We’re all still alive, so the world did not end a week ago on Saturday. Did you hear about this? This Christian numerologist claimed the bible gave numerical clues that the world was going to end on Sept. 23. No, surprise, he’s changed his calculations. Now he says it’s October 21 instead. I guess he forgot to carry the 2 or something.
People have always been fascinated with the end of the world. From Nostradamus to the Mayan calendar. Do you remember that? The world ending in Dec. 2012.
But it’s not just the past. Look at the news today: hurricanes like we’ve never seen more, wars in Afghanistan, Syria, Turkey… all over the globe. I had someone ask me last week on a Connection Card: Is this the end of the world? My short answer: I don’t know… and neither does anyone else. Jesus was repeatedly clear that we won’t know when the end will come, so we should always be ready. We just don’t know.
One of my principles of reading the Bible is when I face something that isn’t clear, I start with what is clear. So, today, we’re gonna talk about two things from the Apostles Creed about the end of the world that are very clear.
But first, as we do each week, let’s read the whole Apostle’s Creed. This Creed has been part of the church for nearly 2,000 years, and it’s a great summary of the major beliefs of Christianity.
I believe in God,
the Father Almighty
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ,
God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate
was crucified, died, and was buried;
On the third day, he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of Father
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy universal Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Up to today, the Creed has talked about things that have happened in the past:
- God created heaven and earth
- He sent his Son, 2nd person of the Trinity
- Jesus was born
- He was crucified & buried
- He rose from the dead & ascended
So, that all happened in the past. Now presently:
- He is sitting at the right hand of the Father
Today, we move to the future with this phrase: and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Now some of you just got anxious. Your defenses went up. The air in there just got a little thicker. Because we’re going to be talking about judgment today. All the other ones, people get really excited about. But this… not so much. This phrase refers to two events that create some anxiety: the second coming of Christ and the Final judgment.
But first, let’s talk about the idea of judgment. Most of us, if not all of us, don’t like it. You don’t like it when your parents judge you. Or if you have a friend that’s really judgmental. And most of us would probably agree with the statement that Christians shouldn’t be judgmental. (It is one of the biggest criticisms against Christians—that we can be so judgmental. Rightly so.) So, chances are high that you don’t like judgment.
However, you probably like justice. It’s a huge theme in our country right now. The football players kneeling during the national anthem—that’s about justice. They are protesting what they see as injustices against African-Americans. Even he Charlottesville Unite the Right protest was about what some white Americans see as injustices against them.
We all want justice but not judgment. But here’s the catch—it’s the same thing. Truthfully, we all actually want judgment. We want those who do wrong to be held accountable and punished. We want justice. We just don’t want it for ourselves. We want justice when somebody hurts somebody else; we want grace when we do it. So, as we talk about judgment, keep an open mind. Judgment is a good. Judgment is justice.
This part of the Apostle’s Creed talks about two intrinsically linked events: Jesus’ second coming and the final judgment. I want to give a one-sentence summary of the first part and go into more detail on the second part.
If you collect about a dozen verses in the New Testament explicitly talking about Jesus’ second comings, it paints the following picture:
Christ’s return will be:
- Sudden – Jesus repeatedly said, “You need to be ready. He’ll return when you don’t expect it”
- Personal – Jesus said that HE would come down. Just as personal as his departure
- Visible – Very obvious; everyone will know it. Clouds, power, glory, trumpets, angel’s calls
- Bodily – Not spiritual return. Jesus will come back in a physical body just like he left
There’s a lot of debate and disagreement about Jesus’ return, particularly the timing and order of events. We’re not going to get into that today. But there is one thing that is agreed upon by everyone who takes the Bible as their authority: the result of his return is the judgment of believers and unbelievers, the living and the dead.
I want to answer three questions today about Final Judgment:
- Who will be judged?
- On what basis will they be judged?
- What are the consequence of judgment?
We have a little less time today, so I’m gonna keep these answers pretty simple. I’m going to give you a survey of a handful of verses from the New Testament that answer this question.
1. Who will be judged?
Jesus answered this question when he taught about the final judgment:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another… (Matthew 25:31-32)
Scripture is indisputable on this answer: everyone will be judged. Everyone who has ever lived will be judged by Jesus sitting on the throne. There will not be any group or person or race or ethnicity that will not be judged by Jesus. The phrase we find in the Apostles Creed, "the living and the dead," means that whoever is alive when Jesus comes will get judged and, whoever has already died will get judged.
2. On what basis will they be judged?
I want to share with you two seemingly contradictory verses
Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24)
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
So, according to Jesus recorded in John, we will be judged on what we believe about Jesus and what we believe about the one who sent Jesus, i.e. the Father. And according to Paul, we will be judged on our behaviors. We will be judged on whether we do good things in our life or bad things in our life.
So, what is it? Are we judged by our belief in Jesus or by our actions? It's both. We see that throughout Scripture. But here's the catch. Here's the reason we can't simply dismiss one or the other. Our belief in Christ results in doing good. If you're not doing good, the breakdown isn't in your behavior or your schedule or your intentions, it's in your love and obedience to Christ. That's why these two seemingly contradictory things can co-exist in Scripture. It's because doing good is a by-product of our belief and love of Christ
3. What are the consequences of judgment?
Let me read to you out of Romans 2. The first two chapters of Romans have this amazing passage about judgment. Hre's a section of it:
God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. (Romand 2:6-8)
Jesus described this same thing: the unrighteous will go to eternal punishment and the righteous to eternal life. We don't like to think about this--at least half of this. We don't' like the idea that some people will be sent to hell to be apart from God forever. To be outside of all that is good and lovely and trustworthy, to have all of that gone in your life. That's painful to think about.
But here’s the thing. I probably have not told you anything you haven’t heard in church before. Now, if you haven’t been to church much or at all, this might be new information to you. But, for a lot of you, I think this is exactly what you would expect a pastor in church to say.
So, it leaves us with an obvious question: What difference does this make? I have two SO WHATS for today: one for those of you who believe this, and another one for those who don’t.
First, for those that believe what the Bible says about Jesus returning and judging everyone. There is one consistent command that accompanies Jesus’ teaching about the Final Judgment. Be alert and ready. I could give you half a dozen passages that say the same thing: be alert, be on your guard, watch for it.
But why? If this stuff is happening in the future, what difference does it make today? Think about last week:
- Did Jesus’ return figure in how you spent your time?
- Did it fill you with hope as you faced a trial or crisis?
- Did it enable you to resist temptation, as you thought about standing before Him on that great day?
- Did it determine how you spent your money as a steward who will give an account?
- Did you even think at all about Christ’s soon coming as you went about your week?
I’ll admit to you: I don’t think Jesus’ return affected my choices much this week. And I was preaching on it!
And now, for those of you who don’t believe this. That’s okay, but you need to understand two things. First, you’re rejecting a basic premise of biblical and historical Christianity for the last 2,000 years. That means you might not actually be a Christian. You might be something else. You might be your own definition of Christian. But you're not what the Church has called Christian for a couple thousand years.
Second, I want to ask you a question. Are you rejecting it because it’s not true or you don’t want it to be true? Simply because we don't like something doesn't mean it's not true. We can't pick and choose what we want reality to be. So, wrestle with that.