Summary: Christ came the first time as Savior, and will return as Judge. Justice is certain. It may not be immediate, but it is inevitable…if not in this life, surely in the next.
“I Believe”—a sermon series on the Apostles Creed
The Judgment of Christ >John 5:18-29 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
One glorious day, God will ring down the final curtain on history, and time will be no more. Judgment Day--the Day of the Lord--will come. We have hints in the Bible as to when this will happen, but no one knows the exact time. Some people claim it will happen soon, in our lifetime; they could be right, but they cannot know for sure. Jesus said, “No one knows about the day or hour, not even the angels in Heaven” (Mark 13). Christ’s return in judgment is imminent, meaning it could happen at any time. When I was in the Army I joked that I had a “Top-Sacred” security clearance, meaning I had access to the prophetic timetable!
The Bible assures us that good will ultimately triumph over evil, and that all tears will be wiped from our eyes, but what it does not give is the specifics as to how things will unfold. Much of the prophetic passages of Scripture are poetic, filled with images and symbols that peak our curiosity--but can also, if we’re not careful, lead us to over-explain and make dogmatic pronouncements. There’ve been many disappointed sky-watchers. It’s fine to believe you have a fairly clear idea of how things will play out, but it’s presumptuous to sound like a doomsday prophet. We need to avoid 2 extremes—apathy about the Second Coming of Christ, and becoming obsessed over it. We’re told to be watching, waiting, and ready. That’s all. We need to trust the details to God. When we read the book of Revelation, we may feel bewildered. The first time I read it, I realized there was a lot to this book I didn’t know, which led me to discover why Jesus died. The basic message of prophecy is that God’s in control of history. We don’t have to worry about the future; God’s got it all worked out. We can also be comforted to know that God is equally in charge of today.
On that Last Day, Jesus will emerge as Judge. He will be sent for this express purpose. This may seem confusing, because we don’t see Him as a Judge in the Gospels. In fact, Jesus states that He “did not come to judge the world, but to save it” (John 12:47). But that’s His first coming. We read those words and feel safe…but Jesus will return. Someone said, “I’ve got good news and bad news—the good news is that Jesus is coming back; the bad news is that He’s not too happy!” Jesus came the first time as the world’s Savior; when He returns it will be as the world’s Judge. All who reject His mercy will feel His wrath. Jesus says that on that Day, “the angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous” (Mt 13:49). The Father has entrusted all judgment to the Son. Jesus explains in John 9:39, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see may become blind.”
“The One who judges us most finally is the One who loves us most fully” (Bueckner). Christ’s love sees us with utmost clarity. He loves us so much that He is ruthless against anything in us that diminishes our joy.
We live in an unjust world, where evil goes unpunished, and life often seems unfair. We wonder, “Why isn’t God doing anything about wicked people?” Well, that is an assumption based on insufficient information. God does things we know nothing about. And, when someone seems to get away with a crime, we can know that justice is certain. It may not be immediate, but it is inevitable…if not in this life, surely in the next.
Many people figure that everyone will be forgiven and make it to Heaven. At first thought, universal salvation seems like a marvelous, gracious thing…but as we consider the evil actions of unrepentant people, it would be unjust to reward their depravity. Should God forgive people who’ve spent a lifetime refusing His mercy? Such people wouldn’t even appreciate Heaven because of their heart attitude. Judgment is self-inflicted; it follows from the deliberate choice of evil rather than good. To them, Jesus says in John’s Gospel, “This is the judgment, that the light from Heaven has come into the world, but people loved darkness rather than light because their actions were evil…all who reject Me and My message will be judged at the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken” (John 3:19, 12:48). Salvation is promised to all who believe in Jesus; those who refuse salvation condemn themselves.
The Apostles Creed states that Jesus will “come to judge the living and the dead”. He comes to reward those spiritually alive and punish those spiritually dead. Judgment upon believers is both a positive appraisal of their service and a presentation of rewards. The Bible talks about “crowns” being given to faithful followers of Christ. This is a familiar scene to soldiers, who receive medals at awards ceremonies. The worst-case scenario soldiers of Christ can anticipate is a lack of reward. At the Judgment seat of Christ, what we’ve done for God will be rewarded, but it will also be pointed out what we could have done--the open doors we passed by, the talents we chose not to develop and use for Him, the people we could have encouraged, the acts of kindness we neglected. There may be some regrets in Heaven, for failing to use opportunities to express our faith. We are not saved by what we do, but genuine faith produces good works. A committed Christian life is the natural outgrowth of authentic faith. Luke poses a sober question to us: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (18:8).