‘From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead’
Timothy Cross continues looking at the Apostles’ Creed
The last recorded words of Christ – and penultimate verse of the whole Bible – are in Revelation 22:20, where the glorified Christ affirms, ‘Surely I am coming soon’.
These words remind us that Jesus is coming again personally, physically, visibly, suddenly, triumphantly and gloriously. ‘This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’ (Acts 1:11).
History has a definite goal. It is the second coming of Christ at the end of the age, to set up God’s universal kingdom of righteousness, peace and love. Hence, whilst Christians look back to Calvary where Christ procured their salvation, they also look forward to better, glorious times.
They look forward to Christ’s return – ‘awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (Titus 2:13). Keeping this triumph in mind is a powerful incentive for evangelism and holy living.
It also prevents undue discouragement, for ‘the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us’ (Romans 8:18). Our Lord and Saviour will have the final say!
Christ as judge
‘He shall come to judge the quick (those living at the time of his coming) and the dead'(those who have died before he comes). The Lord Jesus Christ is to be the judge of everyone who has ever lived.
This large claim is the clear teaching of Scripture, for it states that Jesus ‘is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead’ (Acts 10:42); and God ‘has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead’ (Acts 17:31). On the final judgement day Christ will decide everyone’s eternal destiny.
We experience a rational fear of judgement, stemming from the knowledge that we are guilty sinners before a holy God. But Christians need not fear that day, since the judge is also the Saviour who died to save us.
He himself bore the punishment due for our sins at Calvary, so that we might be declared ‘not guilty’; and have ‘confidence for the day of judgement’ (1 John 4:17), not in ourselves but in the Lord Jesus and his imputed righteousness.
Jesus assures the believer, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life; he does not come into judgement but has passed from death to life’ (John 5:24).
The Bible says, ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1). Justification through Christ’s atonement is a blessing and solace which this world can neither give nor take away.
Christ as comfort
The Heidelberg Catechism asks the question: ‘What comfort is it to thee that Christ shall come again to judge the quick and the dead?’
Its answer is: ‘That in all my sorrows and persecutions, with uplifted head, I look for the very same person who offered himself for my sake to the tribunal of God, and has removed all curse from me, to come as judge from heaven; who shall cast all his and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but shall translate me with all his chosen ones to himself, into heavenly joys and glory’.
Whilst the second coming of Christ will usher in eternal blessing for the believer, for non-Christians it will mean eternal woe. Declared ‘guilty’ at Christ’s tribunal, they will have to bear the eternal consequences of their sin.
‘He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God rests upon him’ (John 3:36). Paradoxically, the Lord Jesus is the great divider as well as great reconciler of humanity. Trusting him is the difference between eternal suffering or eternal salvation; the glory of heaven or the horror of hell.
The impending horror for the Christless at the final judgement is beyond words: ‘when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might’ (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
Christ as Saviour
It is this absolute certainty of Christ’s second coming and subsequent judgement which gives great urgency to the ongoing evangelistic task of the church. There is a heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned. Christianity is a rescue religion, with a gospel of salvation to proclaim. Most important of all is: ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved’ (Acts 16:31).