Take a moment to make a mental list – what is your greatest fear? What is your highest hope? If you could ask God for anything and he promised to give it to you – anything at all, what would you ask for? Is there anything that you couldn't live without – if it was taken away from you you'd die? If you had 1 day to live what would you do in that one day? When you're down and miserable – what do you do to cheer yourself up, what do you dream of doing to get away from your troubles? When your mind is free to wander, where does it go – what do you think about in idle moments?
What I'm trying to help you to think about is what is most important to you in life – what are the things that are most dear to you. Where do you find meaning and purpose, what do you long for and dream about, what do you hold closest as your dearest and most precious possessions.
And why do I want you to think about these things? Because our topic tonight is the end – the end of this age and the beginning of the age to come – and that day will reveal what we've been living for. And if we have been living for anything less than Jesus that day will expose us, shame us and leave us with nothing, but if we have been living for eternal things that day will be delight us, reward us and deliver far beyond our wildest dreams.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Tonight we're unpacking the last line in the 'Jesus' section of the creed. It says:
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Did you get that: He – Jesus – will come again to judge the living and the dead.
This is the climax of all God's plans and purposes for the world as they are executed in Christ Jesus. Having entered our world as a man he won the decisive victory for us on the cross. That victory was declared by his resurrection and sealed by his ascension into heaven to rule at the Father's side. And it's full effects will be finally and completely revealed when he comes back a second time to put every enemy under his feet and bring in a whole new age – a new age of perfect rule, perfect obedience to him, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings; and therefore it will be an age of perfect joy, peace, love, wonder and happiness.
There are many, many things that I could say about this second coming to judge, but tonight I have time to say only five things – this coming day of judgement is:
Absolute and Final
An End and a Beginning
Our Hope; and
Our Purpose, our Task
Tonight our focus in these things is fixed on what this means for Jesus and the world – God's big picture plans and purposes and how we fit into them now. We'll come back and look at all of this from a more personal perspective when we come later in the creed to the line that says: 'I believe in the resurrection of the dead'. For now, let's look at those five headings:
The Day of Judgment is Certain:
Jesus' return to Judge is Certain
The creed asserts that Jesus will come back to judge the living and the dead, it will happen. And there is good reason for us to have confidence, certainty even. Do you notice that this is the first thing in the creed that is not in the past – for the first time we are talking about the future. The bible calls this future our 'hope'. But it's not the hopes we have – it's not in anyway uncertain or contingent. It is certain to happen. Here in the book of Revelation we are listening to John as he tells the story of a vision he was given by God – a vision given to show the church what must soon take place (Rev 1.1). And look at what he saw:
Rev 20: 11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.
12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.
13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.
14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.
15 If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
… and down to 21.5 … 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true'.
John was given a vision of the future – a future that must take place. And he saw our future, the future. These words are trust worthy and true. This is what must take place. John saw what will happen when Jesus comes back a second time, not to save the world, but to judge it. On that great and terrible day Jesus will take his seat on the heavenly throne. All the people's of the earth – everyone who has ever lived – the living and the dead as the creed puts it – all people will be made to stand before that throne and then we will all be judged by Jesus.
The great white throne is the throne of power where Jesus sits to exercise his eternal authority at God's right hand. And he is more than King, he is also judge, so it is the judges seat from which he pronounces judgement on every one of us. Our passage here doesn't mention Jesus by name, but if we'd time to read all of this vision we'd see Jesus entering into God's presence and sitting down in pomp and majesty on that throne and every knee bowing and every tongue confessing him Lord.
And we need to know that this is going to happen. The New Testament mentions Jesus' return to judge more than 300 times – something like one in every 14 verses. We've talked about neglected themes as we've been moving through this series, well this might be the most neglected of all. Yes, we do speak about Jesus return and the day of judgment, but certainly not with the same frequency and intensity as the NT, if we did, we'd be preaching it every 14th sermon, and it would surely feature in just about every one.
So why does the NT insist on the certainty of Jesus return, why is it such an important topic that we need to be beat over the head with it so often?
Well we're prone to forget the things that are really important.
In NT times the church was small and it was dangerous to be a part of it. We get a pretty clear picture of the Jewish opposition in the NT itself – Jesus was executed, Stephen and James were martyred and Paul was repeatedly persecuted, hounded and subject to attempts on his life. Killing Christians was the sort of thing Jewish politicians did to get re-elected inJerusalemin NT times!
But in the years that followed Jewish opposition was dwarfed by Roman opposition. You probably know how Christians were blamed for the great fire of Rome, how they were fed to the lions or hunted by gladiators for entertainment, how they were even dipped in tar and used as human torches to light Nero's garden parties. The early church lived with the constant threat of death and suffering at the whim of the most powerful empire the world has ever known.
In a world like that it is absolutely essential to know that there will be final reckoning. If this world is all there is, if there is no judgement to come, then wicked men get away with it. Nero can light up as many Christians as he likes, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. We might add terrorists can fly planes into buildings, Hitler can send Jews to the gas chambers and Stalin can purge to his hearts content and get away with it.
But if there is a throne from which the living and the dead will be judged, then everything changes. If there is life after death and eternal justice from an impartial judge, then there will be no getting away with it at all. In that case the persecuted, the suffering, the poor and the outcast have a hope beyond what they can do for themselves, not dependant on the rise of just government or on the possibility or revenge. The suffering church can stand firm in the face of unbelievable tyranny without fear and without loosing a single thing – because there is a judge who will sit and justice will be done.
Suffering was perhaps the principle threat to the church in NT times. But I suspect that the opposite is true for us. Yes there remains a persecuted church, and yes Christians under repressive regimes continue to suffer and to need to know that judgement is coming. But for us the bigger danger is that we suffer too little – we are too comfortable, too at ease, too at home – our danger is that we no longer long for a better place, just a marginal improvement in the one we're in. Sure there are things that make our lives uncomfortable – trips to the hospital come to my mind at the moment, and you might add other things – people you don't get on with, bosses who make life hard, small injustices, petty tyrannies, spats and differences… but on the whole we're pretty comfortable aren't we? Our hopes centre on these small improvements - climbing the ladder, increasing our income a bit, putting away a bit more savings, getting on the upgrade cycle for a new iphone…
We need to be reminded that judgement day is coming because we are in grave danger of living for things that are passing away.
So let me ask you – when was the last time you sat and thought about your life, your priorities, your hopes and dreams, your fears, your 'life plan' in the light of the sure and certain fact that Jesus is coming back and you will be subject to judgement?
When you woke up this morning did it occur to you to think this life is passing away, today I need to live in the light of Jesus' return to judge?
Is the coming day of judgement in the forefront of your minds? Did it feature in your answers to my questions earlier? Do you think of it at all?
Drive aroundGateshead, go to the middle of town and watch that new town centre going up. It looks so solid doesn't it? It's not going to win any design awards, but it promises a big change to this town doesn't it? I'm genuinely positive about the impact it's going to have onGateshead. But don't for one second think that it's going to stand the test of time. I don't mean it's not going to look good in a hundred years – I'm not comparing it toGray St… a time is coming, and it might come tonight, when all this is going to disappear and be no more. Jesus is coming back and everything we see around us is going to disappear. You need to know that's reality. I need to know that's reality.
This life is fleeting, like our school years. When you're at school it seems like every day lasts for a thousand years, and graduation seems a life time away. Teachers seem unbelievably old. There is this illusion of permanence. But we know that school days are over very quickly. And the big man in primary school is very seldom the big man in life. And 24 isn't actually ancient. I've been out of school now for longer than I was in it, but it seems like only yesterday… And there comes a time when you need to graduate and move on. And the really important thing about school is not doing well while you're there, but using the time wisely to prepare for the life that follows. We need to know that this life is not permanent, it is just as fleeting as school, and the important thing is not that we're big men on campus here, but that we use this time wisely so that we're prepared for the test at the end.
So Jesus' return to judge is certainly going to happen, but what sort of judgment will it be? When Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead his judgment will be Absolute and Final. That's our second point:
Jesus' judgement will be Absolute and Final
What do I mean by that – I mean that the judgement will not be partial partial, but complete, based not on the preponderance of evidence, but on complete knowledge of everything we have every said, thought or done. Look back at the passage again:
Rev 20: 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.
13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.
The books in this passage represent a complete, perfect record of our lives. The dead will be judged according to what they have done as recorded in the books.
When Jesus returns to judge we will not face a jury of our peers. We will stand in the dock and God will sit on the throne. And he will not rely on circumstantial evidence; he will not build a case on forensics careful inference or the testimony of those who saw something. There will be no plausible denial, he won't require an email chain or a smoking gun to establish who really knew what when and how. No, God knows our every thought, our every motive, he knows exactly what we're doing and why. And He knows what we chose not to do and why we didn't. He knows what mitigating circumstances there were and to what extent they influenced our decisions – and he will not hold us responsible for things that were outside of our control, but he also knows exactly what we were responsible for. And he knows what opportunities we had to do better things, what avenues there were for avoiding temptation or how we could have managed without committing offences.
Have you seen Judge Judy – she sees right through everyone. Don't think the God of the universe will be any less penetrating. He will see straight through us, because he knows us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. Our self justifications will be blown away in the light of his all seeing gaze. So this judgement will be absolute – all the facts will be brought out into the open, everything will be fully known, there will be no errors or omissions. God's judgement will be absolutely fair, right, just – his decisions will not be overturned in the light of new evidence, because all things will be brought out into the open.
And it means that the judgment will be absolute in another sense too, because there is no higher court of appeal. He sits on the throne high and mighty. He is the highest authority, there is no higher court that might reverse his judgement. When this judgement is made there is no going back, no possibility of a re-trial or a re-sit, the die is cast and the sentence will be carried out.
It doesn't take much thought to realise that we will all be in trouble on that day does it? Do I need to remind you of the ways that you fail to live up even to your own standards? Do you need reminding that there are things you've done that you're ashamed of, that you wish you could take back? Do you need reminding that for all the things you've done, you've wanted to do far worse things, that you just might have done them if your circumstances had been just a little bit different? How do I know that – I've got my own shameful secrets, I battle with my own urges and sinful desires. And the Bible is clear that that is our lot, all of us. As Jesus said 'anyone who sins is a slave to sin'; we know that's true, the number of times we've tried to turn over a new leaf, to leave the past behind us and move on… but we're mired in bad habits and wrong thinking and wrong doing. We hurt the ones we love, even the best of us leave a trail of destruction. And if we don't live up to our own standards, how much more do we fall short of God's! In our deepest, inner most core we are as far from God as we can be. And on that day we will find ourselves stripped bare before a God who sees all and knows all and will not accept excuses because he knows, he knows, we can't fool him.
[Sauron's all seeing eye?]
The only hope any of us has comes from the fact there are two sets of books opened on that day. Did you notice that in verse 12? There is another book – in addition to the record of all that we've said and thought and done there is the book of life. That book is very different. It doesn't record what we've done, our record. It simply records how we've responded to Jesus. If we put our trust in him our names are written in that book of life, and if our name is in that book then we can stand in that day of judgment. The only hope any of us stands in that day is to have our name written in that book.
So is your name written in that book? You be can sure that God has a record of you and what you've done, and you can be sure that that record is going to say 'guilty' and that your condemnation is assured – unless your name is in that other book, that book of life.
I'm not trying to be clever here. I'm being deadly earnest. This is actually a matter of life and death. In fact it's more than that, it's a matter of heaven and hell. Eternity with God, enjoying all that comes from him, or eternity excluded from his presence, suffering the loss of everything that is good, under his wrath, his condemnation.
These aren't fairy stories. This isn't one possible future. This is real. This is coming. Are you ready for it? I can't stress strongly enough how important it is that you get things right with Jesus as soon as you can. I'm desperate for you to avoid going to the judgment day unprepared. If you're not sure that your name is written in that book you've got to do something about it – tonight, don't wait, sort it out. Come and talk to me straight after the service, write it down on your yellow slip now so you won't forget and put it in the blue bag at the end so that if you can't get to me we'll get it on Monday and we'll chase you up. Don't leave tonight without taking action to get that sorted. It's far too important to leave any question marks at all.
Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead – it's certain and it will be absolute and final, get ready for it before it's too late.
There's more to say yet, and the next point is perhaps the most important. When Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead it will be both an end and a beginning, and that is what makes it so important. So let's look at that now –
Jesus' return will be both an End and a Beginning
Have a look with me at Rev 21 verse 1:
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
5 He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."
6 He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.
7 He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.
8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practise magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death."
The day of Judgment is the end of human history as we know it. It is the end of the world or rebellion against God, the completion of God's great plan in the world to bring all things under Christ. On that day all rebellion against God's rule will be fully brought to heel and the old order – that is the world as we know it will be done away with. The victory that was won on the cross will finally be fully implemented in it's widest sense – there will be no enemies that are not completely subdued.
This is massive for us because God's enemies are our enemies too – not just sinful humanity, but Satan and his minions, sin and even death itself. Satan – the great deceiver and accuser of the church. He is now bound by Christ and limited in his power to deceive, but on that day he will be finally overthrown and cast into the lake of fire. All his pretensions to power and right will be exposed as nothing less than hot air. All his lies and his schemes will come to nothing as the truth will be plain for all to see. He will lose all power to harm us and he will be utterly cast down into eternal punishment.
And sin will be no more – all rebellion against God will be removed from his creation. That means from the day of judgment onwards we will not be under the power of sin, we will not be slaves to it's urges, and we will not be subject to it's desires. Can you even imagine a world where there is no sin and no desire to sin? The whole creation will be free from even the taint of sin. Our internal enemy will be no more.
And finally, the last enemy to be overthrown is death. Like sin and Satan Jesus has already conquered death when he rose from the grave. But now his final victory will be extended to us as well… we will be raised and given eternal life that knows no death, that is not threatened by death and never will be because death itself will be put to death and it will be no more.
And it's not just an end - when he completes the judgement he declares 'I am making all things new'. We won't live as dis-embodied spirits among the clouds, but Jesus will re-make creation, a new, better, perfect and incorruptible creation. The first heaven and the first earth will pass away and they will be replaced by a renewed heavens and earth – just as we will be clothed in new bodies – bodies that are suitable for that new creation. (note not a completely new creation, but a renewed creation – our bodies will be our old bodies, but in a new and wonderful form, like the tree and the seed, and the new heavens and new earth will be renewed in the same way, so as to far exceed what we now know in all kinds of glory.
Verse 2 tells us there will be no sea in that creation – which doesn't mean no surf, it means no place of chaos and danger, no place where God's rule is not complete and perfect, no place where there is lurking danger, no place where there is anything less than perfect peace and safety and security.
And the crowning glory of the new creation is this – Jesus will be there, among us, seated with his Father on the throne. And the remarkable thing for us is that and we will be fit to stand with him, in his presence, not once a year, not symbolically, but actually there with God – Almighty God himself in all his might and power and holiness and glory. We will live there with God enjoying his presence, the light of his great glory, the power of his love, the wonder of his mercy, the joy of perfect intimacy with no taint of anything impure or unclean.
And when all things are made new like that we have the amazing promise that God will take away the pain of all things past – he will wipe the tears from our eyes and not only will there be no new death or new pain, but even the pain of the past will be taken away, there will be no crying, no mourning, all our hurts will be taken away and replaced with Joy unimaginable. Jesus will make everything new, wonderful, glorious, amazing – he will make everything in his own image, as it should be.
How can we illustrate what this will be like? It will be like that moment in the evening when parents put the house back as it should be – all the toys away, all the books back on the shelf, order restored, chaos undone – perhaps a nice glass of wine, feet up, adult conversation; like that, but infinitely better and not excluding the children.
It will be like the master painter unveiling his greatest masterpiece after long years when it has been subject to questioning and doubt – and revealing a work so wonderful that it reduces critics to tears of joy and wonder; like that only infinitely better;
It will be like the arrival of holidays after the longest term – like that but infinitely better;
It will be like the end of long decades of war when peace is finally restored and fear gives way to joy; like that only infinitely better;
It will be like the end of the most fearsome storm when the danger passes; it will be like the breaking of the longest drought when rain finally falls; it will be like winning the Olympics and the Premier League and the Lottery; it will be like getting married; it will be like welcoming your child into the world; it will be like coming back to life from the dead, all at once and over and over and over – only it will be infinitely better than all of those things.
How can we possibly grasp the magnitude of that joy when death is done away with. When Satan is cast down, when sin is no more and when we will see God face to face and live with him. When Jesus returns to judge the living and the death it will be the end of all that is wrong and the beginning of eternity where there will be only good. This is the climax, the completion, the goal and prize of all God's work in the world. Jesus will be vindicated, his people will be overjoyed and evil will be overturned and then forgotten.
And that leads us very quickly into our two last points. Since Jesus' return to judge is certain, absolute and final. And since it is the end of evil and the beginning of perfection it is also our great hope and therefore our purpose, our task.
Let me unpack each of those very briefly.
Jesus' Return to Judge is our Hope
This speaks for itself doesn't it? The judge is Jesus – our saviour, our King, the one who loved us so much he consented to make himself one of us, born of a lowly virgin, rejected and crucified, so that we could live. The one who loves us more than life itself will come back to rule forever more. He has already endured the punishment we deserve, taken it away on himself as our scapegoat. When he returns the second time it will be the reversal of all evil, the vindication of the good, the rescue of the persecuted, the final yes and amen to the beautitudes – 'blessed are the poor, the persecuted, the meek' etc. It will be worth holding on for.
There is nothing in this world worth living for, worth dying for, nothing in this world that can justify the great suffering of the world, that can make the wrongs of this world right and give us hope in the face of brutal reality. But Jesus return to end evil and to bring a renewed creation does all that. Put your hope here and you will never be disappointed – any where else and you will be constantly disappointed. Paul spends 58 verses in 1 Cor 15 talking about the resurrection and he ends with these words
54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."
55 "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.
Death is not the end. Jesus has triumphed, and we will be included in that great victory. Therefore there is hope, our labour is not in vain – so stand firm. And that leads to my last, very brief point:
Jesus' return is our Hope, and therefore it is also our Task, our Purpose
Our task now, our purpose is to live for that day – to prepare ourselves now so that on that day will not be caught out. First and foremost this means godliness –preparing for the life to come and not exposed when Jesus returns (Kevin DeYoung suggests a new WWJD bracelet WWJDIHCBAFMDT?); and second this means proclaiming the news that Jesus is LORD, full, final and absolute authority has been given to him and every person will face him as judge, all must be prepared to meet him.
So let me finish again with plea to you all – are you ready for Jesus return? If not what do you need to set right? If you've never put your faith in Jesus sort it out, don't leave it too late. And if you're a Christian, but you've lost sight of that day, you're indulging sin, or living for things that are passing away sort it out. As Hebrews 12 says throw off everything that hinders and the sin that entangles - get rid of the obstacles that are keeping you from godliness and from pursuing Jesus. Sort it out now before Jesus back.
And evangelism? And prayer for the lost? And mission? And growing the church by making disciples? Your labour for the Lord is not in vain – but everything else is, so let's pray and work to God's praise and glory.