“He will come again to judge the living and the dead”
Read: John5:16-23 & 2Timothy4:1
The next line of the creed contains two important statements, namely:
1 – That Christians believe that Jesus Christ will return to earth
2 – That Jesus Christ will judge not just ‘the earth’ in a corporate sense, but the individuals that have populated the earth throughout time.
We’ll now spend a little time thinking about these two important statements of belief.
Jesus Christ will return:
Read: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:1
The return of Christ (often called the second coming) is an important principle in the New Testament. That Christ, who has been raised and ascended to the Father, will return is talked about in numerous passages of Scripture such as the verses above in 1Thessalonians.
In particular the Apocalyptic writing of John in the book of Revelation paints a vivid and at times difficult to understand picture of the return of Christ and the events leading up to it.
Although the New Testament speaks of the certainty of Christ’s return it doesn’t ever make reference to exactly when it will be. Indeed in his lifetime Jesus himself said that not even the Son knows the day or the hour, only the Father. Despite Jesus himself not knowing when his return will be there are numerous Christian sects and individuals that claim to be able to predict the second coming – it seems the Father has entrusted them with a greater level of knowledge than he has the Son of Man! Although any such predictions are to be ignored that Christ will at some point return, is not to be.
But what does this mean for us as we go about daily life?
For starters it does not mean that we ought to ignore the here and now. It I sometimes the case that the eventual return of Christ leads Christians to abandon any real interest in the here and now – preferring to think only about the time to come – which is usually though to be immanent. St Paul has strong words for such people, referring to them as ‘those who refuse to work’ due to their abandoning of the here and now – the words are not supportive as Paul reminds the early Church to very much live fully in the here and now, albeit mindful of Christ’s return.
That Christ will return is to have a dramatic effect on our day to day existence. As well as saying that the eventual return of Christ ought to cause us to do good in the here and now, St Paul also reminds us that – in the words of Rowan Williams “…if we live in the light of the imminent coming of Christ, we need a profound detachment from the pressures of the here and now; we need a sense of what does matter and what doesn’t in our lives…”
Ultimately Jesus return will usher in the fullness of the reign of the Kingdom of God over all creation. It is the first page of the closing chapter as it were. And what joy awaits when the final chapter is done – every tear wiped away, creation restored, the presence of God made known in glory, redemption complete.
Reflect, discuss, and pray: Is your life characterized by a ‘profound detachment from the PRESSURES of the here and now? (Note, the question is not ‘is you life characterized by a profound detachment from the here and now…’) If not, what are the pressures of the here and now that enslave, threaten, or cause you worry and anxiety? Are you able to adjust your perspective on these things with the knowledge that one day Christ will return and the cares and concerns of this life will be no more?
Why not compile a list of the things that matter most in your life? Also compile a list of the things that do not matter and yet claim to matter very much, and / or a list of things that apparently do not matter and yet do matter in the light of Christ’s return. Are there any things in these lists that need to be removed from one list and placed into another? If so, do this and pray for one another that your perspective may be altered.
Moving on from the return of Christ we now turn to think about the second of the statements that we began with. That when Christ returns he will do something quite specific – namely judge all people. Those who are alive at the time of his coming and also those who are dead. This is sometimes called the ‘first resurrection’ in the bible – being raised for Judgment.
Judgment has deeply negative connotations within our society. How many times have we heard someone on a day time chat show say ‘don’t judge me…’ when confessing some terrible behaviour or the like? (if your answer is more than 10 times please repent in sack cloth and ashes for watching to much daytime TV – joke!)
It’s not just on daytime TV that the phrase is heard. Throughout almost all spheres of modern society the idea than anyone might sit in judgment of another’s actions or decisions is deemed a terrible affront to the autonomy of the individual – society judges those who judge very harshly (…and in that lies the irony.)
And yet, despite it being socially passé, judgment (more accurately translated ‘crisis’ from the Greek) is talked about quite a lot in scripture. So what do the scriptures have to say about this judgment?
Jesus Christ will judge all people
Hebrews 9:27 says “man is destined to die once, and after that face judgment” no-one escapes death and at the last no-one escapes judgment. For centuries, certainly since the early ancient Egyptian era, it has been understood that in life there can be no complete justice – justice can never fully be done. And so the idea that eventually, after death if not in life, justice can fully be done, has long figured in the hopes of man – especially those who are wronged in this life and have no recourse to justice. Within the Christian tradition this is certainly true, Jesus Christ, the one from whom nothing is hidden, will call all to account.
Discuss: How do you feel in talking about the judgment of Christ, inescapable as it is? Is your response one of nervousness? Fear? Confidence? Why is your response as it is?
Moving on - beyond this assertion what else can be said about judgment in the context of Christian faith?
Christ himself is the judge and he knows us fully
In his book ‘I Believe’ Rev Prof Alister McGrath says this:
“We need not fear a superficial judgment based on inadequate knowledge of us ad our situation.”
God knows us fully (Psalm139). Often, even before people revealed anything of themselves to Christ, Jesus would tell them things that only they knew. This thought might be, on the face of it, disturbing, as we’re remember that nothing can be hidden from God. But, as Alister McGrath suggests, in actual fact this ought to be deeply re-assuring – we will be treated perfectly fairly at the hands of God – there will be no miscarriages of justice!
This alone though is not enough to re-assure, for in reality it still means that even the things that we can hide from others, the things of which we are ashamed, will be laid bare before Christ, but this is not the whole story because…
We are judged by someone who loves us enough to die for us
Christ, as judge, as well as fully knowing us, also cares deeply for us. Infact so deep is his concern for us, that he was willing to endure injustice and ultimately death for our sake.
Christ then is not a dis-connected, impassive judge un-concerned with those whom he is judging. Quite the reverse, he is a judge who knows what it is to receive judgment. He is deeply involved rather than impassive, and his concern for those who stand before him knows no bounds.
Far from the judge being a mysterious and unknown figure…
We are judged by someone that we know and trust
Our judge knows us fully, sacrificed his own life for us, and has asked us to place our trust in him in life that we would be called his followers.
It’s interesting how we find it (at times at least) relatively easy to trust Christ during life, but then much harder to do so as we picture ourselves standing before him. Lying behind this is most likely stands the idea that we trust Christ in life because we can hide things from him, therefore feel assured of his favour. But when all is laid bare we’re less certain of Jesus favour and so less able to trust him. And yet this is not true. In life as in judgment, nothing is hidden. If we are able to trust Christ in life, then we are able to trust Christ in judgment – he has not changed and neither have we. Assured of his mercy in life, we can be assured of his mercy in judgment too. In life we have placed our trust in Christ, and in judgment we can do the same,
Read Hebrews 4:16
We may approach the throne of grace with confidence as judgment holds no fear - we are justified by Christ
And here comes the crunch point.
In Romans 5:1 St Paul says “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”
And here we meet one of the central and most important doctrines in Christianity – that we are justified by faith. This cornerstone of the reformation asserts that it is not by obedience, or by doing good, or by works of charity, or by zeal in Christian living, that we are judged and found to be blameless – but that our blamelessness in the sight of God is made possible by the sacrifice of Christ, and made ours in faith.
It is not that God forgets our sin, or even that God pretends we’ve never sinned, rather that in faith God imputes to us the very righteousness of Christ. Which means, on the day of judgment, we are, to pick up a New Testament metaphor, ‘in Christ’. This means that the ground of our justification is the vicarious work of Christ for us. It means that the ground of our justification is a gift graciously given to us.
This is striking language and a striking picture of judgment. A picture that leaves no room for fear and anxiety.
Reflect, Discuss, and Pray: When viewed in light of Christ’s work on our behalf does the idea of judgment take on a different ‘feel’?
How do the assertions above shape and change our view of the inevitable judgment that we all face?
It might be good to spend some time praying that each other would know the assurance that God offers to those in Christ.
Close by meditating on Paul’s words in Romans8:33-35.