31 When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left.
34 Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
37 Then the righteous will answer Him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”
40 The King will reply, “ tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
41 Then He will say to those on His left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”
44 They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”
45 He will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
46 Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from His presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
I don’t know about you, but I have found it both exciting and beneficial to work phrase by phrase through the Apostles’ Creed. It’s been good to be reminded of the basic foundations of the Christian faith, but every now and then we come to a statement which really challenges us.
Virgins having babies, and dead people walking out of a tomb after three days don’t happen every day, and they are two good examples of this.
Today though, we come to probably the most challenging statement of the creed:
“He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”
It has been said, and quite appropriately I believe, that no-one should ever preach about hell without tears in his eyes. The prospect of eternal separation from all that is good and holy should move each Christian with compassion and urgency. The tragedy is that many people we know and love will spend eternity separated from God.
The Bible is very clear in warning that everlasting torment is what awaits those who are cast out from the presence of Holy God. And these warnings are issued for no other reason than God’s goodness. As I pointed out in the bulletin this morning, judgment is a consequence of our bad choices. Had we not sinned, judgment would not have been necessary, so we mustn't fool ourselves into thinking that judgment is not our fault. Judgment is entirely our fault.
God is good. Simple logic tells us that if God is not good He cannot be God. And it is because of His goodness that He warns that many, perhaps even most, of mankind will be cast away eternally from His presence.
Jesus warned us in Luke 12:4-5 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him!”
There are many other verses which speak so clearly of the consequences of rebellion against God, but why are they there?
Because God is some kind of cosmic, vindictive spoilsport? No.
The warnings are there because of His compassion for us.
2 Peter 3:9 says “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” That’s why He warns us.
God’s holiness demands that justice be done, but in His mercy He gave His only Son, so that if we choose to put our faith in Jesus, we won’t have to be separated from Him forever.
Now I’m fully aware that many who hear sermons like we’re about to hear today are deeply offended by such preaching, and I’m not so naïve as to think that doesn’t include some of you here this morning, but I make no apology.
I believe the entire Bible, including the bits which I might not particularly like, and I would be doing you a disservice, and even worse – I would be disobedient to God were I to pretend they didn’t exist.
It is cruelty of the highest order for preachers to gloss over the reality that hell is real.
There is a simple reason why some people are offended by warnings of hell. It is because they hope to avoid the consequences of their own wicked choices. When people try to redefine the will of God according to what they want, they are really attempting to redefine “good” to suit their own purposes.
But all such efforts are doomed to abject failure. Just as people cannot make themselves live forever, so they cannot create their own standard for redefining what is good while ignoring God’s definition of what is good and perfect and holy.
By our very natures we resist the idea that we will have to give an account for our actions. Nevertheless, throughout Scripture we find the concept of personal accountability.
And the judgment will be truthful and just. There will be no bias or any possibility that the Judge might be swayed by pleas for a second chance. Those being judged will be judged according to the choices they have made.
Now there are different understandings and there is much confusion which we need to take a look at.
Some people, among them even professing Christians, seem to think that when we are judged, if our good deeds outweigh the bad, we will be acceptable to God. This belief is not Scriptural. Our good deeds can never suffice to appease the righteous anger of a Holy God.
Isaiah 64:6 leaves no room for interpretation: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
Even our good deeds, when held up to the light of God’s holiness, look like filthy rags. This is another of those verses of Scripture which we don’t particularly like, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s there.
Many people react angrily to words like that. “Well, if I am not enough for God, then that is just too bad. That’s His problem.”
But the only thing that such a reaction proves is the righteousness of God who condemns us because we attempt to create a righteousness of our own, which is not righteousness at all.
Another important point for us to consider is this: There is not one general judgment, as many seem to think. The first judgment has in fact, already taken place: The judgment of sin at Calvary. And this is the good news for Christians – our sin has been both judged, and punished. What this means is that if you have accepted salvation through Christ, your sins have already been judged and paid for. You will not have to give an account for them.
Charles Wesley described it so well in the last verse of that amazing hymn we sang a few weeks ago: “No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in Him, is mine! Alive in Him, my living Head, and clothed in righteousness divine, bold I approach the eternal throne, and claim the crown, through Christ my own.”
Are you a Christian? Then you have nothing to fear!
And this is where we find this truth in Scripture:
“In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. In Him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:9-14)
There is though, a coming judgment for believers, when we who believe will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ, but even this will be a time of glory for God.
There, Christians will be exposed as open books for all other believers to see the perfection of Christ’s work in us. The self-serving deeds of this life will be permanently eliminated so that only the glory of the things which honoured God will remain throughout eternity. Paul goes into detail about this judgment of believers in 1 Corinthians.
“No-one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”
There will be no personal glory in Heaven – only eternal glory for God.
But there is another dreadful judgment very different to the one Christians will face, before the Great White Throne, which is the main focus of today, and again, I make no apology for speaking about it.
There are people who have decided that they don’t need God, and prefer to live their lives without Him, and the day is coming when that wish will be granted to them for all of eternity. Before that awful throne, all who have refused to receive Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord will receive the eternal sentence for that choice. Whether we like it or not, and regardless of how dreadful it might seem to us, there is coming a day when those who have rejected the grace and mercy of God in order to serve their own desires will face the consequence of that choice.
We are made in God’s image. We were created by Him, and for Him, and without Him there is an emptiness which we only catch glimpses of in this life. But those who come to the end of their lives without Him will spend all of eternity without Him. So in a sense, it’s not so much a place called Hell, but rather a state called Hell – an eternal emptiness.
The common denominator of each of the judgments which the Bible talks about (and there are others, depending on how you interpret the Word), is Jesus.
The first time He came as the Saviour, but when He returns, He will return as the Judge.
We don’t have the time we need to get into the different interpretations of the sequence of events of Jesus’ return. You may have heard the terms a-millennial, post-millennial and pre-millennial. Countless books have been written about how Jesus will return, but the ‘how’ is nowhere near as important as the ‘will’.
Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead, and the only question of eternal significance is this: Are you ready for His return?
Corrie Ten Boom was once asked if she was a pre or post millennialist. Her reply was “I consider that a pre-post-erous question.”
I couldn’t have put it better myself.
God has given us enquiring minds, and there is nothing wrong with trying to satisfy our curiosity. There is also nothing wrong with all of the conjecture about the end times, but I feel that we spend far too much time and energy trying to predict how and when Jesus will return.
What we do know is that He has promised us that He will return, and when He does, there are going to be many people who are not ready for His return, and that should fill the Church with an urgency to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to those who need to hear it.
The judgment of sin at Calvary provides atonement for all who are willing to accept the divine sacrifice. However, those who reject that perfect sacrifice, or those who fail to accept it must bear their own sin. The judgment before the Great White Throne which John speaks about in Revelation 20 embraces all who are lost. Any who have never received Christ will stand before Him to be judged, and that is an awful prospect.
The creed talks about Jesus coming to judge the ‘living and the dead’. What we need to be clear about here is the fact that we’re talking about those spiritually alive or dead.
The Bible tells us that only those who are in Christ have life.
Revelation 20:11-12 says “I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from His presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne.”
These are the spiritually dead. Their stature on earth is of no consequence. Whether they were wealthy or poor is irrelevant.
Whether people held them in awe, or whether they were faceless and voiceless to most of humanity is unimportant. What matters is whether they were alive or dead in the sight of God.
Now what does this mean?
The fact is that when we sinned, we died spiritually.
This is what the Bible means when it says in Ephesians 2:1 “you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” Psalm 51:5 says the same thing. “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”
Now again, we might not like to hear this truth, and we might argue with it, but that does not change the fact that when the human race chose to disobey the God who created us and gave us life, we died spiritually.
We might be alive physically, but we are born spiritually dead.
Of course, there are many who are angered by this. I’m sure some of you here today are not happy to be told that you were born spiritually dead.
People feel very much alive and are insulted because they think I am judging them. They say to themselves, “I’m just as good as anybody else.”
But here’s the thing: The issue is not how you feel about yourself.
The issue is how God sees you. The issue is whether you are alive to God.
It is not a matter of whether you know about God, but whether you know God, or more importantly, whether you are known by God.
So when Revelation 20 speaks of the dead standing before the Great White Throne, it is speaking about those who were never born from above and into the family of God. It sees those who are dead to God, and are already condemned. Though you might want to disagree, God is very clear that outside of Christ the world lies condemned.
The first half of John 3:36 says “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. “ (That’s the good news), but the rest of that verse says “but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
We all know and love John 3:16, but we must read the rest of that passage in order for verse 16 to really make sense:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:16-21)
After having ascended into heaven, Christ is going to return. He will return to fulfill what He started. And yes, He will return to judge.
Christians have gained such a terrible reputation (sometimes deserved, and sometimes not) for being judgmental, but as a follower of Christ, it is impossible to take the Bible seriously without also accepting that God’s judgment is something real.
And most of us have an incomplete understanding of judgment. If we only see it as something negative, then we don’t have a true and full picture of what it’s about. There is a painful side to judgment - there’s no denying that. But judgment - in the true, biblical sense - is also a thoroughly beautiful thing.
When the Bible talks about ‘Judgment Day’, it is about God putting the world to right again. It’s about justice. It is about evil being seen for what it truly is. And it’s also about good being seen for it truly is.
The judgment of God is part and parcel of His grand plan to restore all of humanity - and indeed all of creation - to its original intended glory.
God’s judgment is a glorious thing. We all know there are aspects of our lives that fall short of what they could be and all that God intended for us be. But the wonderful news is that we won’t be judged purely on the basis of what we did or didn’t do, say, or think. We’ll be judged on the basis that, though we do all fall short, Christ has taken the penalty for that falling short. In other words, there is hope! Through Christ we will find acceptance in God’s eyes.
If you are a Christian, you can face judgment without fear of rejection. In Christ you are welcomed and accepted.
But the warning remains for those who reject Christ.
Whatever differing views there may be around the idea of ‘hell’, in essence it is being permanently separated from God that is hell. To be separated from God is to be separate from the source of true, eternal life. God’s love goes so far however that He refuses to force His forgiveness and acceptance on us.
And so we are free to reject Christ. But this separation will be the outcome.
God’s judgement is part of His perfect plan to restore humanity and creation to its original glory. It is about God taking our flawed, sinful, diseased world and making it whole again. It is about destroying all that is evil and dark and allowing the light and love of God to permeate everything. And this simply isn’t possible without judgement. Our world cannot be made whole if evil is not judged, and t the wrath of God remains on you if you are lost.
Either your sin has already been judged at Calvary, or you must stand accountable for it on your own before the Great White Throne.
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain. For He says, ‘In the time of my favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God's favour, now is the day of salvation.”
(2 Corinthians 5:17-6:2)