[B26] The Apostles' Creed: Christ's Return To Judgment
The true children of God have nothing to fear so far as the great Judgment is concerned, for the Judge before whom they shall appear is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Table of Contents
26. Christ’s Return To Judgment
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory. And before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats. And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: Then shall he say unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. — St. Matt. 25:31—34, 41.
The Second Article of the Apostles' Creed begins and ends with a statement concerning Christ’s coming. The first coming is set forth in the words, “Conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.” This was the coming of the eternal Son of God in the flesh, in meekness and lowliness, to seek and save the children of men. This coming is a fact of history. We celebrate it in special manner during the Advent and Christmas season. The second coming is yet a matter of prophecy. Jesus Christ, in the adorable mystery of His Divine-human nature, is continually coming to men and nations. He is coming to comfort, strengthen and bless his people. He is coming in the events of world-history. He is coming in acts of judgment. But when the last chapter of earthly human history has been written, Jesus Christ is going to put His finis to it all by again appearing on the earth. His coming will be to give final settlement to earthly affairs; to distribute the rewards of life’s labors to the children of men; to assign the finally godless, impenitent, and unbelieving to the realm of their own choosing, the state and condition toward which they have been constantly gravitating during life; to take with Him into endless life and glory all those who nurtured their lives in the sunlight of grace and truth, of which Jesus Himself is the source, the luminous and radiating center.
Let us for our morning meditation consider this subject at greater length. We will take as our subject
Christ’s Return to Judgment
The Judge, the Judgment, and after the Judgment are the three points around which we shall group the more important truths which God’s Word reveals to us on this absorbingly interesting and important subject.
1. The True Children of God
The true children of God have nothing to fear so far as the great Judgment is concerned, for the Judge before whom they shall appear is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our Creed, after setting forth the facts of Jesus' resurrection, ascension, and the assumption of the throne of power and glory in heaven, closes the article with these words, “From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” This is in perfect accord with the teaching of all Scripture. In the New Testament one passage out of approximately every twenty-five treats, in one way or another, of Christ’s second coming, and the Judgment therewith connected. This is such an outstanding truth that few passages need be quoted in proof. In St. Matthew we read these words: “They shall see the Son of Man Coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (24:30, 31). In the Gospel according to St. John we read this clear statement, “The Father judgeth no men, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son. … As the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself; and hath given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man” (5:22, 26, 27). This was one of the fundamental truths Peter was inspired to proclaim to the gentiles in the home of Cornelius. “We are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: Him God raised up the third day, and shewed Him openly; not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with Him after He rose from the dead.” And you will remember how the angels came to admonish the disciples, who were gazing into the heavens whence Jesus had disappeared, not to stand idly, but put their hands to the awaiting work; for “this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.”
The Judge of all the world, then, shall be Jesus Christ, the God-man; the One who was born of the Virgin at Bethlehem, the One who bears the marks of the nails in His hands, and the scars of the pricking thorns on His brow; the One who now sits exalted on heaven’s throne. The One who came to give His life to save the world is the One who is to come to judge the world.
The world is not yet through with Jesus Christ. Many wish they were, act as if they were; it is doubtful whether there are many who, in their hearts, really believe it; if they do they are going to be disillusioned. Jesus still stands at the parting of the way for all men. And as He now, as the King of heaven, is working to apply to the souls of men His redemptive work, so He is going to return to square accounts.
When Jesus comes to judgment He is going to come visibly, with power and great glory. There will be no room then for questioning about His person, His authority, or His purpose as there was at His first coming. Men could know these things then when they wanted to, as we can know them now if we want to; in that day men cannot fail to know. In that day Jesus is going to command, not plead; and whether they want to or not they will have to obey. He is going to come in glory, not in humility; in power, not in weakness.
Brethren, are we ready to meet this Judge? Are we so using the gifts of His grace that we need not fear the manifestation of His power? Are we now so enjoying His fellowing, do we so truly know His nature, that the thought of Him in His role as Judge is free of all elements of fear? Blessed are we if it is so.
2. The Judgment
Bearing in mind the person and character of the Judge, and it is necessary for the comfort of the believing, as well as a warning for the unbelieving, that this be borne in mind, let us proceed to consider the judgment itself.
That there is to be a judgment, that all the deeds of the present life of each human being are to be weighed in the balance and adjusted in accordance with the principle of unerring justice, is a conviction as widespread as the races of men. Man’s own conscience is an ineradicable witness to the fact of a coming judgment. But our certainty rests on God’s revealed Word. Jesus has told us that there is to be a judgment, and that He is to be the judge. We have never seen Jesus Christ in visible form, but we shall see Him, and our first glimpse of Him will be when He comes to sit in judgment.
Guilty souls, allowing their wishes to become father to their thoughts, often deny that there will be a judgment, universal, thoroughgoing and final. The Apostle tells us of those in his day who said: “Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” Let us not be deceived. The world waited for millenniums for Christ’s first coming, but He came. The world has waited long for His second coming, and may have to wait for centuries still, but He is going to come. Of this there can be no doubt.
In spite of the fact that the Scriptures most explicitly tells us that it is not given to the sons of men to know the time of the Judgment, that even the very angels in heaven do not know it, there has always been a great deal of speculation as to the time when it is going to take place. Individuals, and even bodies of men, have gone so far, more than once, as to set the exact day. The event has always exhibited their folly. And it will never be otherwise.
The Bible does speak of signs which are to precede Christ’s coming to Judgment, but men have usually given more attention to what may be called the spectacular signs to be witnessed in the heavenly bodies and on earth, concerning which we can have no certain knowledge until they have been fulfilled; and the least to that about which, in a sense, they may know more. Jesus tells us that when the Gospel has been carried to all nations then shall be the end. When the last soul shall have been given the opportunity to accept Christ, when the last name written in the book of life has been checked off, then the end shall come. And it is going to come suddenly, and to most people unexpectedly. “Be ye therefore ready also, for the Son of Man cometh at an hour when ye think not” (St. Luke 12:40).
When the hour comes, set of God, but unknown to men, and angels, then Jesus the Judge will appear in the heavens, surrounded by the angel hosts. The call shall go forth which shall effectually summon to that throne not only the living millions scattered over the face of all the earth, but awaken and bring the myriads of those who have gone to sleep the long sleep in the dust of the earth. Not one will be overlooked, not one will escape. “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10). The all of St. Paul means the all, as Christ says in our text, of all nations. The dead shall be raised incorruptible, with immortal natures, the quick, the living, shall be changed so as to possess the same kind of a nature.
With humanity assembled before Him, the great Judge will proceed to pass sentence. How much of the conception usually entertained about the process of carrying out the judgment will be realized I do not know, and I do not care to know. The ideas of many seem materialistic and crude. That each one will be called individually, and his whole life reviewed in detail, seems improbable. But there is going to be a real judgment. And the whole life, to the minutest detail, is going to be weighed in the unerring balance of Christ’s perception of right and wrong. There may be, or there may not be, a word spoken, but each one will gravitate to his proper place. And he will know in his own deepest being that he is now where he belongs. All subterfuges will fail, all masks will be torn off; the inner recesses of the heart will be explored, all things will then appear as they are in reality. Those whom the Judge condemns will be also self-condemned. And there will probably be such a revelation of the character of each person that all about him will become conscious of the correctness of the decision.
Whatever we may think as to the details of the judgment scene, it is clear from the teaching of the Word that it is not a long drawn out millennial process; but a definite event which will take place in a comparatively brief space of time. In this limited time the eternal destiny of men and angels will be finally determined. And in some way, it will be publicly manifested; manifested by the separation which shall take place, and manifested by some kind of a proclamation from the lips of Jesus Christ, the God-man.
The rule of judgment will not be something newly revealed at the time, it will be the Word of God given to men long ago to light them on the way to heaven. “The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in that day” (St. John 12:48). We need be afraid of no arbitrary decrees, the character of the Judge is the alsufficient guarantee of that. We shall be judged not only by the eternal principles of justice as embodied in God’s holy law, but by the Gospel which tells us how the just demands of the law were met by Jesus Christ as our substitute. Our eternal future will be decided by our relationship to the Judge Himself; by our having, or failing to have, the life which comes from Jesus Christ alone, the life which brings us, first of all, forgiveness, and then progressive renewal.
In a very real sense each one of us is now engaged in writing the sentence by which, in the judgment day, we shall be either acquitted or condemned. Jesus Christ came into the world to save all the children of men. As many as receive Him, to them He gives the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name. Those who truly believe, and live the life of faith, are saved; saved now, saved when they die, saved forever. Those who reject Christ, and live a life of unbelief are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. So we see that we are framing the sentence which the great Judge will pronounce on that last great day.
The sentence of Judgment will separate the children of men into two great representative classes, in which, in fact, they have always existed, — those who are for Christ, and those who are against Him. The condemned, while in the same general class, will not all be subject to the same treatment. “That servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes for unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required.” Among the justified, while all will be perfect and blessed, there will be degrees of glory.
3. After The Judgment
Now that we have seen who the Judge shall be, and reviewed the brief hints which the Scriptures give as to the nature of the judgment, let us consider what shall be after the judgment. On this point we shall be rather brief, because the close of the third article will demand a more explicit treatment of this subject. Here we shall give, chiefly, a few reflections to which the consideration of this serious subject ought to lead every earnest person.
After the separation which will take place automatically with the announcement of the sentence, the Judge will say to those on His left, — depart, depart to live forever the perverted, deformed life you have chosen for yourselves. Many do not like this. They pretend to think that God can not do such a thing, that it is contrary to His loving nature. Some even proclaim that it would be unjust for Him to do so. Well, it is not for us poor worms of the dust to justify the ways of God with men. God says that it is so. The judgment settles men’s destiny for all eternity. If there is an endless heaven to which we may look forward to with hope, there is a region of endless darkness and despair of which we are warned to beware. And there are some thoughts from which we could see, if we kept mindful of them, that, when God pronounces sentence, He could not do otherwise.
When Jesus pronounces the word depart, it is not an exhibition of ill-temper. He is not speaking petulantly, He is not trying to get even with those who have provoked Him. The great Judge on the throne of glory will be just as loving and compassionate as He was in His work of redemption. He who wept over the men who cursed, and betrayed, and scourged, and crucified Him, will have the same heart of pity on the judgment-day. God’s sentence is never arbitrary, it never changes a man’s life; it is simply a revelation of what a man’s life is already. Many men are now living on reputation, the judgment sentence will be a revelation of character. The Judge can do no more than speak the truth as He finds it. Men, following Satan’s leadership, have made themselves what they are; Jesus offers them the opportunity for a change, He holds before them the entrancing vision, refusing it, He can only allow them to go their way, and assign them to their place.
To those in the other class Jesus will say: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” These are cheering words. All admire them. All would like to hear them. But no more than the others are they words that could be other than they are. They are not words of favoritism. They are not arbitrarily spoken. Here, too, they are a revelation of character.
What now is the practical, everyday lesson which we should take to heart from the oft repeated words of our Creed, “from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead?” We might sum it all up in the two words — preparation, watchfulness. Do we want to be caught, like the five foolish virgins, slumbering, our lamps gone out, with the festal chamber closed to us; or do we want to be found like the wise virgins, our vessels filled with oil, our lamps trimmed and burning, and the door of the feast-chamber ajar?
For the unbelieving and godless, the words of the Master concerning the judgment are fraught with much of a nature to cause fear and trembling; but for God’s children they are full of encouragement. Great expectations warm the heart. With all our blessings here, both of nature and grace, there is much to discourage us. In such hours let us look up to our Brother on the throne, soon He will come to call us to share His glory. There is much of suffering, much of sorrow here; what does it matter, this brief moment of grief, if we are ready, for the endless ages, to rejoice with exceeding joy when our Lord reveals Himself in His glory? Look up, ye pilgrims of the way, look up and rejoice; for your redemption draweth nigh. But what I say unto you, I say unto all, watch!
Golladay, R. E. (1917). [Christ’s Ascension]. In Sermons on the Catechism: The Apostles' Creed (Vol. II, pp. 236—315). Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern.
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- Author: “Golladay, Robert Emory”
- Title: “The Apostles' Creed”
- Originally Published: 1917 by Lutheran Book Concern, Columbus, Ohio.
- Lutheran Library Edition: 2020
- Copyright: CC BY 4.0