Chapter 5: Who Will Be There?
The two groups who will live during the Millennium, the rulers and the populace, are represented in the Bible as the descendants of the two sons of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael; Isaac, the younger son representing the group higher in rank (and fewer in number), Christ’s co-rulers; and Ishmael, the older son, representing those greater in number (but lower in rank), the populace of the Kingdom. The giving of greater honor to the younger son was a sharp departure from Israelite custom, emphasizing the distinctiveness of the Divine Plan.
The next generation following Abraham was used again to prefigure the same two groups, by the same unusual departure from custom. It was revealed to Rebecca, mother of Jacob and Esau, before her children were born, that “the elder shall serve the younger” (Rom. 9:12). And Jacob, when blessing the two sons of Joseph, gave the greater blessing to the younger son Ephraim, re-enacting the Divine Plan to give the greater, more honorary blessing to the younger son (Gen. 48:8-20).
What were the promises to Abraham? The Lord had revealed unto Abraham prior to the birth of Isaac, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession” (Gen. 17:7-8).
We read further in Genesis 17, “And God said unto Abraham, as for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her…Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him” (Gen. 17:15-16, 19). And what was the blessing promised to Ishmael? “As for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation” (Gen. 17:20).
How can we know that God intended that the children of Abraham symbolize two groups of people for His eternal kingdom, and not just a natural fulfillment of promises to the children and their natural descendants?
The Bible makes several statements which indicate a non-natural application of the promises. First of all, the blessings were said to be “eternal” and “everlasting”—an impossibility for any natural descendants in the normal course of events.
Second, the Bible indicates in a number of passages that special blessings were promised to descendants of Abraham who were not blood relations. Said the apostle Paul (Rom. 9:6), “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel,” which says also that there are some said to be “of Israel” which are not natural born Israelites.
Third, Jesus, speaking directly to men who were literally descendants of Abraham, said, “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham”—indicating that in His view they were not children of Abraham (John 8:39). And the apostle Paul wrote that Abraham was called to be the father of all who believe, not of his natural descendants (Rom. 4:11). Again, Paul writing to the Galatians said, “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29)—indicating that belonging to Christ makes one of the seed of Abraham.
In Galatians 4, Paul himself used the two sons of Abraham as an allegory, “the one by a bondmaid [Hagar, mother of Ishmael], the other by a freewoman [Sarah, the mother of Isaac]….Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Hagar. …But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Gal. 4:22-26).
While the promises to Abraham saw a certain fulfillment in his natural descendants they were not completely fulfilled. Ishmael did indeed become the father of twelve princes and a great nation; but never did his nation inherit the whole of Israel, nor did they have it for “an everlasting possession.” The complete fulfillment is yet future, when the whole earth becomes the kingdom of our Lord and His dominion extends “from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth” (Ps. 72:8).
The Bible gives yet other illustrations of the two groups of people who will live in the Millennium. In Revelation 14 they are pictured as two harvests of the earth, the first harvest being of the firstfruits, (i.e., the rulers, Rev. 14:15); the second harvest being of the afterfruits, represented by the “clusters of the vine” (the populace, the great number, Rev. 14:17-18). Revelation 14 earlier tells the number of the co-rulers as they are seen standing on mount Zion with Christ (verses 1-2), and calls them “the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb” (verse 4).
In Jeremiah 33 is another description of these two groups, along with a statement of the certainty of God’s promise: “If I had not created day and night, and have not laid down laws for the heaven and the earth”—laws which are fixed and obvious to everyone—“then will I cast away the seed of Jacob, and David my servant, so that I will not take any of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Jer. 33:25-26, JB, KJV). Here again are pictured the two classes, rulers and those ruled over, which the Lord will bless. Again the Prophet says, concerning the populace of the Kingdom, “As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured: so will I multiply the seed of David my servant” (verse 22). Is there any possibility that we are misapplying these prophecies? The prophet answers our question in verses 14-15, specifying the time of their fulfillment as the time of Christ’s second coming, “Behold, the days come saith the Lord, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land” (Jer. 33:14-15).
The prophets who forecast the captivity of Israel and Judah prophesied also the return from captivity, and at the same time foresaw the greater Day when “restored Israel” would be a nation worldwide and the whole earth the dominion of Christ Jesus. Space will not permit us to cover the many glowing prophecies of this greater “return,” and the happy nation that will result.
What else does the Bible tell us about these many, many people?
Like their elders, they will become pure and upright through trial. Says the prophet Zechariah, “And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried” (Zech. 13:9). The prophet Ezekiel uses similar terms to describe their training: “And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant: And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezek. 20:37-38). The Revelator describes their accomplishment: they will have washed their robes and made them white in the blood (Word) of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14). As a result, they will be eternally blessed, protected and employed in the service of their King: “Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them” (Rev. 7:15).
They will be a righteous, God-loving people. “Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified” (Isa 60:21). Again, “Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in” (Isa 26:2). Again, “…when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” (Isa 26:9).
They will be a people instructed in the ways of God. “And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children. In righteousness shalt thou be established” (Isa. 54:13-14). “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD” (Jer. 31:34). And, says the prophet Ezekiel, speaking for God, they shall all “have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them” (Ezek. 37:24).
They will be people belonging to God and by Him blessed. Says God speaking through Isaiah, “I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring: One shall say, I am the Lord’s; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the LORD, and surname himself by the name of Israel” (Isa. 44:3-5). Again he says, speaking for God, “I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people” (Isa. 51:16). Again, “And their seed shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people: all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the LORD hath blessed” (Isa 61:9).
The prophet Ezekiel, speaking for God, foretold the blessedness of this people: “…so shall they be my people, and I will be their God. … My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Ezek. 37:23, 27). And Jeremiah added, “And ye shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Jer. 30:22). And Zechariah confirmed, “They shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God” (Zech. 13:9). How gracious is the Lord to bestow His eternal blessings on such an exceeding great host of worthy earthborns!