (Isa. 60:14; 62:12).
Other Old Testament titles include “a handful of corn,” “A few berries,” “cedars of Lebanon,” “trees of the Lord,” “saints, sanctified ones,” and “mine elect.”
New Testament Titles
When John the Baptist was telling his disciples about the Great Teacher who was to follow, he said, “And He will thoroughly clean his floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12). The separation of the wheat from the tares, i. e., the righteous from the wicked, will take place at the Judgment following Christ’s second coming.
The faithful covenant-makers are frequently referred to as “sheep”; and the Kingdom, the abode of the faithful, is figuratively spoken of as the “sheepfold” (John 10:1). Jesus, the future Ruler of the Kingdom, is pictured as the “Shepherd of the sheep.” The sheep, the faithful, listen only to the voice of the Shepherd.
The faithful are called the “elect” in both the Old and New Testaments. Isaiah speaks of “mountains” which “mine elect shall inherit” (65:9), the abode of the faithful. “Mountains” as here used and as often used in the Scriptures, has reference to places of power and authority.
The apostle John addressed his Second Epistle to this special group of loyal followers, whom he called “elect”: “The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth, because of the truth, which abides in us, and will be with us forever.... I rejoiced greatly that I found some of your children walking in truth” (2 John 1-2, 4).
The Wife or Bride of Christ
The uniting of Christ and the faithful is described as a wedding with Christ as the Bridegroom and the faithful Church as His wife, or bride. The wife is described as “arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright” (Rev. 19:7-8), the “robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10), a robe the faithful bride has prepared for herself.
Kings and Priests
In the book of Revelation the chosen faithful ones are depicted as “kings and priests” unto God who “shall reign on the earth” (5:10), and again in Rev. 20:6 they are referred to as “priests of God and of Christ.” The apostle Peter also used “a royal priesthood” in his first Epistle when describing the faithful believers.
Rewards for the Faithful
Those who are judged faithful at the return of Christ have no fear of the future. God is a just Paymaster; He will do exactly as He has agreed. Everyone will be rewarded according to his works. “I the Lord search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” These words were spoken through the prophet Jeremiah (17:10) several centuries before Christ, but the principle still stands. The standards of men may change, but God says, “I am the Lord, I change not” (Mal. 3:6).
Jesus taught the same through the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. The farmer is pictured as hiring laborers at different hours of the day and saying unto them, “Whatever is right, that I will give you.” At the close of the day all who were hired received a “penny.” God does not give equal pay for unequal work. Rather, the penny is representative of the reward, which will be according to every man’s work.
God’s plan of reward is likewise made clear in other texts. It was well stated by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). In his Epistle to the Galatians the standard is the same: “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap,” (Gal. 6:7), and to the brethren in Rome he was teaching the same principle: “Who will render to each one according to his deeds ... for there is no partiality with God” (Rom. 2:6, 11).
To be among the faithful covenant-makers should be our earnest desire. Would you not like to spend eternity in the company of such worthies of old as Abraham, Jacob, Samuel, Peter and Paul in a Kingdom ruled over by Jesus Christ? Such is our hope, and it was the hope of our founder who delighted to talk about that future Day and its glories. The following is a quotation from one of his messages:
“God has promised to prolong our life through the billions of ages yet to come and give us pleasures that are `exceeding abundantly’ above all we can even ask or think. He will do for us `exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.’ We can think of a great many things we should like to have, and we could ask for a great many things; but He will do for us above all that. He says, I will not only do for you above what you ask or think, but I will do exceedingly above what you ask or think; and that is not enough, I will do for you exceeding abundantly above all you even ask or think! What more could He do for us?”
When Does God Pay?
If you were to witness a funeral in any one of the well-known churches of our day, you would be led to believe that the departed one had received his or her reward immediately after death. If the deceased had lived a good life, you would be told that his or her soul had joined the souls of other faithful dead in heaven and was rejoicing around the throne of God. Such is the accepted belief of most faiths.
While such a belief may be popular and perhaps comforting, it is not according to Scripture. The Bible teaches plainly that both righteous and wicked go to the grave at death to await a resurrection at Christ’s coming. Only then, at the time of the resurrection, do they receive their reward.
In the minds of many theologians, a man is saved at the beginning of the race and rewarded at the end. But this is not according to Scripture. The words of Jesus are unmistakably clear: “He who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22). He “will be” saved, future tense; he is not saved now, otherwise he would not need saving in the future. “Say to those who are of a fearful heart. Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God [Emmanuel, God with us—Matt. 1:23] will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you” (Isa. 35:4). The reward is salvation; and it is to be given at the second coming of Christ.
All are rewarded at Christ’s coming and not at death. How can we know?
The testimony of Jesus.
“You shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14). The word “repaid” carries the same meaning as “reward.” It is not bestowed upon anyone at death.
The testimony of Daniel.
“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth” both faithful and unfaithful covenant-makers are included, as the text clearly shows: they shall “awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt”(Dan. 12:2). But until the time of the resurrection, both classes “sleep.”
The testimony of Peter.
“And when the Chief Shepherd [Christ] appears, you will receive a crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Pet. 5:4). The “crown of glory” represents the reward, the “crown of life” and will be given the faithful at His appearing, not at death.
The testimony of Paul.
“When Christ, who is our life, appears, you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4). When Christ comes, not at death, are the faithful chosen.
The testimony of Jesus through John the Revelator.
“Behold, I am coming quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every one according as his work” (Rev. 22:12). When Christ comes He brings the reward with Him to give to every one, all those worthy.
God is not only a just Paymaster but a generous Paymaster. He offers far more than any human could actually earn in the comparatively short few years he works in the Lord’s service. The pay is variously described as “salvation,” “eternal life,” “immortality,” “the prize” or the “reward.” But all add up to one and the same blessing: LIFE.
All these rewards are yet future, but living the Christian life in hope of future rewards also brings its present recompense, a “hundredfold” of present blessing, as Jesus told Peter (Matt. 19:27-29). Included in the “hundredfold” is the promise of Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.” Also the promise of the guardian angels, “sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14).
Promises Made to the Faithful
Except for the reward for better living received day by day, the pay of the faithful is “held in escrow” at the Father’s right hand. Payment is guaranteed to all who have fulfilled the terms set forth in the Scriptures, that is, all faithful covenant-makers. Christ is His Father’s Paymaster, and when He returns He will bring the reward with Him.
The sum total of the reward is eternal life, everlasting salvation, or immortality. “Israel shall be saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation ... and it will be said in that day, Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us: ... we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation” (Isa. 45:17; 25:9). Salvation itself is the reward.
The Scriptures hold out a host of promises for the faithful. Some might be termed as physical, others concern the mental and moral state; some relate to the honor and power reserved for them, while some are all-inclusive.
Included in the latter category are such promises as Paul quoted from the prophet Isaiah: “But as it is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9); and “[He] is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Eph. 3:20); and “This slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17, RSV). Such glory is beyond the comprehension of our finite minds, but it may be ours if we remain faithful.
Promised by God
Resurrection from the Dead
Those living at the return of Christ will have no need of this promise, but it is vital to all those who have gone before the generation that witnesses His coming. We do not have to rely on one verse alone for this promise; proof-texts are numerous. Paul stated clearly to the Corinthians: “Knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up also with Jesus” (2 Cor. 4:14). It was for this hope that Paul was called to defend himself before King Agrippa (Acts 26:6-8) and for which he so diligently worked: “If by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:10-14).
The promise of eternal life for faithful service is proffered throughout the Bible. It is variously termed “life,” as in Deut. 30:15, 19; “length of days,” as in Prov. 3:16; “a tree of life,” as in Prov. 3:18, Rev. 2:7 and 22:14. But the promise is always conditional; to receive it requires obedience to God’s commandments.
Paul voiced his hope of eternal life more than once. To Titus, he wrote, “In hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised . . .” and again he admonished the young Timothy to “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life” (Tit. 1:2; 1 Tim. 6:12).
Perfect Physical Health
John the Revelator heard a voice out of heaven saying that “there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain” (Rev. 21:4). It is also recorded that “those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; . . . they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isa. 40:31). There shall be no fatigue, no weariness. Again from Isaiah we learn that deaf ears shall hear, blind eyes shall see, and the lame man shall leap (35:5-6).
Immortality, unending life, is a prerequisite of life in the Kingdom of God. Said Jesus, “Those who are accounted worthy to attain that age, and are resurrected from the dead, ... are equal to the angels” (Luke 20:35-36), and Paul spoke of a time when “this corruptible [mortal] must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:53); and again of “God, who will render to each one according to his deeds, eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor and immortality” (Rom. 2:6-7). When mortals have attained a state “equal unto the angels” they will be immortal, unable to die.
Immortality, eternal life, is not a present possession, but one we hold only by promise: “And this is the promise that He has promised us--eternal life” (1 John 2:25).
“In Your presence is fulness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11); “The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isa. 35:10).
“If they obey and serve Him, they shall spend their days in prosperity, and their years in pleasures”; “The meek shall inherit the earth; . . . and their inheritance shall be forever”; “I will give You the nations for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession”; “the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the most High” (Job 36:11; Ps. 37:11, 18; 2:8; Dan. 7:27). The Lord has “pleasure in the prosperity of his servant” (Ps. 35:27).
Honor, Fame, Praise
Men delight in the approbation of other men. God condemns this, but those judged faithful will receive high honor. “I will appoint them for praise and fame in every land where they were put to shame.... I will give you fame and a praise among all peoples of the earth.... says the Lord” (Zeph. 3:19¬20). “He that overcomes, . . . I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels” (Rev. 3:5). Would not that be an honor`?
Freedom from Fear
At the present time, fear of one kind or another grips the hearts of the majority of the population. Some fear hunger, others fear war, some fear crime and criminal attacks. Governments fear attacks from others more powerful than they. But in that future day there will be no such thing as fear. War will have been banished forever, for “He makes wars cease” (Ps. 46:9); the wicked will have been removed from the earth (Prov. 2:22), and “You shall see disaster no more” (Zeph. 3:15). There will be nothing to fear, and “Everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree; and no evil shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken it” (Mic. 4:4). “The work of righteousness will be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever” (Isa. 32:17). It will be a wonderful time to live!
“Wisdom and knowledge will be the stability of your times, and strength of salvation: the fear of the Lord is His treasure” (Isa. 33:6). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7), but in that Day our minds will be expanded to understand more and more of the limitless wisdom of God. Now we have difficulty retaining the knowledge we are able to acquire, but then we shall be blessed with perfect memory capabilities.
Power and Authority
Men naturally crave power over others, and too often those who have it are ruthless and greedy. In the Kingdom of God those who prove faithful are promised to reign with Christ over the whole world, (Rev. 5:10; 20:6). In the parable of the Pounds, Christ, represented by the nobleman, says to the faithful servant, “Have authority over ten cities” (Luke 19:17). The faithful will be given positions of authority; the “ten cities” represent a degree of authority in the Kingdom, not ten literal cities.
Class Two: Unfaithful Covenant-Makers
As we have learned, to be either faithful or unfaithful necessitates entering into a covenant relationship with God. All who in the end fall into either class must have first heard and learned of God. And knowing what He requires, they must have agreed to serve Him. All others who have not met these requirements make up the third class, the ungodly, who will never be required to stand at judgment.
Whether an individual becomes a faithful or unfaithful covenant-maker is determined by the use he makes of the knowledge he acquires. When God had an earthly kingdom. that kingdom could be inherited by virtue of being the only or oldest son of the king. Such an inheritance was often short-lived, as we learn from the record of the kings in the Scriptures.
But everyone who is granted an inheritance into the Kingdom of God must be fully qualified. And that inheritance will be his eternally. David, the son of a farmer, was made king over all of Israel., and although he sinned many times during his earthly career, he was man enough to confess his sins and repent and turn from them. He is listed by the writer to the Hebrews among those “who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises” (Heb. 11:33).
After David’s death, his son Solomon succeeded to the throne. Solomon had all the advantages of his father David, and more. “God gave Solomon wisdom and exceedingly great understanding, and largeness of heart. . . . And Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the men of the East, and all the wisdom of Egypt. . . . And he spoke three thousand proverbs: and his songs were one thousand and five” (1 Kings 4:29-30, 32). Yet with all his wisdom and the advantage of having been reared by a God-fearing father, he disobeyed the command of God and took “many strange women” for wives, worshiped the pagan gods, and “did evil in the sight of the Lord” and died “an old and foolish king, who [would] be admonished no more” (1 Kings 11; Eccl. 4:13), hence he will be numbered among the unfaithful at the Great Assize.
Why? Not because he was predestined to do so, but because he chose to. God gave Solomon every opportunity to be among the faithful. Among his God-given gifts was wisdom, and “to him who knows to do good, and does not do it, to him it is sin” (Jas. 4:17). Of all the sons of David, God had chosen Solomon to be the next king of Israel, saying unto his father, “I will establish his kingdom forever if he is steadfast to observe My commandments and My ordinances, as it is this day” (1 Chron. 28:7).
Solomon disobeyed the commandments and ordinances of the Lord and followed the evil desires of his own heart. He became unfaithful by his own actions, his own choice. To be faithful or unfaithful is within the power of the covenant-maker.
The Unfaithful Identified
We have seen how the faithful are called by many endearing names or titles in the Bible. Likewise, the unfaithful are designated by many different terms—all of them uncomplimentary.
The unfaithful are those who had the knowledge of God and agreed to live according to that knowledge, but failed to do so. They are those “who wander from the way of understanding,” and as a result will lose their place in the kingdom and “will rest in the assembly of the dead” (Prov. 21:16, RSV). They had to have known the way, else they could not have wandered from it.
The apostle Paul designates them as those “who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,. . . for God has shown it to them.” He also lists them as “haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy . . .” (Rom. 1:18-19, 30-31). This is only a partial listing of Paul’s designation of the unfaithful class. It is not that every unfaithful servant is guilty of the whole category of sins listed, but they are sins that were common to men in Paul’s day—and since human nature has not changed in the 1900—plus years that have intervened, the same sins in varying degrees are to be found today.
We will list individually a few of the many titles by which the unfaithful servants are known in the Scriptures.
Old Testament Titles
The patriarch Job described the end of the hypocrite. Hypocrisy is defined as claiming to have “characteristics one does not possess; especially the deceitful assumption of praiseworthy qualities; insincerity.” Therefore, to be a hypocrite, one must have known God’s law and covenanted to obey it. A hypocrite professes that which he does not possess, and of him Job writes: “The triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite is but for a moment ... he will perish forever ... he will be chased away like a vision of the night” (Job 20:4-9). His portion will be eternal death; “but for a moment” refers to this present, brief life.
An Empty Vine; Wild Grapes
“Israel empties his vine,” wrote the prophet Hosea, “he brings forth fruit for himself” (Hos. 10:1). Israel, God’s people, are frequently referred to as a vine or His vineyard. The prophet Isaiah told of the vineyard God had planted with choice vines, but “it brought forth wild grapes” (Isa. 5:2), a representation of the unfaithful servants.
There are numerous other terms or titles that refer to those who fail to keep their covenant, the unfaithful. Again in Isaiah 18:5 we read of “sour grapes” “ripening in the flower” that shall be cut off and taken away; Jeremiah was shown a vision of two baskets of figs, “one basket had very good figs.... and the other basket had very bad figs,” (24:2), representative of the faithful and unfaithful; Malachi prophesied that the day would come when “all that do wickedly, will be stubble” (4:1)—a figure that will include all unfaithful servants; Jeremiah also spoke of “a noble vine, a seed of highest quality” that had “turned into the degenerate plant of an alien vine” (2:21), another reference to the unfaithful.
New Testament Titles
Writers in the New Testament likewise showed scorn for the unfaithful in the use of varying titles identifying them. These range from such terms as “wood, hay, stubble,” to “the sow that was washed” that returns “to her wallowing in the mire.”
The actual word “turncoat” does not appear in the Scriptures, but Peter’s words, part of which are quoted above, aptly describe one. Speaking of those who have known the way of righteousness and turned from following it, he says, “it would have been better for them not to have known” than “to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Pet. 2:21), and then in the following verse he compares this class to the washed sow that returns to the mire. Such were Solomon, Judas, Demas. Could anything be more unflattering?
These terms are somewhat related since they are both associated with wheat. That which was spoken of as “tares” was a common weed that grew among the wheat in Palestine, a weed that looked very much like the wheat while it grew but was worthless in the end. Likewise, the chaff. When the grain was winnowed after harvesting, the chaff, the husks that enclose the seed, was removed, being as worthless as the tares or weeds that grew with the wheat. The unfaithful are of no more value to the Lord in the end than tares or chaff and will ultimately pay the penalty of death for their sin.
In Matthew 25, Jesus describes the unfaithful servants as “goats,” in contrast to faithful “sheep.” We read: “When the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit upon the throne of His glory: all nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats: and He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. ... Then He will say to them on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire’ [destruction]” (vs. 31-33, 41).
Those who are in the end judged faithful or unfaithful will have earned that classification, for God is a righteous Judge; He makes no mistakes. God will show no partiality in judgment, He is no respecter of persons. Those who are judged unfaithful will be worthy of nothing better, for His righteous Judgment extends to all covenant-makers. All who were called to be under covenant possessed the potential to become faithful; God is not to blame for their failure. It is “his own iniquities” that shall take the wicked, “and he is caught in the cords of his sin” (Prov. 5:22).
The Reward of the Unfaithful
God’s everlasting principle is “to give every one according to his work” (Rev. 22:12). It has been a part of the law of God from the very beginning and is stated and re-stated throughout the Scriptures.
Cain and Abel were among the first of whom we have record that were called into God’s service. Both were given the same opportunity, yet one was righteous and the other wicked. The cause of Cain’s wickedness lay within himself; it was his own decision to kill his brother. The Lord had said to Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” (Gen. 4:7), but Cain did not choose to do well. Because he did evil and killed his brother, he will be rewarded according to his works and will be numbered among the unfaithful.
This same everlasting principle was stated when the law was given to Moses and it was one of the principles taught by Jesus and the apostles. Said Jesus: “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then He will reward each according to his works” (Matt. 16:27). It will not be equal pay for unequal work, but pay according to every man’s own work.
The apostle Paul, ordained by Jesus, taught the same: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7), and in his letter to the Romans he speaks of “God, who will render to each one according to his deeds” (Rom. 2:6).
John the Revelator saw in vision “the dead, small and great, stand before God; ... and the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books” (Rev. 20:12). And in the letter to the church at Thyatira, the same basic truth is stated: “I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works” (Rev. 2:23). The message of Revelation was received from Jesus through His angels speaking to John and bears the stamp of divine approval: “Write: for these words are true and faithful” (Rev. 21:5).
The Sword of the Lord
The class whom we identify as the ungodly, those who never made a covenant with God, will receive neither punishment nor pay. They lived their lives entirely outside God’s law, hence are not subject to it. [This class will be fully discussed later.]
However, the unfaithful servants must pay for their evil deeds. They were afforded an opportunity which comparatively few of earth’s millions ever shared, and because they spurned that opportunity and treated the word of God contemptuously, they must suffer the consequences. Their punishment ends with eternal death, but first they must be reminded of “all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which [they] have spoken against him” (Jude 15). They must now work for the Lord under compulsion, cleansing the earth in preparation for the establishment of the Kingdom of God. They must serve in the Lord’s army, which is figuratively described as His “sword.”
From Revelation 19:15 we learn that Christ will have a “sword,” indicating His army: “And out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations.” That it goes “out of his mouth” indicates His control over His army. In verse 19 the ecclesiastical powers of earth are pictured as joined together “to make war against Him that sat on the horse [Christ], and against His army.”
We learn who makes up this “sword,” or His army from Psalm 17:13: “Deliver my life from the wicked, with Your sword.” Other testimonies offer further evidence:
Jeremiah 51:20: “You are My battle axe and weapons of war: for with you [the wicked] will I break the nations in pieces, with I will destroy kingdoms [nations].” Jeremiah vividly pictures the destruction of Babylon in this chapter. Babylon is used to represent the forces of evil in Scripture phraseology, as in Revelation 18 where a voice from heaven is heard to say, “Come out of her [Babylon], my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues” (18:4), referring to the time of God’s judgments upon the earth.
Isaiah 13. The prophet Isaiah also described the Lord’s army, clearly portraying the judgments of God in this chapter: “I have given my warriors their orders and summoned my fighting men to launch my anger; they are eager for my triumph. Hark.... the sound of a vast multitude; hark, the roar of kingdoms, of nations gathering! The Lord of Hosts is mustering a host for war, men from a far country, from beyond the horizon. It is the Lord with the weapons of his wrath coming to lay the whole land waste ... The Day of the Lord is coming indeed, that cruel day of wrath and fury [God’s Judgments], to make the land a desolation and exterminate its wicked people” (vs. 3-5, 9, NEB).
Isaiah 65. Here again the Prophet speaks of the Lord’s army and the time of His Judgments: “I will not destroy the whole nation, . . . my chosen shall inherit them and my servants shall live there.... But you that forsake the Lord and forget my holy mountain, . . . I will deliver you to your fate, to execution, and you shall all bend the neck to the sword, because I called and you did not answer, I spoke and you did not listen; and you did what was wrong in my eyes and you chose what was against my will ... my servants shall rejoice but you shall be put to shame; my servants shall shout in triumph ... but you shall cry from sorrow and wail from anguish of spirit; ... and the Lord God shall give you over to death” (vs. 8-15, NEB).
The suffering referred to is not physical, but mental. The unfaithful servants will be made to understand the great blessings they have missed and it will cause them to “cry from sorrow and wail from anguish of spirit.” God is merciful and just, even with the unfaithful covenant-makers.
Because they refused to serve Him and turned away during their lifetime, they must now serve Him in His army. They were free to choose, and they chose to “forsake the Lord” and to “forget [His] holy mountain” (representative of His authority), and instead chose to follow the wicked ways of the world. Because they made the wrong choice, they must serve as conscripts under Christ, cleaning up the earth and making it a fit place for God’s Kingdom.
The Second (Penal) Death
After the unfaithful covenant-makers have completed their work of cleansing the earth, they will not be permitted to share in the glories of the Kingdom they have seen taking shape. They will realize what they have missed, but it will be too late to make amends. Jesus made this perfectly clear in His teaching. We read in Luke 13:23-28 in the New English Bible, “Someone asked him, ‘Sir, are only a few to be saved?’ His answer was: ‘Struggle to get in through the narrow door; for I tell you that many will try to enter and not be able. When once the master of the house has got up and locked the door [the final separation], you may stand outside and knock, and say ‘Sir, let us in’ but he will only answer, ‘I do not know where you come from. . . . Out of my sight, all of you, you and your wicked ways!’ There will be wailing and grinding of teeth there, when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrown out.”
To be “thrown out” of the Kingdom represents the second death, penal death. The wicked or unfaithful servants will not be tormented forever as is sometimes taught, but will return to death’s slumber. “He who overcomes shall not be hurt of the second death,” but “the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable,” and all wicked unfaithful servants “shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Rev. 2:11, 21:8). The “lake which burns with fire and brimstone” is not a literal lake of fire but represents penal death, the second death as is clearly stated by the final phrase of the verse. A righteous God would not subject even the most abominable to such a cruel death.
Paul, writing to the brethren at Thessalonica, spoke of the righteous judgments of God, saying “It is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation to those who trouble you, . . . when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and that do not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” (2 Thess. 1:6-9).
These verses picture the destruction of the unfaithful. Those who “obey not the gospel” must have known the gospel, hence were covenant-makers who failed to keep that covenant. The “flaming fire” is figurative of God’s judgments as the “lake of fire” of Revelation. Their punishment is “everlasting destruction,” verse 9, penal death or the second death. Such will be the end of all those who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness; because what may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has shown it to them ... Who knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same, but also approve of those who practice them. . . . But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against them who practice such things” (Rom. 1:18-19, 32; 2:2).
Class Three: THE UNGODLY
A certain class of individuals are not accountable to God. In the parable of the Nobleman who went into a far country to return later, his “own servants” were called to account at his return. The Nobleman represented Christ who was to be taken up into heaven to return at some future date.
The prophet Daniel was given information concerning a time when “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth” would be resurrected (Dan. 12:2)—many, but not all. Likewise the prophet Isaiah spoke of a time when “Your dead men shall live,” when God’s sleeping servants shall arise, when they “who dwell in dust [those long dead]” would be cast out of the earth, raised to mortal life to be judged (Isa. 26:19). Again, it is “Your dead men,” those who have pledged themselves to God’s service, that will be raised, alluding to the fact that not all will be called to account.
Who are the class we identify as “ungodly”? The multitudes who have lived and died, and many still living who have never heard or known of God and His plan.
The Ungodly Identified
As stated above, the apostle Paul identified all three classes that we have been studying in one simple statement in his letter to the Romans: “All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified ... but where there is no law there is no transgression” (Rom. 2:12-13; 4:15, RSV) Again in chapter 5, verse 13, Paul amplifies the subject further: “Sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.” Those who never knew the law of God cannot be said to have transgressed against it.
This same principle is also shown in the words of Jesus to His disciples: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin: but now they have no excuse for their sin” (John 15:22). Before they heard and learned of the Father they had a cloak of ignorance; after they learned, they lacked this cloak. Many never heard or learned of Him, hence have a cloak.
Ignorance as a Cloak
Ignorance is the cloak that covers the sins of the ungodly. The afore mentioned verses make this point crystal clear. None can be held accountable for sins committed if they had never heard or learned God’s law. Because of this cloak, they will sleep eternally in the grave. The Scriptures are likewise plain on this point. The ungodly are said to “Be as though they had not been. “For as you drank on my holy mountain, so shall all the nations drink continually, yes, they shall drink, and swallow, and they shall be as though they had not been” (Obadiah 16). The heathen nations, that know not God, shall disappear as though they never existed.
Sleep a perpetual sleep. The prophet Jeremiah visualized the ungodly in his prophecy of the judgments of God: “For the Lord God of recompense, He will surely repay ... and they shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not awake, says the King, whose name is the Lord of hosts” (Jer. 51:56-57). They never knew God’s law; they will not have to suffer but will sleep the sleep of death eternally.
It is characteristic of human nature to try to make a shrewd bargain, to attempt to receive an unearned reward. People flock to an auction sale in the hope of purchasing merchandise for less than its true value. Students at all grade levels have been known to cheat on examinations, hoping to get a better grade than they actually earned; laborers deliberately waste time on the job with the expectation of getting the same pay for less work.
In the religious world it is little different. The average professing Christian takes his religion lightly, doing the least possible service for the Lord, trusting that in some way he may be granted an entrance to heaven at his death (a false hope, nevertheless the hope shared throughout popular Christianity). He has devoted little time to the study of the Bible and his knowledge of the Book is meager at best, but he has been declared “saved” and he trusts that his salvation will spare him the confines of the tomb and usher him into blissful eternity at the end of his mortal existence.
In our modern world bargains may be found at auctions; false degrees may be obtained by “purchasing”; paychecks may come for less productivity. But in the religious realm, where God is sovereign, only what has been earned will be paid. In God’s scale of values professions and intentions weigh nothing. Only good deeds, good words, good works weigh in His scale. “The Lord is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed.”
At the Judgment credits cannot be begged, bought or borrowed. Each individual must stand on his own merits. God’s servants, those who have hired out to Him, will be rewarded according to their works. The shirkers will be numbered among the unfaithful. Those who never hired out to Him will not be brought to account. “For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law; (for not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law will be justified)” (Rom. 2:12-13).
What are the three classes? First, those who heard the law of God and obeyed it, who will be brought to Judgment and judged faithful; second, those who heard the law of God and agreed to obey it but failed to remain steadfast to the end; third, the ungodly who have sinned without knowing the law and who are not accountable for their wrongdoing.
Success in the Christian life does not come about by chance. Those who have engraved their names in the Book of Life. God’s honor roll, did not do so without conscious effort. No one ever achieved perfection by happenstance. Rather, that status is gained by a daily walk in the ways of God, living a life dedicated to building Christian character. Contrariwise, those who become unfaithful do so of their own free will. All covenant-makers are given an equal opportunity to become faithful.
Can You Answer These?
1. What are the three classes of humanity? Give examples from Scripture of at least two members of each class.
2. What is a covenant-maker? What is his or her obligation?
3. Who is a covenant-maker? Every covenant-maker will belong to which class or classes?
4. What are some of the promises made to the faithful covenant-makers?
5. How is membership in each class determined?
6. What singular service will the unfaithful covenant-makers have to render to Christ after they are judged unfaithful?
7. What does God give to the ungodly?
8. What does the “seven” days of “creation” represent in God’s plan? Where are we in these “seven” days?
9. What does the six-day work-week represent?
10. How much time will pass between the two reapings of the harvest of the earth? What will happen during this time?
(If you need assistance in answering these questions, refer to your Bible and the pages of this lesson.)
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