But it is made clear at once to John that the kingdom is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end, a wonderful means to a blessed end. It is startling to find that after that long blessed reign the evil one is to be loosed out of his prison-abyss. This seems at first flush too startling to be credible. But on reflection the reason becomes plain, and reveals the strength as well as the tenderness of God's love.
All through the kingdom time there are those who are in heart opposed to this new order of things. They long for the leeks and onions and garlic of the old eating. There will be some yielding only a feigned allegiance to the King. [Note: Psa_18:44; Psa_66:3; Psa_81:15; note marginal readings.] That dragnet of the parable has gathered some fish that didn't want to be caught, and want a chance to get away to their own native waters again. [Note: Mat_13:47-50.] The tares of another parable are left in with the wheat until the end reveals which is real wheat and which really tares. [Note: Mat_13:24-30; Mat_13:36-43.]
The one thing God longs for is love. And that only is love which is the free outpouring of the heart. He longs for love as our free choice. This is the image of God in which we have all been made. We are most like God in power, in the right of free choice. We are most like Him in character when we use our power as He uses His; when we choose what He chooses for us. And so there must be a final time of sifting and choosing.
Here is the strength of love, that dares loose Satan out that so we must choose in the face of opposition. For faith isn't faith except it can stand the fire test, the friction fire test of opposition. Here is the tenderness of love, that longs to have a return love as pure and free as its own, and so gives fullest opportunity for it to be revealed and to grow.
So Satan is loosed out for his tempting work. And another great world crisis comes, and another great settlement; this the final one. The devil, his beastly Antichrist and false prophet, are put out of the way forever.
A great dazzling throne is set. And One sits on it with a face of indescribable glory. Then comes the second resurrection, of all those not included in the first resurrection a thousand years before. This is a judgment of all who have died, with the exception already noted. The judgment of the living spoken of in Matthew, twenty-five, probably is in connection with the closing scene of the great crisis, just before this judgment of the resurrected dead, or possibly in connection with this judgment. This is the final judgment.
Gladness and distress mingle in reading the account: gladness that the contest, age long, is over; distress to find that for some there is what is described briefly but with terrible intensity, in the words, "the lake of fire." Yet there is still comfort in noting the language used of these,—"if any." [Note: Rev_20:15.] It is not the language of a great multitude, but rather of an incorrigible scattered and scant minority.