On an island west of Turkey, a man named John experienced a strange series of visions. He recorded them in the controversial biblical book of Revelation. Climaxing all the blood and gore pictured in the first nineteen chapters is a thousand-year reign of peace and prosperity revealed in chapter twenty. following that utopian millennial rule is a period of time termed " the Great White Throne Judgment. "This span of time corresponds with a biblical festival called "the Last Great Day." What does this period picture for you?
One of Christ's disciples wrote a book commonly called "the Gospel According to John." In it he penned the following words for posterity: "On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, 'If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink'" (John 7:37, Revised Standard Version used throughout article unless otherwise noted). Jesus Christ was speaking at a festival Moses had inaugurated (not of himself, but directly at the command of God) 1500 years earlier. It was the seventh and final installment of a series of feast days listed chronologically in the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus. Notice what God commanded Moses: "Say to the people of Israel, The appointed feasts of the Lord which you shall proclaim as holy convocations [commanded assemblies], my appointed feasts, are these" (verse 2). Then God proceeded to enumerate His festivals to Moses. First, in the spring, was the Passover, followed immediately by seven days of eating unleavened bread (verses 5-8). Less than two months later was the Feast of Firstfruits (verses 10-22), called "Pentecost" in the New Testament. Then came four fall festivals: the Feast of Trumpets (verses 24-25); the Day of Atonement (a day of fasting, verses 26-32); the Feast of Tabernacles (or "feast of booths," verses 34-43); and finally the Last Great Day (same verses). (See the box on page 10 for the meaning of each of these biblical festivals.) This Last Day follows immediately after the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles. It is, as it were, almost an attachment to that seven-day festival. Both festivals are generally described together in Scripture; yet they are distinctly separate in a very important sense.
The Last Day in History
Wherever the Feast of Tabernacles is mentioned in the Bible, the Last Great Day can be tacitly assumed whether it is separately mentioned or not. Note Numbers 29:12: "On the fifteenth day of the seventh month [Jewish sacred calendar] you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work, and you shall keep a feast to the Lord seven days." This is the Feast of Tabernacles. Then in verse 35 Moses specified: "On the eighth day you shall have a solemn assembly: you shall do no laborious work...." Moses mentions the Feast of Tabernacles twice elsewhere in the Pentateuch (Ex. 23:16; Deut. 16:13) without specifically naming either the Last Great Day or the other two fall holy days. Following a long lapse of disobedience to God in both Israel and Judah, there was a brief spiritual revival in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. Under Ezra the restored remnant of the nation of Judah "... kept the feast of booths [tabernacles], as it is written [in the Pentateuch] ..." (Ezra 3:4). You will note that the Last Great Day is not directly specified here, but the Bible does prove that this final festival was observed during that period of history. Notice Nehemiah 8:14, 17-18: "And they found it written in the law that the Lord had commanded by Moses that the people of Israel should dwell in booths [tabernacles] during the feast of the seventh month.... And there was very great rejoicing. And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he [Ezra] read from the book of the law of God. They kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the ordinance." In New Testament times, Jesus Christ observed the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:2, 10, 14). He also kept the Last Great Day (verses 37-39). Following Christ's example, the Worldwide Church of God observes this one-day festival even today in the twentieth century. What great meaning could this feast possibly have that would cause God's Church today to keep a festival inaugurated nearly 3,500 years ago? What great event in God's master plan does this feast picture?
The Resurrection in Prophecy
Turn to the twentieth chapter of Revelation. The beginning few verses document the thousand-year earthly reign of Christ. This period of priceless peace and prosperity is pictured by the seven-day observance of the Feast of Tabernacles (see Matt. 16:28; 17:1-9). Then, right in the midst, as it were, of these verses describing the thousand-year reign is a parenthetical statement depicting what is to happen immediately after the millennium is over. Notice it in verse 5: "The rest of the dead did not come to life again until the thousand years were ended." So here is a statement that actually tells us when all "the rest of the dead" (those not raised in the first resurrection as spirit beings) will live. It is immediately after the millennium. Verses 11 through 13 give more details: "Then I saw a great white throne and him [God] who sat upon it.... And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.... And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. [Greek, 'according to their works' — not exclusively those of their former lives now long in the past, but those works, or deeds, now being performed after being resurrected. This will become clearer as we proceed.] And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades [Greek 'the grave'] gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done [Greek, 'according to their works,' see KJV]." Here John describes a prophetic vision of a great resurrection involving most of humanity who have ever lived on this earth. (The prophets, patriarchs and true Christians, relatively speaking a very small group, will have been brought back to life a thousand years earlier - verses 3-6.) This symbolic description is compacted in to a very few verses. What is the true meaning of John's vision? Is this a resurrection to eternal life in hell fire? To eternal death? What is meant by the term "Great White Throne Judgment"? What is the relationship between the resurrection which immediately follows the millennium and the annual festival which immediately follows the Festival of Tabernacles (which prefigures the millennium)? We must go elsewhere in the Bible to find the answers.
Meaning of the Day Known
The Jewish world of Jesus' day had some knowledge, though no doubt imperfect, of this great resurrection and its relation to the Last Great Day festival. John II records a conversation between Jesus and Martha shortly before Jesus resurrected her brother Lazarus. Martha said to Jesus: "I know that he [Lazarus] will rise again in the resurrection at the last day" (verse 24). Jesus, His knowledge of this day not being imperfect, since He knew the fullness of its great meaning, revealed details about it which are recalled in several verses that people today often overlook. Most of these little-known and even less understood scriptures were recorded by the apostle Matthew. A few are repeated in the Gospel of Luke. Decrying and condemning the spiritual state of the "lost sheep of Israel," Jesus stated: "... It shall be more tolerable [bearable, Moffatt version] for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city" (Matt. 10:15, KJV). This is the first veiled reference to the Last Great Day in the book of Matthew. Later verses will shed much more light on the meaning. In Matthew 11 Jesus returned to the same theme. Here Christ indicts three Galilean towns for their impenitent unresponsiveness to the marvelous miracles He had performed. "Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable [bearable, Moffatt version] for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell [Greek, the grave]: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable [or bearable] for the land of Sodom in the day of Judgment, than for thee" (verses 20-24, KJV).
Repentance in That Day
Jesus declared, in effect, that if He had performed the same miracles in Tyre and Sidon (two ancient Mediterranean coast cities of the wicked Canaanites), they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes. Adam Clarke defines sackcloth and ashes as "an outward sign of deep repentance, and forsaking of sin" (Clarke 's Commentary, vol. vi, page 130). Since these two cities of antiquity would have repented had Jesus performed the same mighty miracles in their heyday, it logically follows that this period of Judgment (which will go easier with them than with that generation who dwelt in Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum in Jesus' day) will afford their peoples an opportunity to repent of their evil deeds and enter God's Kingdom. Otherwise God becomes a respecter of persons, which the Bible constantly affirms He is not (see Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11; Eph. 6:9). "According to tradition, Sidon was the first Phoenician city to be founded" (The New Bible Dictionary, p. 1184). It is traditionally said to be the mother of Tyre. "According to Herodotus (ii. 44), Tyre was founded c. 2700 B.C...." (ibid, p. l302). It was the principal seaport and commercial center of the Phoenician coast — the New York of the ancient world! Both Tyre and Sidon, as prophesied, have been reduced to relative irrelevance in recent history. Probably Jesus' reference to these two antiquated cities relates to their apex period when Ezekiel prophesied against them (Ezek. 26:2-21; 28:20-23). However, in relation to the Last Great Day, it refers in principle to most all of their residents from their beginning until now and on into the future. All except those few who will be in the first resurrection shall be resurrected in the Last Great Day. Matthew's account jumps back in time from Tyre and Sidon to Sodom and Gomorrah. It was during the days of Abraham that these two cities reached the depths of homosexual degradation. God destroyed them by raining fire and brimstone upon them and their environs. Destruction was universal! That area became a desolate wilderness of drought and heat, salt and rock, to this day. The spiritual point is this: if Jesus had come to even those two sin-filled cities as the humble carpenter of Nazareth, but performing mighty works and miracles, the ancient inhabitants would have repented of their revolting sex perversions and the cities would have still been extant 2,000 years later. Again, it logically follows that God will give even these ancient sinners an opportunity to enter His Kingdom. And when He does, they will have an easier time of it during that period of judgment than those during Jesus' earthly ministry who had every opportunity but refused to repent. Truly, as Christ said to the religious types of His day: "... The tax collectors and the harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you" (Matt. 21:31). Verse 24 of Matthew 11 speaks of this period as "a day of judgment." How long is this "day" — twenty-four hours or an indeterminate (to us) period of time?
Ancient Nineveh To Be Educated
For the third time in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus returns to the same theme of "the day of judgment" (Matt. 12:36) in relation to the nonrepentance of His generation. "The men of Nineveh [an ancient Gentile city — the capital of Assyria] shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here" (verse 41, KJV). This scripture is highly significant and tells us much more than is readily apparent on the surface. Jonah's ministry occurred in the reign of Jeroboam the II (II Kings 14:25), 793-753 B.C His warning and witness to that ancient Assyrian city must have been some time in the eighth century B.C (see The New Bible Commentary: Revised, p. 747). At that time more than 120,000 people resided in the city of Nineveh (Jonah 4:11). Jesus referred specifically to those Ninevites who repented at the preaching of Jonah. Now let's ask a question: How much did these ancient Assyrians, who heard Jonah, know about Jesus' generation prior to their death? The answer is, of course, absolutely nothing; they lived hundreds of years prior to Christ's first coming! How much do they now know? Still absolutely nothing: "The dead know not anything" (Eccl. 9:5). How much will they know when they are resurrected after the millennial period? At that moment, nothing. Obviously they won't be able to condemn Jesus' generation immediately. It will require a substantial period of time for those resurrected Ninevites to learn the history of Jesus' generation. And soaking up that history will not, logically, be the first order of business after the great resurrection. Reorientation to the different conditions of life itself will take some little time. Remember, these people are not yet "judged" in the sense that Christians are now (see I Peter 4:17). They are once again. physical, flesh-and-blood human beings with a new lease on life (literally!). So the Last Great Day is not comprised of a single twenty-four hour day. The conversion process requires time. First God must grant repentance (II Tim. 2:25; Acts 11:18; Rom. 2:4). Then a period of unlearning deeply imbedded false concepts and of growing in grace and knowledge must follow (II Peter 3:18). How long must this period be? We have previously postulated 100 years based on Isaiah 65:20. Though the period of time could very well be an even century long, we have come to realize that application of this verse is questionable. At least it will be a period of a number of years, perhaps even more than a hundred.
The Queen of Sheba
But the story does not end with the Ninevites. Jesus caps off the subject with a final comparison. "The queen of the south [or, Sheba] shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here" (Matt. 12:42, KJV). Prior to this one, all the other examples in antiquity which Jesus gave were individually anonymous. Christ had reference to large groups of people — citizens of Sidon, Tyre, Sodom, Gomorrah, Nineveh — cities whose ancient inhabitants' personal names have long since been forgotten (except, of course, by God Himself). The Queen of Sheba was a Sabaean monarch who journeyed to Jerusalem in the tenth century B.C to test King Solomon's wisdom. She went away very impressed (see The New Bible Dictionary, p. 1172). But at the time of her resurrection, the Queen of the South will not know a thing about the history of Jesus' generation. That she will learn over a period of time, evaluate and analyze it, and finally come to rightly condemn those who refused Christ in the flesh.
Outline of the Future Revealed
All of these scriptures from the book of Matthew, taken together, tell us even more. Details are revealed here that John omits in his description of the bare symbols he saw in vision (Rev. 20). First mentioned are the peoples of Sodom and Gomorrah. Then in order: Tyre and Sidon, Sodom again, Nineveh in Jonah's time, and the Queen of Sheba. All of these examples (people who lived in different generations) are compared to the citizens living in the cities and towns of Jesus' generation. Jesus tells us they are all to be resurrected with the generation that lived in Jesus' time. He gave enough representative examples of generations of people living at widespread and different times in human history to substantiate the fact that most of humanity will be alive together at the same time on this earth. There will be pre-Flood men and woman, all the Israelites (all twelve tribes including the Jewish people, see Rom. 9-11), those who lived during the Middle or Dark Ages, and everyone living even now who for whatever reason has not had opportunity to accept Christ and grow toward salvation (see John 6:44, 65). This group includes all people of all times everywhere on this earth, excepting of course those who will be in the first resurrection: true Christians and the godly patriarchs and prophets prior to Christ. Whether or not all these people will be resurrected exactly at the same time, on the same hour, on the same day is an academic question. The Scriptures are not that specific. By gradual course and in order by nation and generation would seem to be God's mind on the matter, since He is not the author of confusion. He works out all things decently and in order (I Cor. 14:33, 40). Other scriptures — all exegetically explained and expounded in our free booklets announced in the box on recommended reading — show that this great general resurrection is definitely not a resurrection to an eternal roasting in hell fire; nor is it a resurrection to an immediate destruction in the biblical lake of fire. If many of these ancient people described in Matthew's Gospel would have repented if Christ had personally come to them in their day, will they not repent when He is actually ruling and reigning on an earth dominated by peace, prosperity and well-being? The great last resurrection opens their period of judgment — not sentencing. Sentencing is merely the final act in the process of judgment. A decision must be rendered, based on how each individual responds to the Word of God. And since every individual will have the fullest salvation opportunity, each will be in effect rendering his own verdict. By making choices as he (or she) lives, each person will be judging himself. It will be more bearable or tolerable for some peoples than others — depending on what they did or did not do in their former lives and how they have already shaped their respective attitudes. But if a decision had already been rendered and the people were to be immediately sentenced — condemned to be burnt up in a lake of fire together — it is hard to see how their judgment would differ in any respect. How would it be more tolerable or bearable for one group of people than another?
The Last Great Day and You
If you are a true Christian and you remain faithful unto death (enduring to the end), you will be privileged to partake of a better resurrection (Heb. 11:35) at Christ's second corning. But what about your friends and relatives (living and dead) who have known little of Christ, His gospel, and the Kingdom of God? Are they lost forever — doomed to perish eternally in a lake of fire? No — not at all! Here is your future legacy: After reigning and ruling with Christ for a thousand years (Rev. 20:3-6) in a world of generation after generation of new people who have never lived before, you will then be privileged to see the resurrection of your ancestors, kinfolks and acquaintances. You will help teach them God's way of salvation. All the more reason to remain faithful to Christ and to His Church — no matter what the future holds. This, then, is the meaning of the Last Great Day — a one-day festival kept around the globe by the Worldwide Church of God, Can you begin to see why its members observe this annual Sabbath day year after year?
God, in His wisdom, had a great purpose in giving His Church a weekly Sabbath and seven annual Sabbaths. When kept by converted Christians, they impart understanding of God's great plan of redemption and remind His people regularly lest the message be forgotten. When one understands God's holy days vitally important symbolism and meaning, one can also grasp the purpose God is working out here on earth. Here is a brief overview of the meaning and scope of these days:
A rest day for man is one of several identifying signs of God's people (Ex. 31 ). It serves as a weekly reminder to man of creation and the true Creator. Further, it is also symbolic of the thousand-year reign of Christ. (Further information is available in our free booklet Which Day Is The Christian Sabbath?)
Passover (Nisan 14)
The Passover is a memorial of the death angel's passing over the homes of the Israelites in Egypt, sparing the firstborn (Ex. 12:2-14). The lamb that was sacrificed then was a foreshadowing of Christ, the true Passover Lamb (I Cor. 5:7). In the New Testament, His sacrifice for our sins is pictured in the Passover ordinances of footwashing (symbolizing humility) and the taking of bread and wine (symbols of Christians' union in the death of Christ).
Days of Unleavened Bread (Nisan 15-21)
The seven days of eating unleavened bread begin at sunset after the Passover (God's days are always calculated from sunset to sunset). The first night commemorates the night Israel started out of Egypt, which is symbolic of newly converted Christians departing from sin. (Ancient, oppressive, slaveholding Egypt is God's illustration of the bondage in which sin puts us.) The final day pictures baptism (I Cor. 10:2). The first and the last of the seven festival days are annual Sabbaths. The yearly observance of seven days picture our complete deliverance from sin. Personal sin is symbolized by leavening which puffs up and spreads out. Though Christ's blood for the remission of sins is pictured by the Passover, if we fail to go ahead and put sin out of our lives we make a mockery of Christ's sacrifice. These Days of Unleavened Bread portray our earnest efforts to root out sin from our lives by the removing of all leavening from our premises. This physical housecleaning impresses the importance of spiritual housecleaning or overcoming (I Cor. 5:7 -8).
Pentecost (a Greek word signifying "fiftieth") is determined by counting fifty days from the day during the Days of Unleavened Bread on which the wave sheaf was offered in Old Testament times — the day on which the resurrected Christ was first seen alive. It always occurs on a Sunday during Sivan, the third month of the sacred calendar. The Bible also calls this day the feast of "firstfruits" and "feast of weeks." These names prefigured the coming (Acts 2) and continuing function of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost thus is a memorial of the beginning of the New Testament Church, and in a larger sense it depicts the entire time of the New Testament Church to the conclusion of this present first harvest of souls.
Feast of Trumpets (Tishri 1)
A trumpet is a symbol of war (Joel 2:1). It is also the symbol of victory — the victory of Christ at His second coming. The first day in the seventh month points forward to the day when the last trumpet will sound (Rev. 11:15-19) and the dead in Christ will rise to meet Him at His second coming. Christ will then put down the angry nations, stirred up and deceived by the devil (Rev. 12:9; II Cor. 4:4). He will set up the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:15), headquartered in Jerusalem, which will eventually spread out to all corners of the earth.
Day of Atonement (Tishri 10)
A day of abstaining from food and drink (called "the fast" in New Testament times — Acts 27:9) pictures the day in the future when the punishment for sin will be placed justly on the head of its instigator, Satan the devil. Mankind will then become "at one," or in complete accord, with God, all our sins having been forgiven and forgotten. Fasting helps us realize our own human weakness and need for God.
Feast of Tabernacles (Tishri 15-21)
A seven-day "wedding feast" (see Gen. 29:27-28; Judges 14:2,10,12; Rev. 19:6-7; Matt. 22:1-14; 25:1-13) pictures the millennium or thousand years when resurrected Christians, then immortal, will rule the earth under Christ (Rev. 5:10; 2:26). This festival is also called the " feast of ingathering" because of its fall harvest time-setting and its symbolization of the great harvest of souls when the whole world has become full of the knowledge of God (Isa. 11:9). Christ's righteous world government will finally bring the peace and abundance all humanity has longed for and so desperately needs.
The Last Great Day (Tishri 22)
The day following the Feast of Tabernacles is called the Last Great Day and is symbolic of a still more joyous occasion in the future. The rest of the dead, those never having had their eyes opened to the truth in their former life (II Cor. 4:4; Rev. 12:9), will be resurrected to mortal life again after the millennium. This will be their first real chance to understand the true gospel, overcome and gain eternal life. They will live a life complete with trials and tests similar to those of t rue Christians today (I Pet. 4:17). This "day" is symbolically described as the White Throne Judgment in Revelation 20. Those who overcome with the help of God's Holy Spirit will join God's family, living forever with those who were saved during the Church's activity in Satan's world and those who were born and overcame in the succeeding thousand-year rule of Christ. For a full exegetical explanation of each of these holy days, read our free booklet Pagan Holidays - or God's Holy Days - Which?
Physical Resurrections Mentioned in the Bible
A number of resurrections to physical life have already prefigured what is to occur on the Last Great Day. 1) I Kings 17:17-24.. Elijah raises the widow's son. 2) II Kings 4:18-37. Elisha raises the Shunammite's son. 3) II Kings 13:20-21. Dead man revives when cast into Elisha's grave and lands upon his bones. 4) Matthew 27:52-53. The saints that arose at the time of Christ's death. 5) Luke 7:11-17. A dead man — a widow's only son — brought back to life. 6) Luke 8:49-56. Ruler of the synagogue's daughter brought back to life. 7) John 11:1-46. Lazarus, friend of Jesus, was sick and eventually died. Jesus came after he had already been dead four days (verse 17) and raised him up. Note that this account apparently speaks of the Last Great Day (verses 23-24). 8) Acts 9:36-42. Dorcas, a disciple, fell sick and died. Peter prayed for her and she immediately revived. 9) Acts 14:19-20. Paul is stoned and then dragged out of town (perhaps dead — so far as anyone could tell). 10) Acts 20:9-12. Paul visits the city of Troas for seven days. While there he preached at length on one occasion. A young man named Eutychus fell from a window when he dozed and was found dead (verse 9). Paul embraced him and the man then revived.
RECOMMENDED READING Further study into the subject of God's plan of salvation and the role that death plays in the scheme of things can be pursued in the following list of literature published by the Worldwide Church of God. After Death... then What? What is the fate of the dead? Do the dead know what the living are doing? What if one dies being unconverted? Is he lost forever? This booklet answers these questions from the Bible. Is This the Only Day of Salvation? We have reprinted this in-depth article which discusses the meaning and sequence of events surrounding God's plan. Spiritual blindness, the role of the resurrection and conversion are discussed with extensive use of supporting scriptures. Here you will learn some of the most wonderful news of God's Word. Is There A Real Hell Fire? Although the word "hell" is in nearly everyone's vocabulary, very little of the real truth is Widely known about God's punishment of the wicked. Let this booklet clear up this topic while wiping away several major fallacies. Pagan Holidays - or God's Holy Days - Which? Read about the seven annual Sabbaths of God and the theological basis for observing them in these modern times. A significant thread runs through these holy days of God which will give God's Word greater meaning and interest for you.