Sunday, August 03, 2014

The Christian and the End Times

End is Near
Image: Some rights reserved by Kentucky Photo File

In our last discussion we looked at the events of the end times and the role of the Church. Like we did in that earlier discussion we shall in discussing the Christian and the end times first spend some time on some other aspects of the end times before we look at what the Christian is expected to do.

The event climaxing the judgments in which this age will end, bringing in the full salvation of the righteous in the age to come is the Advent of Christ. The Bible records that He will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire. The Lord Jesus Christ will then inflict vengeance upon those who do not know God nor obey the Gospel. At the same time, He will be glorified in His saints and will marvel at the number who have believed (Second Thessalonians 1:7ff) The event is often described in terms that reflect the Old Testament usage of the “Day of the Lord” (Acts 2:20; First Thessalonians 5:3) Whether it is called “the Day of God” (Second Peter 3:12) or “the last Day” (John 6:39) or just “that Day” (Matthew 7:22); there can be no doubt that the figure of the glorious Christ will be at the centre of this final revelation of God. The New Testament phrase “the day of the Lord Jesus Christ” (First Corinthians 5:5; Second Corinthians 1:14); the “Day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (First Corinthians 1:8); “the Day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6); and the “Day of Christ” (Philippians 1:10); all designate the time of the Second Advent. When He returns a second time, it will be a public event. “Every eye will see Him” and “all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him” (Revelation 1:7). It will be a glorious coming. They will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory (Mark 13:26). It will be personal: “The same Jesus” (Acts 1:11) who walked with His disciples in Galilee and Judea, will come again to take His own to Himself (John 14:3)

Resurrection of the Dead and the Rapture

Left Behind
Photo by Analogick (License)
Though even the wicked will be raised when Christ comes (John 5:29; Revelation 20:12-13) in the New Testament, resurrection is principally set forth as a blessing i.e. the redemption of the body from the power of death and the grave. The apostolic proclamation of the resurrection is based on the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. It is He who, by His resurrection, “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light” the new age manifests itself not only in Jesus’ resurrection on, but also in the new life that believers experience in Him. (Romans 6:4; Ephesians 2:5-6; Colossians 3:1-3), which makes the Church an Eschatological community. This new order of existence, however, is preliminary and anticipatory; it is a life that will be fully realized only in the resurrection at the Parousia. Jesus is “the first fruit of them that sleep” (First Corinthians 15:20) and “we know that when He appears we shall be like Him” (First John 3:2) There is this confident hope because many have been delivered from death to life; “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren” (First John 3:14). “If the Spirit of Him who raised Christ from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through His Spirit which dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11) then shall this mortal put on immortality, this corruption shall put on in-corruption, and then death shall lose its sting and be swallowed up in victory. (First Corinthians 15:53ff)

At the moment of the resurrection, those who are alive shall be changed “in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (First Corinthians 15:52) and all together shall be raptured i.e. “caught up in the air... to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we always be with the Lord” (Second Thessalonians 4:17) The wicked on the other hand, supposing they are safe, shall be surprised as by a thief in the night (Matthew 24:42-43) and overtaken by the sudden destruction that shall come upon them (First Thessalonians 5:2ff) Though they be working in the same field, grinding at the same mill, even sleeping in the same bed with the righteous (Matthew 24:41, Luke 17:33-35), they shall be left behind, as were the sinners in Noah’s day (Matthew 24:38-390; and the inhabitants of Sodom, when Lot departed the doomed city. Then the wheat shall be separated from the tares (Matthew 13:24-30’ 36-43), and the sheep from the goats forever (Matthew 25:32-33)

As an aside, there is a new movie coming out soon that attempts to capture the chaos immediately after the rapture. This is not an endorsement but a heads up on what might be an interesting film (UPDATED August 6, 2014):

The Last Judgment

The last judgement
Image courtesy of sscreations /
God is the Sovereign Lord of History, who reveals Himself not only as Redeemer, but also as Judge. He took vengeance on Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt; He rained down fire on the Sodomites. He scattered Israel among the nations for their sins. In the Old Testament, the “the day of the Lord” was a day of God’s judgment of the wicked, a day of darkness and gloom. The Jews as well as the Gentiles are under the judgment of God. The same fate awaits the heathen who rage and imagine vain things against the Lord and His anointed. Perhaps the most awesome vision in the Apocalypse  is that of the fall of Babylon the great, symbol of the godless world order concentrated in the state and dominated by Satan (Revelation 17:1-19:4)

The One who shall administer this judgment is Jesus Christ. The day will come in which “He, God will judge the world in righteousness by a Man, whom He has appointed” (Acts 17:31; 10:42) That day “when  ... God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus”(Romans 2:16) will be the time of the Parousia, “when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious Throne” and judge the nations, separating the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:32-36). At the end of this age, “the Son of Man will send His angels, and they will gather out of His Kingdom all causes of sin and all evil doers and throw them into the furnace of fire ... then the righteous will shine like the sun” (Matthew 13:41-43)

One of the best pictures of the last judgment is drawn by John. In one passage the picture is in the realistic, dynamic terms of battle action. Seated on a white horse at the head of a great army, One whose name is “Faithful and True” rides forth to judge the wicked in righteousness. “From His mouth proceeds a sharp sword with which He smites the nations. His robe is dipped in blood and He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God” (Revelation 19:11-15). In another passage, the judgment is forensic in nature. The Judge is seated on a great white Throne before which the dead stand to receive sentence, according to what is recorded in the books and according to whether or not their names are written in the “Book of Life” (Revelation 20:11ff)

The Standard of Judgment: Grace and Works

Even in this life, by virtue of God’s justifying grace, Paul could declare that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) He who believes in Christ, is justified from all things, from which he could not be justified by the law of Moses (Acts 13:39). By contrast, he who believes not is already condemned (John 3:18). When the Day of Judgment dawns, the wicked already accused by evil conscience, will call to the mountains to fall on them and cover them from the wrath of the Lamb (Revelation 6:16) But believers need not shrink  from Him in shame at His Coming (First John 2:28); but “may have confidence for the Day of Judgment.” (First John 4:17)

There are some pressing questions that such a representation evokes. For one, if justification by faith has this eschatological implication, if being now justified assures one that he shall be saved from the wrath of God (Romans 5:9); if no one can bring a charge against God’s elect, or condemn him for whom Christ died (Romans 8:33); is not the Final Judgment evacuated of all meaning? Does the believer not have a pass into the heavenly city? How then can Paul say that all must appear “before the Judgment Seat of Christ” to receive good or evil according to what he has done in the body? (Second Corinthians 5:10) One must not make a bagatelle of such a solemn statement in the name of grace as though it were appointed to men once to die and after this the judgment (Hebrews 9:27), for those who are not Christians only. Whereas the Christian, as a citizen of the heavenly country, has a scroll and wears a wedding garment marking him as an invited guest to the marriage supper of the Lamb, there is surely an awesome accounting that he must render for the manner in which he had lived his life. Whereas grace and works are mutually exclusive principles in justification, grace does not exclude works. Good works are the fruit of grace, and he whose life has been unfruitful will give answer for his lack of stewardship. The New Testament does not offer cheap grace.

In First Corinthians 3:10ff Paul used the figure of a building to illustrate this truth. The foundation is Jesus Christ (grace), but on this foundation each believer builds a superstructure (works). Let him take care how he does his work. If he builds “with gold, silver and precious stones”, his works in that “Day” will stand the fire of judgment; but if he uses “wood, hay and stubble” his works shall be burned; He “himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (First Corinthians 3:15) The importance of good deeds is also evident in the parable of Jesus that in the judgment the King will tell the righteous that in visiting those in prison, helping those who were sick, clothing the naked, and feeding the hungry, they did it as to Him (Matthew25:34). Without such credentials, it will do no good to call Him “Lord!” for not everyone “shall enter the Kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father” (Matthew 7:21)

In the judgment scene of Revelation 20, this dualism of grace and works seems to be the key to understanding the distinction between the “Books” and the “Book”. Books were opened “and the dead were judged by what is written in them”; that is, by what they have done. But there is another Book called “The Book of Life”, and to have one’s name written in that Book is salvation.

The Final Consummation (Heaven)

As the Scripture employs terrifying figures in speaking of the fate of the wicked (worm, remorse, grinding of teeth; frustration, darkness, separation from God who is light, it uses equally evocative figures in speaking of the bliss of the righteous. This bliss is called heaven. Heaven is the place where God is; and the final hope of God’s people is to dwell with Him. That He may be their God and they His people, in unbroken fellowship.

Heaven is set forth in Scripture under many figures. It is the “Sabbath rest” (Hebrews 4:9) lost in the first creation by man’s sin and restored by Him who said “Come to Me ... and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28); it is the “Marriage Supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:7-9), marriage feasts being supremely joyous occasions in Biblical times; it is a Lovely Home, a mansion in the sky. “In My Father’s house” says Jesus, “are many mansions” (John 14:2). Heaven is a land, that “better country” of which the author of Hebrews wrote (Hebrews 11:13-16); “it is a bright, white, opalescent city with golden streets, pearly gates, and jasper walls; a perfect cube in measurement” (Revelation 21:9ff); it is “Paradise Regained”; a new Eden without a serpent and with the “Tree of Life” (Revelation 22:1-5).

In this new order, God shall reign supreme. All His and man’s enemies – sin, Satan and death, shall be overcome (Revelation 20:10ff; First Corinthians 15:26). His people, living and reigning with Him, will enjoy eternal life. This is the “Kingdom of God” or the “Kingdom of heaven” consummated (Matthew 25:34, 46; Mark 10:17, 24)

What should the Christian do?

We have so far discussed events marking the Second Coming of our Lord, which mark the beginning of the end of this age. We have also discussed the resurrection of the dead – good and bad, a part of the series of events marking the end times. We have discussed also the judgment and the standard of the judgment. We have discussed the position of grace and works. We discussed also the ultimate consummation of the Christian’s hope – heaven – the abode of God with His saints. As we look forward to the consummation of this hope, what should the Christian do? The Bible answered this question very concisely. We had better read it together in First Thessalonians 5.

“But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labour pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night; nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.  Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing. And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labour among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.  Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good.  Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.   Brethren, pray for us.  Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss. I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen. (NKJV)

God bless you all.

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