Of Dungeons and Prisons
Just about every society on earth has its prison houses or jailhouses (gaols, to the British). To most people it has seemed simply logical that, in order to contain the damage done by criminal elements in society, they have to be restrained in some place where society will be safe from them.
Some societies, or some eras, have even gone to such an extreme as to place erring or undesirable individuals in some dank, damp and dark dungeon — a hole in the earth. Even before medieval lore and now computer games, people like Joseph had been given the dungeon treatment in Egypt (Genesis 40:15; 41:4). So had the prophet Jeremiah been treated centuries later (Jeremiah 37:16 – 38:13).
Through the centuries, the world’s prison system has evolved to where now jails are called places of “correction.” The idea is not to merely seclude and punish criminals but to give them the opportunity to change or reform — to “correct” them or to correct themselves. This has certainly been a more humane way to treat criminals. And a number of jail inmates have indeed reformed to such a point that some have become successfully re-assimilated as useful and productive members of society — thanks, in part, to religious and civic groups that have helped in the prisoners’ rehabilitation.
But is this God’s way?
Mankind has long assumed that the prison (or “correction”) system which societies have devised is the only right and reasonable way to go. Few have stopped to think whether the prison system is God’s way, too.
To understand God’s mind on the matter, let us take a look at Exodus 21:1 through 23:9. Here we find many — not all — of the “judgments” which God instructed His servant Moses to teach to and implement in the nation of Israel. [A judgment is simply the rendering of a decision or sentence by some vested authority upon a person who violates a rule of conduct — whether the rule is declared by some sacred writ (such as the Holy Bible) or by human (or secular) law.]
Some people may regard these Biblical judgments as “primitive” — even harsh and merciless. But to those who understand, God’s judgments are “true,” “right,” “righteous,” “good,” and “upright” (Deuteronomy 4:8; Psalm 19:9; 119:7, 39, 62, 75, 106, 137, 160, 164; Revelation 16:7; 19:2).
It must be remembered that God originally gave these judgments to the nation Israel whose people, at that point in their history, had not been given the heart and spirit to obey God’s laws (Deuteronomy 5:29). The children of Israel were, in fact, as a whole a stiff-necked and rebellious people (Exodus 32:9; 33:3, 5; 34:9; Deuteronomy 9:6, 7, 13, 24; 10:126; 31:27; Jeremiah 5:24; Ezekiel 2:3, 5-8; 3:9, 26, 27, etc.).
Such, too, has been the history of all other nations! As God looks at all humanity, “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have altogether become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one” (Romans 3:10-12, quoting Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-4).
This being the case, God’s righteous judgments as declared in Exodus 21-23 and elsewhere — if carried out faithfully — would have worked in the kind of society Israel was, and would work in the kind of society most of us live in today!
No mention of dungeons or prisons
Strange as it may seem, there is no mention whatsoever in these judgment passages of Scripture about God instructing His people to put up prisons of any kind to deal with those who offend against His law!
Man thinks he can “improve” on God’s law. But look at the record of any lasting good that man’s prison system has done when weighed against the colossal expense of building and maintaining prison houses; employing and maintaining prison guards and other personnel; feeding and clothing prison inmates and keeping them busy; providing prison staff with arms, vehicles, communication equipment, etc., etc. The expense far outweighs any good that the prison system could bring about!
And who hasn’t heard about corruption among prison officials and officers, and immorality and perversion within prison walls? Or about overcrowded jails and jail riots?
Writing about “the last days” — our times today! — the apostle Paul said that “perilous times will come” (2 Timothy 3:1). He lists all the problems that indeed we see rampant today (Verses 2-9)! As the days roll by, we can expect that “…evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (Verse 13). Can our present prison system — and security system — stand against this coming avalanche of criminality?
But, some may ask, is there a better — and workable — way?
How can God’s judgments work?
Take, for example, God’s judgment on stealing. “If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters or sells it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep” (Exodus 22:1).
Even if the thief does not slaughter or sell an ox or a donkey, but the animal is “found alive in his hand… he shall restore double (Verse 4).
Simple arithmetic should tell a would-be thief of ox, sheep, or donkey that, business-wise, “Crime does not pay!” Imagine this: one who steals thinking he can have more will actually end up having much less!
Interestingly, one of the English words referring to money is “pecuniary.” It is derived from the Latin word pecu, which refers to cattle as a past measure of wealth; the more cattle, the richer a person was. What if the judgment were applied to money? Would a person who steals, say, $1,000 then have to restore $4,000 or $5,000 to the person he stole from? That would be bad business for the thief!
The repentant tax-man Zacchaeus told Jesus, “…if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold” (Luke 19:8). Jesus did not tell him that he didn’t need to do that, but instead Jesus remarked: “Today salvation has come to this [Zacchaeus’] house…” (Verse 9). Jesus thus affirmed the validity of the Old Testament judgment!
Some people think that, since Christ has freely forgiven a Christian’s past theft and other sins, they don’t need to make any restitution for their theft. Unless the theft victim forgives and writes off the theft, this thinking would be amiss.
This judgment on restitution for theft is a stronger deterrent against stealing or robbery than is imprisonment. Often imprisonment, in some ways, can instead encourage stealing.
For instance, it has been reported that during the Christmas season, petty crimes tend to increase in the temperate regions, like the U.S.A. One reason found is that, among people who do not have the wherewithal for heating and food during the freezing-cold winter months, they would think to steal (like shoplift) and do other petty crimes. This way they could be put in prison, where they have a warm place to stay, without cost to them — and have free food and clothing besides! All courtesy of the state and people’s tax money!
Besides restitution for stolen goods, God’s judgment also absolves as not guilty the cattle owner who finds the cattle thief breaking in at night and strikes him dead (Verse 2). This should be an additional deterrent to theft of cattle (and other goods).
This judgment also shows the just side of God when it rules that, if the cattle thief is found during the day and is struck dead by the cattle owner, the latter would be guilty of bloodshed (Verse 3) — murder (or homicide) — and would be given the right penalty or remedy, as the case may be (Exodus 21:12-13). [Perhaps it would be a different story if the thief had a weapon and threatened to harm or kill the cattle owner. In this case, the cattle owner may be judged guiltless if he preempted the threat in self-defense, as most courts would judge today.]
The case of the poor thief
God’s judgment also provides another remedy for a thief who has nothing to make full restitution for his theft: “…then he shall be sold for his theft” (Verse 3). What does this mean? To whom is he sold, and for what purpose?
Exodus 21:1-11 shows that an Israelite of some means can “buy a Hebrew servant.” This could be the very person whom a cattle thief steals from, or some other person with means.
Elsewhere in the Scriptures God gives judgment on how servants are to be treated, besides the mandatory seventh-year release of the servant. Let’s take a look at Leviticus 25:39-46. Here the judgment talks about “brethren” — fellow Israelites — who, for one reason or another, become poor and have to sell themselves to others. God tells the servant-buyer to not compel the servant “to serve as a slave” (Verse 39). Rather, he should be treated “as a hired servant” — to be paid for his services! Could anything be fairer and more humane than that?
In Verse 43 God also tells the servant-buyer: “You shall not rule over him [the servant] with rigor [with severity or oppression], but you shall fear your God.” [See also Verses 17 and 46.]
What advantage may a servant thus enjoy while serving his master in that positive environment for some six years? Besides learning how to be fair and kind like his master, the servant is also exposed to how his master conducts himself and his business in such a way as to make him prosperous.
It has been said that people learn more by what is “caught” than by what is “taught.” Real, live examples instruct more effectively than do mere words. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Also: “Actions speak louder than words.” Especially would this be so if the atmosphere in the master’s home is pleasant, for “…the sweetness of the lips [of a teacher or model] increases learning [by the ‘student’]” (Proverbs 16:21). And the goodness that the master shows his servant would be a better prod for the servant to change his ways (Romans 2:4).
A servant thus treated according to God’s judgment will be well equipped to live a better life than he ever had before, once he is released during the seventh-year Sabbath or during the year of jubilee, as the case may be (Exodus 21:2; Leviticus 25:40). What better way to rehabilitate a problematic person than expensive prison or rehab facilities could do!
Not only that! God also commands the master of a Hebrew servant who is released after six years of service: “And when you send him away, free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed; you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the LORD has blessed you with, you shall give to him” (Deuteronomy 15:12-14).
What a generous and gracious way to help the freed servant with a head-start as he moves on in life! Those who say that God’s Old Testament laws are all harsh and unmerciful haven’t really read the Bible carefully and thoroughly! [See: Spiritual Dyslexia.] They should pray Psalm 119:18 — “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law.”
God’s righteous judgments, if followed in our secular society, will work wonders for the peace and prosperity of any society. And this at only little or no cost to the state, to society or to the church!
The other judgments of God concern social responsibility, including just compensation for damages done to life and limb and to property (Exodus 21:18-27, 33-36; 22:9-15), dealing with the poor and strangers in their midst (Exodus 22:21-27), etc.
God’s judgments command the ultimate punishment — death — for major or “capital” sins or transgressions against God’s law, such as:
- Premeditated murder — “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death…if a man acts with premeditation against his neighbor, to kill him by treachery, you shall take him from My altar, that he may die” (Exodus 21:12, 14; see also Leviticus 24:21; Numbers 35:9-29, 32; Deuteronomy 19:11-13).
- Striking and cursing father or mother — “And he who strikes his father or mother shall surely be put to death… And he who curses his father or mother shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:15, 17; see also Deuteronomy 21:18-21).
- Kidnapping — “He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if found in his hand, shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:16; see also Deuteronomy 24:7). How much more if the kidnapper kills the man!
- Negligence in securing one’s animal that gores — “If an ox gores a man or woman to death, then the ox shall surely be stoned…if the ox tended to thrust with its horn in time past, and it has been made known to his owner, and he has not kept it confined, so that it has killed a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death” (Exodus 21:28-30).
- Witchcraft — “You shall not permit a sorceress to live” (Exodus 21:18; see also Leviticus 19:26; 20:27).
- Bestiality — “Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 22:19; see also Leviticus 18:23; 20:15-16).
- Idolatry — “He who sacrifices to any god, except to the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed” (Exodus 22:20; also 32:8; 34:15).
God’s judgments on other capital sins are also found in other Scripture passages besides Exodus 21-23 —
- Adultery — “The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22-24).
- Incest — “The man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 20:11; Deuteronomy 27:20). “If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall be put to death” (Leviticus 20:12; 18:15).
- Homosexual acts — “If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them” (Leviticus 20:13; 18:22).
- Spiritism — “A man or woman who is a medium, or who has familiar spirits, shall surely be put to death; they shall stone them with stones. Their blood shall be upon them” (Leviticus 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:10-12).
- Fornication — “If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and detests her, and charges her with shameful conduct [having had previous sex with another man], and brings a bad name on her, and says, ‘I took this woman and when I came to her I found she was not a virgin,’…if the thing is true [as found through a test described in Verses 15-19] and evidences of virginity are not found for the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stone, because she has done a disgraceful thing in Israel, to play the harlot in her father’s house. So you shall put away the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 22:13-14, 20-21; Leviticus 21:9).
How better than imprisonment?
“Bleeding hearts” among men — often good-naturedly but wrongly — have fought for the rights of criminals more than for those of the victims. They have been instrumental in attenuating or commuting the death sentence for capital sins such as those listed above (or, in secular society, “heinous crimes”) to life imprisonment. Many countries which claim to be “more enlightened” than other countries that still follow what are judged to be “obsolete,” “backward,” or “medieval” laws imposing the death penalty, have now banned or abolished it.
Often the argument against capital punishment is that “only God has the right to take human life.” That is indeed true [see: The Divine Prerogatives]. But in the very Word of God — the Bible, as we have just shown — God commands His people to deal the death penalty to those who commit capital sins. The people do it on God’s behalf — and they are faultless in doing so, as long as they stick to facts and not believe mere false accusations. [See also Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17.]
From the examples of how capital punishment is administered in God’s Word, we can see how the concerned community of Israel as a whole takes part in dealing the penalty. Two means are mentioned: by stoning (Leviticus 2o:27; 24:14, 16, 23; Numbers 15:35; Deuteronomy 13:10; 17:5;21-21; 22:21, 24) and, rarely, by fire or burning (Leviticus 21:9).
The death penalty is carried out in full public view — not in some secret chamber, as it is in most cases of death by electric chair or by lethal injection. And for what purpose? “So all Israel shall hear and fear, and not again do such wickedness as this among you” (Deuteronomy 13:11). “So shall you put away evil from among you,” adds Leviticus 21:9. The vivid sight of the execution brings home to the people the lesson to think twice before committing any capital sin or crime — a powerful deterrent indeed! The community’s participation in the execution gives the members a sense of responsibility for each one’s conduct.
This is not to say that capital punishment will perfectly prevent people from ever committing major sins or major crimes anyway. There have always been rebels anytime, anywhere, no matter how they are treated, well or ill. Man is a free moral agent and has freedom of choice of what to do or not do.
Perpetrators of heinous crimes who are not executed but are given the lesser penalty of life imprisonment pose a great security threat to both jail personnel and the public. Prison houses have to provide “maximum security” for these criminals — thereby incurring greater expense for building more secure prison cells, adding more security personnel and equipment, etc.
Then there is the threat of maximum-security prisoners breaking out of jail — as has happened many a time! Think of all the expense to mobilize security forces in the manhunt for the fugitives, not to mention possible “collateral damage” to human life and property in the process! And how about the poor public that has to live on edge because an escaped serial killer or rapist, for instance, may be lurking in their neighborhood to spring a sudden attack on innocent people?
No such difficulty would need happen, nor would great expense need be incurred, if capital sinners or hardened criminals were put away through the death penalty, instead of merely being imprisoned for life. From a practical point of view, capital punishment would solve a lot of the overcrowding in jails!
Different strokes for different folks
The idea of prisons being houses of “correction” or reform stems from an optimistic view of human nature that winks an eye on what’s really inside the human heart as God sees it: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it” (Jeremiah 17:9)? On the contrary, the “humanistic” view believes in the innate “goodness” in man. [See: Is There Ever Any Good in Man?]
A number of prisoners have been brought to some kind of remorse or repentance through an encounter with “prison evangelists.” But given the deceitfulness of the human heart, some of these patently “reformed” prisoners and are let out on parole or with full freedom find difficulty in adjusting to normal society, and are led back to their old ways (social scientists call them “recidivists” or repeat criminals). [See: The Deceitfulness of Sin.]
Well-meaning “do-gooders” need to understand that, while there are a few jail inmates who really and truly do change for the better, this cannot be said of the majority of inmates. And if the “reformed” inmate is taught the wrong gospel of grace without responsibility for one’s actions [see: Saved for Good Works and Being and Doing], the whole exercise simply repeats the cycle of lawlessness which all human beings are streaked with (Romans 3:23; 5:12) [see: A Law-abiding Universe — But Man! and A Great Omission in Doing the Great Commission].
Prison staff and well-meaning prison evangelists have to ask for God’s discernment on those jail inmates whom God is truly calling to salvation in this age. It will be evident from the fruit of the lips and life of the inmate whether God’s Spirit is working in him. Such was Joseph, of whom the Pharoah himself said that Joseph was “a man in whom is the Spirit of God” (Genesis 41:38-39). Thus Pharoah took Joseph out of prison and made him governor over all of Egypt under him (Verses 40-44).
Just as with society in general, God is not saving all of mankind in this age, whether prisoner or free. The Bible teaches that God’s plan calls for three different “seasons of grace” during which God will save batches of mankind according to His time-table. [To learn more about this, see: Predestination and This Is Not the Only Day of Salvation.]
Those who have their season of grace in this present age are dealt with by God differently from those whom He will save later. A good example is Israel’s King David.
For his double sin of adultery and murder, David should have been stoned to death, according to God’s judgment (Deuteronomy 22:22-24; Exodus 21:12, 14). But because David was a part of God’s “firstfruits” of salvation, he had God’s Spirit in him, and because he showed genuine repentance, he was graciously and mercifully forgiven by God and was spared the death penalty. Romans 9:15-6 declares that it is God’s prerogative to show mercy to whomever He wills, at the time He chooses. [See: The Divine Prerogatives, Moses and Jesus — Are They Contraries? and The Children of Abraham, especially the box titled “The kind of people God calls.”]
Hope of executed criminals
“If in this [present] life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable,” wrote the apostle Paul about the resurrection of true Christians at Jesus’ return (1 Corinthians 15:19, 20-23, 51-56). Paul, a famous “jailbird,” was imprisoned because of false charges brought to the Roman authorities by his fellow-Jews who rejected Christ and His gospel (Acts 28:11-30, etc.). Although considered a “criminal” by the law of man (and supposedly executed later), Paul was innocent of the charges against him, and he will be in the resurrection to everlasting life at Christ’s return. Such is the same hope of true Christians (whether rightly or wrongly sentenced to capital punishment).
But what about hardened criminals who are executed according to the law of a country that imposes the death penalty? What is their hope? God has provided the opportunity to every single human being — whether prisoner or free — to be saved, in His own time. [See: Predestination, This Is Not the Only Day of Salvation and What Happens to Man After Death?]
Those not saved now, and will survive the day of God’s wrath, will have their chance for salvation during Christ’s 1,000-year reign on earth. After that reign, “the rest of the dead” [those who have or had not had their chance to be saved in their lifetime] will be resurrected to physical life for their time of judgment (Revelation 20:4-6, 11-12).
Those will be wonderful times for both people — with a more positive environment, for them to be offered and hopefully receive salvation, minus Satan and his minions around to tempt them to sin (Revelation 20:1-3; Jude 6). And what better “support group” for recovering sinners and criminals than the whole community that will then live out God’s laws under Jesus’ benign but just reign (Romans 11:22)! [See: World Peace — At Last! and The Four Dimensions of Christ’s Love.]
Satan and demons imprisoned!
It is for Satan and his demons [see: Where Did the Devil Come From?] that God has prepared a “prison house” to restrain them from again deceiving mankind into sin, except for a “little season” or a little while. “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit [or abyss] and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while” (Revelation 20:1-3).
From the start God never meant for human beings to be put in prisons. Instead, Satan has inspired human beings to put up prison houses — something that God means only for Satan and his demons to be locked up in, and that soon! In fact, by urging all of mankind to sin [see: “Your Eyes Will Be Opened!”, Romans 3:23; John 8:44; Ephesians 2:1-3], Satan has “snared” — imprisoned! — all of mankind, in such a way that, without God’s divine and spiritual intervention, men are unable to do anything but obey Satan’s will (2 Timothy 2:26)! [See: Are We All God’s Children?]
Thus, while living in this present age God’s people have also been put in prison houses, for right or wrong reasons (as Joseph, Jeremiah, the prophet Hanani [in King Asa’s reign, see 2 Chronicles 16:7-10)], John the Baptist, Peter and Paul were), along with proven criminals. Jesus alluded to prisons in His parables and discourses (see Matthew 4:12; 5:25; 18:30; 25:39, 43, 44; Luke 22:33; 23:19, 25). One of Jesus’ missions as the Messiah was to “…proclaim liberty to the captives” [Luke 4:18, quoted from Isaiah 42:7, which the KJV renders as “…to bring out the prisoners from the prison”].
But why didn’t Jesus get John His cousin out of prison?
If one of the facets of the mission of Jesus as the promised Messiah was to free captives and prisoners, why didn’t He get His cousin John the Baptist (or the Baptizer) out of prison? John was put in prison by Herod the Tetrach because John had told him that he was sinning by having taken his brother Philip’s wife Herodias (Matthew 14:3-4). In fact, John languished in jail until he was eventually beheaded (Matthew 14:5-12).
Did Jesus thus fail in this aspect of His mission?
Jesus was Himself put in some kind of prison or holding place as He awaited His “trial” by the Roman authorities for charges filed against Him by the Jewish religious leaders. And Jesus didn’t even free Himself from that detention! He went on to die on the crucifixion stake. But, as the gospel story continues, Jesus rose from the dead after three days and three nights in the grave. In so doing, Jesus fully atoned for the sin of all mankind [see: Two Goats Together.]
How do we square this with the Messianic prophecy about Jesus freeing prisoners?
The way to understand this is to realize that Jesus’ mission was first and foremost a spiritual one. Jesus came to set at liberty those whom God the Father has chosen for salvation in this age. [See: Predestination, This Is Not the Only Day of Salvation, and Are We All God’s Children?]
Liberty from what? Why, liberty from the shackles of Satan the devil and of sin, for which the penalty is death (Romans 6:23; Ezekiel 18:4)! As the late Herbert W. Armstrong said over and over, Satan has held the world — all of humanity — captive, imprisoned in Satan’s kingdom or house.
How does Jesus free Satan’s captive human beings?
Jesus said: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).
Jesus wasn’t talking about just any “truth.” As could happen in criminal acts, a person who tells the real truth about his crime “incriminates” himself and could risk being put in prison! [Remember, John was thrown in jail because he told Herod the truth about his adultery.]
Instead, Jesus referred to God’s Word, which He equated with truth (John 17:17). As He explains, God’s truth — God’s Word — frees a sinner from slavery to sin (Verses 34-36).
The apostle Peter described Christ’s ministry as one where Jesus “went about doing good and healing those who were oppressed [enslaved!] by the devil” (Acts 10:38; see also 1 Peter 2:24-25). [Regarding “The process of salvation,” see this boxed in the article Being and Doing.]
The ultimate fulfillment of Jesus’ ministry to free those who are enslaved by Satan and by sin will be at Jesus’ return to rule this earth. The first order of Jesus’ day will be to put away Satan, who has deceived the whole world (Revelation 12:9). Jesus’ rule will bring about such peace on earth that there will be no need for prisons! [See: World Peace — At Last!]
The rest of the New Testament also mentions prisons and prisoners (Acts 5:18-19, etc.; 8:3; 12:4-7, 17; 16:23-27, 36-40; 26:10; Ephesian 3:1; 4:1; 2 Timothy 1:8; Philemon 1, 9). Mere Scriptural allusions to prisons, however, don’t prove God’s approval of them! Rather, God’s righteous judgments show the mind or heart of God that does not command or instruct putting up of prison houses for human sinners and criminals.
When Christ returns in power and glory, He will destroy the wicked of the earth by the fire of His coming (Isaiah 66:15-16) — “capital punishment.” Only a few men will be left alive (Isaiah 24:6). Isaiah 6:13 indicates that about a tenth (10%) only of all humanity will be spared from God’s wrath, to become human “seed to sow” during the 1,000 years of Christ’s reign, in order to replenish earth’s decimated population and increase God’s divine family.
Capital punishment imposed in God’s kingdom
In harmony with God’s mind and Spirit, when Jesus reigns on this earth, He will not have prison houses put up all over the world for erring human subjects who will have survived God’s wrath. What great savings this would be in the economy of God’s kingdom that could, and would, be used for development of food production, sound education and public infrastructure.
Instead of only human (and often erring) policemen to keep the peace, Jesus will be assisted in His rule by His saints made immortal (and therefore cannot be assassinated!) to teach and judge the kingdom’s human subjects. These spirit teachers will even nip criminal thoughts in the bud. “Yet your teachers will not be moved into a corner anymore [hidden], but your eyes shall see your teachers. Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to left [whenever these subjects are even just thinking to veer from God’s law]” (Isaiah 30:20-21). [See: World Peace — At Last!]
Despite the positive atmosphere during Jesus’ reign on earth, some individuals and even pockets of human beings would still rebel against Jesus’ rule. That rule does not mean removing every man’s will or power of choice, even as today those who call Jesus their “Lord” still sin (1 John 1:8-10) by choice.
Ezekiel 38-39 is a prophecy about the restoration of Israel when Jesus comes to reign on earth, about which His apostles asked Him (Acts 1:6). In the early stages of that restoration, Israel will become so prosperous and peaceful that it will become “a land of unwalled villages” and “a peaceful people, who dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates” (Ezekiel 38:11). It will happen then that nations that will not have been reached by Christ’s rule will think to invade and plunder Israel (Verse 13). Ezekiel 39:1-16 shows how God will destroy those nations with His fire and how Israel will handle the invaders’ weapons and corpses. Yes, Jesus will impose capital punishment on wicked people during His reign on earth!
But Jesus’ purpose is not for simple justice. He will destroy these nations so that “Then they shall know that I am the LORD…the Holy One of Israel” (Ezekiel 39:6). We would like to believe that God will still give these nations a chance to be saved later — at the resurrection of all those yet unsaved, after the 1,000 years of Christ’s reign (Revelation 20:5, 11-12). We would hope that the same chance will be given those nations that will rebel against Christ’s rule at the end of that reign (Verses 7-9). [See: Two Goats Together, especially the section titled “A possible scenario.”]
Unlike how some picture God to be, as an ever wrathful and vengeful God, God does not punish only to destroy but also to give people their fair chance to repent and be spiritually rehabilitated when they are resurrected.
After every single human being will have been given his or her chance to be saved during the three “seasons of grace,” as we mentioned earlier, there will hopefully be only a very few who will so harden their hearts that they will willfully choose to sin and not obey God. These are those whose end is mentioned in Revelation 21:8. They will burn in a lake of fire and, having experienced the “second death,” will leave nothing of themselves but lifeless ashes (Malachi 4:1, 3) (Revelation 20:14-15; 2:11). [See: Why Is the “Unpardonable Sin” Unpardonable?]
The best deterrent to sin
The judgments of God are primarily there to instill in man a healthy and Godly fear that urges him to hate evil and depart from it (Proverbs 8:13; 16:6) [see: Can We Fear and Love God at the Same Time?]. But over and above the fear of God, men will receive the power to love God.
The apostle Paul declares that “…the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who [or that] was given to us” (Romans 5:5). [See: The Trinity Doctrine Reconsidered.] The Holy Spirit is a gift that God gives to those whom He has called and chosen for salvation according to His will and time-table (Acts 2:38-39). [See: Predestination and This Is Not the Only Day of Salvation.]
Paul explains what happens when God’s Spirit is given a man: “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh [man’s natural bent to sin or animosity toward God’s law (Romans 8:7)] lusts [or strives] against the Spirit, and the Spirit [strives] against the flesh…” (Galatians 5:16-17). [See: God’s Spirit and Obedience, The Higher Law of the Spirit, Switching Positive and Negative, and Breaking Down Our “Walls of Jericho.”]
God will eventually pour out His Spirit on all human beings in His time (Joel 2:28-29). When that happens God will give mankind a new heart — a malleable instead of a hard heart — which will cause men to walk in God’s statutes and keep and do His judgments (Ezekiel 36:26-27). God will, in fact, write His law on the tablet of human hearts so that men will not depart from it (Hebrews 8:7-12, quoted from Jeremiah 31:31-34).
Like David, a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22; 1 Samuel 13:14) and the writer of Psalm 119, with God’s Spirit men will delight in God’s law and walk in it — and will be blessed richly for it (Psalm 1:1-3). The greatest blessing is to be given the right to partake of the “tree of life” (Revelation 22:14) — to receive everlasting life. [See: The Flaming Sword East of Eden, The Law of Christ, Are We All God’s Children? and The Children of Abraham.]
Called to freedom
Those whom God has called and chosen to become true disciples of Jesus Christ in this age have become freed from the deadly clutches of Satan — from his spiritual prison house. Christ came to free all of mankind, beginning with God’s elect, from Satan’s trap through sin (disobedience to God’s laws) that brings death (Romans 6:23). Jesus has called sinners to repentance (Matthew 9:13) — to turning back from a life of sin (disobedience to God’s laws) to a life of obedience to those laws. [See: Freed From Bondage, Saved for Good Works and Being and Doing.]
They have now become truly God’s children who love and obey their heavenly Father’s ways and laws. [See: Are We All God’s Children?] They consider God’s commandments a “royal law” and a “law of liberty” (James 2:8; 1:25; 2:12). Those who seek and observe God’s precepts “walk at liberty” (Psalm 119:45). [See: Just What Do you Mean — Legalism? and Freed From Bondage.] Not liberty from obeying God’s “royal law,” but liberty that comes from God’s Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17) given to those whom God has called now to salvation in this age. It is that Spirit that empowers a Christian to obey God’s laws — something impossible by human strength alone. [See: God’s Spirit and Obedience and The Higher Law of the Spirit.]
Like Paul, whether we are physically imprisoned or free, in Christ we are “the Lord’s freeman” (1 Corinthians 7:22). And it is God’s Word — God’s truth (John 17:17) — when we obey it faithfully, that sets us free (John 8:32, 36). Free from Satan. Free from sin and its consequence, death. Free to have everlasting life in God’s kingdom!
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.