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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:Christ is returning to judge the living and the dead
Text:LD 19 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:End Times
 
Preached:2023
Added:2023-03-02
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 99

Hymn 73

Hymn 70

Hymn 1

Hymn 9

Scripture readings: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11, Revelation 20

Catechism lesson: Lord's Day 19

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

Do you bear the mark of the beast?  How can you know?  Throughout the years there have been all kinds of theories about what the mark of the beast might be.  One of the latest ideas is that the push for global Digital ID is the mark of the beast.  So some say.

A few years ago there was not just one, but two famous failed predictions of Christ’s return.  Harold Camping used to be a member of the Christian Reformed Church and he was well known in many Reformed circles.  Through his Family Radio network he predicted that Christ would return for judgment on May 21, 2011.  When May 21 came and went without Christ’s return, Camping admitted that he had gotten it wrong.  Then he did a recalculation and came up with a new date:  October 21.  As you may have noticed, our Saviour didn’t return on that day either.  Because he is so well-known, Camping’s failed predictions were mentioned in the mainstream media and were the butt of many jokes.  But he’s just one of literally hundreds of preachers who’ve made predictions of Christ’s return.  All failed predictions.

And in 1 John 2, we read that it is the last hour and Antichrist is coming.  That creates all kinds of questions too.  Who is Antichrist?  How can we recognize him?  And if Antichrist must appear before Christ returns, then how can we say Christ will come back like a thief in the night?  Won’t we know that Christ is returning when we see Antichrist and all kinds of other end-times events? 

We’re talking about eschatology, the doctrine of the last things.  When it comes to eschatology, there are all kinds of questions that come up and all kinds of issues.  This afternoon, as we consider the biblical teaching in Lord’s Day 19, and especially QA 52, I want to answer some of these questions.  QA 52 deals specifically with the return of Christ to judge the living and the dead.  We’ll learn about:

  1. What happens before his return
  2. What happens during his return
  3. Why all this happens

The Bible describes several events that will take place before Christ returns.  One of those events is the preaching of the gospel to all nations and the drawing in of the full number of the elect.  Scripture teaches that God has chosen a definite number of people to bring to salvation.  Christ will not return until that number reaches its fullness.  Revelation 6:11 says the judgment which accompanies Christ’s return will not take place until the number of the elect is full.  The way that number will reach its fullness is through the preaching of the gospel to the ends of the earth. 

Related to that is what God says in Romans 11:25-32 about the Jews.  This is a controversial passage.  Paul says there in Romans 11:26 that “all Israel will be saved.”  Does that mean all the Jews will come to salvation?  There are various interpretations, but it would take up too much of our time this afternoon to go into them all and evaluate them.  The best interpretation of this passage is that God isn’t finished with the Jews.  That certainly is evident in what we see going on in the world.  Jews are still becoming Christians.  “All Israel will be saved,” seems to indicate that this process will continue.  Christ will return when the full number of his elect among the Jews have been brought in.   

Then there is the coming of Antichrist – again, a controversial point.  Throughout history, various individuals have been identified as the Antichrist.  In the time of the Reformation and also afterwards, some identified the Pope as the Antichrist.  The Westminster Confession says it explicitly.  It says the Pope is “that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.”  Others take a different view, holding that the Antichrist is a figure yet to come.  Perhaps he will be a Pope, but he could be another figure.  Still others say that Antichrist is not a definite individual, but a spirit or an attitude of opposition to Christ.  Before Christ returns, they say, there will be a lot of opposition to Christ and that is the Antichrist.  Which view is correct?       

The Bible uses the term Antichrist in two ways.  In John’s first epistle, he describes it in terms of heresy or apostasy.  This is an internal threat within the church.  Antichrist is anyone who denies that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh.  This threat has always been around and always will be.  But there is also the other use of Antichrist.  There is an individual described who rises up against God and persecutes believers.  He is sometimes described as the Man of Sin or the Man of Lawlessness.  He will have a reign of terror carried out through state-sponsored heresy.  He will have political and ecclesiastical connections.  In the end, he’ll be destroyed by Christ at his return.  It is this Antichrist who will be revealed before Christ’s return. 

Now because we’re just surveying this doctrine this afternoon, we don’t have time to look at all the relevant passages in detail.  If you’re interested in doing more study on this, let me recommend an excellent book by a URC pastor, Kim Riddlebarger.  The book is called The Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth About the Antichrist.  That book will answer many, if not all, of your questions on this subject. 

So Antichrist will be revealed before Christ’s return.  In passages like Matthew 24 and Mark 13, Scripture also speaks of several signs and wonders which accompany his return.  Christ speaks of wars, famines, earthquakes, and false prophets.  These are more general and these sorts of things have been around since the days of our Saviour.  The constant flow of these things also in our own day reminds us that Christ will return. 

Let’s now move ahead to the second coming itself and what happens then.  First, let’s consider the character of Christ’s return. 

Scripture teaches that it will be personal.  He will come back in person.  He won’t send a representative, an angel or another human being.  It will be Christ himself who comes with the clouds.  As the angels says in Acts 1:11, he “will come back in the same way” that the apostles saw him go into heaven.  That’s really the key passage.

That same passage teaches us he will come back physically.  Just as he ascended into heaven with his physical body, he will return with his physical body.  He won’t be a spirit-being, or a ghost.  It will be the man Christ Jesus who returns for judgment. 

Next, Scripture teaches his return will be visible.  Not only is he visible as a physical human being, but all people will see his return.  Now perhaps you wonder how that can be possible.  How are all people on earth going to see the return of Christ at exactly the same time?  We all know the earth is spherical and so that makes it physically impossible for him to appear in a spot where everyone can see him.  And yet that’s what Matthew 24:30 says.  It says that all nations of the earth will see Christ returning on the clouds of the sky.  I don’t know how to explain it.  Scripture says that this is the way it will happen, so I believe it.  We believe that God can make this happen even if there is no apparent way for us to understand it in terms of what we know about the world.  His return will be visible to all. 

Scripture teaches that his return will be sudden.  Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 that the “day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”  Other passages say something similar.  But the question is, how can that day come suddenly when there are things that must precede, things that are identified in Scripture?  That’s a difficult question to answer.  There is a tension in the Bible on this point.  This tension is there for a specific purpose:  to keep us watchful.  So we would always be ready for our Lord’s return.  To be sure, even though many signs are mentioned, our Saviour will still come back at an unexpected moment.  No one knows when the whole complex of events that accompany his return will swing into action.  No one knows how long all those events will take.  Will it take place within the span of a couple of days?  Months?  Years?  Will the struggle with Antichrist take place over some decades?  If so, those living during that time may begin to get used to it and lose their expectation of Christ’s return.  The point in Scripture is that we should always be prepared to meet our Saviour.  We should always be living in such a way that we’re eager to see him, not afraid.

Last of all, the Bible teaches us that his return will be glorious and triumphant.  He will be victorious over all his and our enemies.  There will be praise and adoration for our King.  All creatures will finally bow the knee before our Lord.  As Hebrews 9:28 assures us, he will “bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” 

Now there are those who say that Christ’s return will inaugurate the millennium, the 1000 year reign spoken of in Revelation 20.  What do we do with that passage of Scripture?  How do we understand that 1000 years?  One of the key things to remember is the genre of the book of Revelation.  It is what we call apocalyptic literature.  That means it’s rich in symbolism.  You don’t read the book of Revelation the same way you read the book of Judges or 1 Samuel.  So when Revelation 20 speaks of Satan being bound with a great chain, we shouldn’t imagine that there is a literal physical iron chain on the devil.  After all, Satan is a spiritual being, an angel, and a literal physical chain would do nothing to restrain him.  This isn’t meant to be understood literally.  And it’s the same with the 1000 years spoken of in this chapter.  This is a picture of Christ’s reign right now.  The millennium is a present reality.  It’s the time between his ascension and his return for judgment.  Christ reigns right now and right now Satan is limited in what he can do in this world.  But a time is coming when he will be “released from his prison.”  He will deceive the nations and there will be a great apostasy – that includes the final revelation of Antichrist and all those other events I mentioned a few minutes ago.  And then Christ will return. 

Another thing that happens at his return is the resurrection of the dead.  All those who have died prior to Christ’s return will have their souls reunited with their bodies.  Scripture teaches that this resurrection involves both believers and unbelievers.  Those who have been justified through faith in Christ will be raised for deliverance and glorification.  Those who never rested and trusted in Christ will be raised for shame and to receive the penalty of eternal death.  This resurrection is what immediately precedes the final judgment.

Scripture describes this resurrection of believers in a special way in 1 Thessalonians 4.  There the resurrection is portrayed as what is sometimes called “the rapture.”  When Christ returns, the dead in Christ will rise and together with those who are still alive, they will meet the Lord in the air.  That happens at the second coming of Christ, right before the judgment. 

Now let’s briefly consider that judgment that takes place at the return of Christ.  The Bible tells us that Christ himself is the judge.  He will be assisted by angels according to passages like Matthew 13:41.  And according to 1 Corinthians 6:2-3, believers too will have a role.  Paul says, “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” 

Who will be judged?  According to Scripture, every individual of the human race who has ever lived.  Every single person will stand before Christ for judgment.  Now how does that differ from what happens in your justification?  If you believe in Christ as your Saviour, God has already issued his verdict concerning you.  He has declared that you are righteous.  So how does that judgment relate to the last judgment that Christ makes?  The first judgment in our justification is private, but the second judgment will be public – it will be for the whole world to see and hear.  For believers, this is nothing to fear because we have Christ.  We have already been declared righteous because of what he did for us in his life and death.  That judgment at the last day is our vindication – it is the public announcement to the whole world that though we were sinners, Christ paid for all our sins.  Christ lived the perfect life for us that we could not live for ourselves.  It’s the public announcement that Christ is our Saviour and he was working for us, in us, and through us. 

The standard for judgment is the revealed will of the holy God.  That will has been made known to all through the law of nature.  Romans 2:15 says that God’s requirements are written on the hearts of all human beings.  All people have a knowledge of what God wants.  Consequently, says Paul, all people are without excuse before the judgment seat of God.  But there are those who know more and will be judged by that too.  For instance, the Jews of the Old Testament were given the Law of Moses.  They knew what God required of them.  They will be judged by that at the last day.  For us as God’s people in this age, we have been given the entire Bible, Old and New Testament.  God will judge us by that standard.  Do not be mistaken: the standard is high, so high that we can’t achieve it.  God’s holiness is so far beyond what we can achieve.  Unless we are clinging to Christ, there’s no way to escape a public guilty verdict at the last day.  If we are to live forever in the new heavens and new earth, we must be resting and trusting in Jesus. 

That brings us to one last aspect of the judgment at Christ’s return.  That has to do with degrees of punishment and reward.  Our Catechism refers to this in QA 63.  The question is:  “But do our good works earn nothing, even though God promises to reward them in this life and the next?”  The answer:  “This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace.”  But notice the assumption there.  The assumption is that God does promise to reward our good works in the next life.  Does Scripture teach that?  Yes, it does.  In Matthew 5:12 Jesus speaks of having a great reward waiting in heaven.  Hebrews 11:6 speaks about God rewarding those who seek him. 

Please don’t misunderstand this.  All people who believe in Christ alone will freely receive the gift of salvation.  All who trust in him will be delivered from God’s wrath – all by grace alone.  But Scripture does teach that there are degrees of blessedness in the hereafter connected with the good you do here on earth as a regenerated child of God.  If you sow generously on this earth with good works, you will reap generously in heaven.  But no one in heaven or in the age to come will be discontented.  No one will be unhappy with what he or she will receive in terms of blessedness of rewards.  And whatever one receives, this too will be of grace.  God owes nothing to anyone. 

Now the flip side of this is that there are also degrees of punishment.  That relates to God’s justice.  Jesus taught in Matthew 11 that there would be a harsher judgment for the Jewish cities that rejected the gospel than for pagan cities like Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom.  In other words, there is a greater degree of wrath waiting for covenant people who spurn the gospel than for unbelievers outside the covenant.  Yes, they’ll all receive God’s wrath, but some receive a harsher punishment than others.  You see, Scripture gives us confidence to believe that someone like Adolph Hitler will be treated differently than your kind unbelieving neighbour lady.  Scripture teaches that God will handle unrepentant serial killers and child molesters differently than the generous Jew or Muslim man who never believed in Jesus Christ.  I’ll say it again so no one misunderstands:  without faith in Christ, no one comes to the Father.  But those who don’t come to the Father are not all treated exactly the same.  Some sins are more serious than others and some sinners will be judged more harshly.  There will be justice.  Perfect, holy justice.  I don’t know about you but when I see all the injustice in this world, I do find some comfort in that knowledge.  Things will be set right by a holy God.  All that will become clear at the return of Christ. 

That brings us to briefly consider last of all why all this happens.  In the first place, this is all about God’s glory.  God will be glorified for his grace and mercy in Jesus Christ.  Believers will lift up their songs of praise for eternity because of what happens on that day when Christ returns.  They will be joyful in God because salvation has come in its fullness.  God will also be glorified for his justice, executed upon all who rebelled against him.  Think of the shouts of the great multitude in Revelation 19, “Hallelujah!  Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments.”  It will be a time for rejoicing in God, in all of his attributes, in all of his works. 

And the second related reason why it all happens is to begin the age to come.  After Christ’s judgment comes the new heavens and new earth.  There we will dwell with God perfectly into eternity.  The whole new creation will become the temple of God, his dwelling place – and ours.  This is the time in which God will be all in all.  That means that everything in this new creation will be reconciled to God.  Everything will be in its proper relation to him.  Everything will be close to him – with no alienation present whatsoever.  Nobody in that age to come will be distant from God and no one will feel distant from him.  Everything will be exactly the way it’s supposed to be.  What a beautiful thought!  We have so much to look forward to. AMEN.     

Prayer:

Father in heaven,

You are just and holy.  We’ve heard it again from your Word.  We know that a great and just judgment is coming with our Saviour.  Father, we cling to him in faith and so we look forward to that great day.  Please bring it quickly.  We look forward to you making all things right.  We look forward to living with you for eternity in peace and joy.  Thank you, Father, for the comfort of the gospel, of belonging to Christ.  Help us to continue looking to him in faith as we wait for him to return to judge the living and the dead.  Please make us strong with your Word and Spirit.  We praise you today and we look forward to praising you forever in the new heavens and new earth.

   




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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