Editor’s Note: The late Reverend Thornton contributed articles for our magazine quite frequently, in fact he was a guest speaker from time to time. His church was located in Spokane, Washington. Unfortunately, our archives has not produced any biographical information but we intend to add to these remarks later.
One often hears the phrase, “end of the world.” Not only many devout Christians but others, too, use these words. To large numbers of people, the end of the world means the destruction of this planet. Total annihilation, overwhelming catastrophe — such words express the thoughts most often associated with the “end of the world.” Because of improper teaching, men have come to fear the end of the world to such a degree that many do not even wish to discuss it. Also, large numbers seek to ignore the “end of the world” by holding to a highly exaggerated ‘escape teaching’ – to such persons, the “end of the world” has no fear because they have taught themselves to believe that their particular type of Christianity affords them a special advance “rescue operation.” They say that the “end of the world” doesn’t concern them because they will already have been removed from this doomed planet anyhow!
It is true that some popularized Bible texts, at first glance, may appear to support such teachings. However, when considered in their proper context, they actually reveal the error of these popular religious illusions. As the Apostle Peter has pointed out, the unlearned and the unstable often twist Bible truth, even to their own ruin. (11 Peter 1:20; 3:16).
Let us see what we can learn about the “end of the world” by considering one of Jesus’ parables which deals with this subject. The parable is found in Matt. 13:24 30, 36 43. Jesus Christ likens this present world to a field ready for the harvest. In the field (this world) are two kinds of grain. They look very much alike. One kind of grain Jesus calls “the children of the Kingdom.” These are the “good seed” which have been sown by the Son of man (Jesus Christ). The other kind of grain is called “tares.” These are the “children of the wicked one,” sown by Satan. Both have grown together in the some field. The “end of the world” is likened to the “harvest time.” The Lord will then send forth His “harvest crew;” these are His angels and it is their task to first gather up the “tares” (the children of the devil) and cast them into a “furnace of fire.”
The operation of the angels is similar to that of responsible human farmers. They remove weeds, gather out thorns and thistles, and prune dead branches. They remove all the unfruitful and destructive elements from their crop. It is now ready to be harvested and only that which is good and pure will flow into the harvest bins. With the completion of the harvest, the owner has food to sustain his family, to bring him a profit, and he also has a supply of good seed for the next season.
THE EARTH NOT DESTROYED
When introducing this parable, our Lord Jesus declared, “THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field … while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat.” (Matt. 13:24 25).
One fact must stand out clearly to all who will study the parable. After the harvest has been completed, the angels do not destroy the field. Jesus declared that the field represents the World. Obviously, then, the world will not be destroyed. Instead, having been cleansed of its tares (wicked men), it will be in far better condition than before the harvesting operation. What, then, is to be destroyed, if not the world? The parable clearly states that the angels gathered together the tares. They then removed them from the field and burned them in the fire. From this, it is clear that it is not the world which God will destroy, but wicked men. As a result, far from being destroyed, the world is to be cleansed! Plainly, the teaching that this planet is to be destroyed is not the teaching of the Bible!
A NEW SOCIAL ORDER
Now, let us go a step farther in our study. This entire operation is primarily related to the citizenry of the Kingdom. It has to do with the present system of worldly society only in the sense that the tares and their influences are corrupting the people destined to demonstrate God’s Kingdom of Heaven on the earth. The tares and those of God’s people who have been contaminated by them are to be removed; they are to be separated from the body of God’s people and then destroyed. This is made clear by the Lord Jesus in the introduction to the parable. He said, “The Kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man who sowed good seed in his field . . .” (and this is not all) for He concludes His explanation of the parable in these words, “Then (after the removal of evil men) shall the righteous shine forth in the Kingdom of their Father. Who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Matt. 13:24, 41 43).
This entire parable deals with that Administration of God’s people which the Bible calls the Kingdom of heaven. This Kingdom was in demonstration when Jehovah God established the children of Abraham as a Kingdom at Mount Sinai. The Authority of God became the heartbeat of the nation. The laws, statutes and judgments of God became its constitution. It was indeed the Kingdom of heaven, having received both its true King, Jehovah, and His holy law directly from heaven. It is this people and this Kingdom with whom the Lord Jesus deals in this parable. It is this people, this Kingdom, over which He will reign when He returns to earth at the close of this age. (Luke 1:33; Acts 1:11; 2:29 30; 3:19-23).
The Lord Jesus refers to Satan as the Prince of this world. In this passage (John 12:31), the word rendered world in your English Bible is the Greek word KOSMOS. Its meaning is ORDER, ARRANGEMENT, SYSTEM. The best modern rendering would be SOCIETY or CIVILIZATION. What the Lord Jesus is saying is very simple and direct. It is that Satan is the real ruler of our present civilization.
Just how does Satan exert his authority? How is he able to retain authority over our society? He does it by appealing to our lower natures. There are only two basic drives in man. One is the flesh or self; the other is the Spirit of obedience to God. Another way to express this truth is to say that men either serve themselves or they serve God. It is easy to see how Satan keeps this present world (civilization or system) under his control.
It may be said of God’s people that those who do serve Christ are still captive within the world system but they are not a part of it. Jesus explains this in John 17:14. “(Father) I have given them Thy Word, and the world (kosmos, i.e., Satan’s system) has hated them, because they are not of the world (the civilization belonging to Satan) even as I (Christ) am not of the world (even as I am not subject to Satan and do not uphold his society.)”
FOR TRAINING AND INSTRUCTION
Many people have wondered why Christianity has not triumphed over evil in this present world (society). The answer, at least an important part of it, is that God uses the present world order as a training ground. The present world does hate the true follower of Christ. There is no doubt about that. And we should not be surprised because Jesus prophesied this condition. But look at it from another point of view. The opposition of the world provides the very best conditions in which to train Christians. What better way to train them in faith than allow them to be faced with seemingly insurmountable problems? Their love, faith and obedience is best developed when facing the ignorance, opposition and hatred of Satan’s servants who continue to hold the reins of authority in this present civilization!
To complete our study of this parable, we should know that in addition to the Greek word translated world which means SOCIETY or CIVILIZATION, there is another word for world which means AGE. This is AION (Greek), which means a very long period of time. An example is the time from creation to Noah’s flood, or the period from the flood to the first coming of Christ. Today, we live at the end of the age which began when Christ was born and will end when He returns again. The passage which we are studying, Matt. 13:38 40, contains the English word WORLD three times. One of these means CIVILIZATION and two of them mean AGE.
Now, I’m going to read Jesus’ explanation of His parable the one which contains the phrase END OF THE WORLD. But, instead of using our common English word WORLD, I will use the word which best expresses the original Greek in each case.
WHAT JESUS REALLY SAID
“The field is OUR CIVILIZATION; the good seed are the children of the Kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;
“The enemy that sowed them (the tares) is the devil; the harvest is the END OF THE AGE, and the reapers are the angels, “As, therefore, the tares are gathered and burned in the fires; so shall it be in the END OF THIS AGE.” (Matt. 13:38 40).
It is now clear that it is not the planet earth which is to be destroyed by fire but the tares (wicked men and women) that will be burned; and the WORLD that comes to an end is not the planet earth but the AGE in which we now live. At the return of Jesus Christ, our present AGE will come to an end; the present wicked SOCIETY will be destroyed and then – in the NEW AGE – as Jesus declared,” . . . shall the righteous SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the Kingdom (THE NEW SOCIAL ORDER) of their Father (God), who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
Who is willing to hear – are you?