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Nothing to scoff at

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 27 Feb 2018

In today’s article on the Apostles’ Creed, Lee Gatiss looks at what it means to say Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead.

“For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-10).

He will come again
The Old Testament speaks many times about “the day of the LORD” — a day when God would come and put everything right that has gone wrong in this fallen world of his. In the New Testament it becomes clear that this day will ultimately be the one on which Jesus returns from heaven. As the disciples were told when Jesus ascended: “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

Right at the end of the Bible we hear “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20). He will not remain apart from us forever. He will come again. When I say the Creed, I always stress the “will” in this line — I firmly believe and hope in this promise, and long for that day when he will come again.

There have always been some who doubt it. The apostle Peter warned that “scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation’” (2 Peter 3:3-4). They use the seeming delay in Jesus’s return to pursue their own sinful desires, thinking that tomorrow will always be just like today and nothing will ever happen to force them to stop. But the day is coming, and it is nothing to scoff at.

What will it be like? Revelation 1:7 says “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him.” So it will not be enigmatic or obscure or secret. He won’t just be appearing to the chosen few. This will be a dramatic and public event — indeed, the most dramatic and most public event in the history of the world. When it’s time for Jesus to return from the glory he now enjoys with his Father in heaven, every single one of us will know it.

Perhaps you know what it’s like to look forward eagerly to a visit from a distant friend or relative whose company you know you will always enjoy? The future we look forward to as Christians is like that, multiplied a billion — the presence of a person we love and long to see, restored to us at last. Later in the Creed we confess our belief in the resurrection of our bodies and the life everlasting. These are astounding blessings. But the very best thing about our future is that Jesus will be there. He will come again.

…to judge the living and the dead
Why is Jesus coming back? The Creed tells us that he is coming again to judge the living and the dead. The day of the Lord is the day of judgment. It is a day of reckoning for every single one of us, whether we are alive on that day or already dead.

Jesus said “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31-32). There are two destinations for those two groups of people. Some “will go away into eternal punishment,” he says, “but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). These ultimate destinies are both eternal, everlasting, and final.

Your destination on that day will depend on Jesus, the judge. Either he will give you what you deserve or he will give you what you don’t deserve. We all deserve the bad place, “for the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a) and we are all sinners who have fallen short of what God intended us to be, and stepped over the line in thought and word and deed. But on the other hand, for all those who repent and believe the good news, there is something undeserved: “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b). After all, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

The future of those who believe in Jesus is secure, because it relies on that promise from God, who “has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10). Yet at the same time, the day of judgment will also be a day for specific rewards. As Paul declares, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Just how much we enjoy our first taste of eternity may depend on how much we have enjoyed pleasing the Lord of eternity with our earthly lives. As English cricketer and nineteenth-century missionary, C. T. Studd once wrote,

“Only one life, twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

The fact that there is a judgment day coming means that ultimately we do not have to worry about our worldly reputations, our worldly comforts, or our worldly securities. We can entrust ourselves to the one who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23), knowing that he will set everything straight one day with utter fairness and absolute impartiality, whatever happens to us here. There will be no cause for complaints or grounds for appeal on that day.

Questions for reflection:
1. How does the way you spend your life and your money reflect your belief in Jesus’s return?
2. How does this part of the Creed motivate us when it comes to telling others about Jesus?
3. What profound injustices or secret faithfulnesses are you most looking forward to seeing rewarded on that day?

Prayer: Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ came to us once in great humility to die on the cross for our sins, and will come again in glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead: give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, that on that great and final day we may rise to the life immortal and enter the joy of his presence, in whose name we pray. Amen.

I’ve been enjoying singing the Creed using this contemporary sung version by Keith and Kristyn Getty. There’s also this slightly older version by Graham Kendrick which many may know.

Lee Gatiss is the Director of Church Society

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