Great Days in History (Part 6): The Day of Judgment

Great Days in History

Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

In this sixth lesson, we will be discussing the day of judgment. Like the second lesson, this may seem like a bit of a jump to go all the way from the day of Pentecost to here. However, we are not skipping so much as we are going to be summarizing the time between these two days.

The Background

The gospel would go to all the world – Before His ascension, Jesus commissioned His apostles: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). As we noticed in the previous lesson, the message of the gospel began to be preached on the day of Pentecost to the Jews. However, it would eventually go to the rest of the world as well. Jesus told the apostles that they would be His “witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The saving message of the gospel was first preached to the Gentiles when Peter went to the household of Cornelius. When the apostle arrived, he said, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34-35). As he explained what happened to the brethren in Jerusalem, they rightly concluded that “God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).

Approximately thirty years after the church was established in Jerusalem, Paul was able to affirm that the gospel had been “proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Colossians 1:23). This did not mean that every individual heard the gospel; instead, it meant that the message of the gospel was available to everyone.

When Paul spoke to the philosophers that were gathered on Mars Hill in Athens, he said, “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent” (Acts 17:30). This is still true today. God is still “declaring…that all people everywhere should repent” and is calling us to do so through the gospel.

A certain amount of time would pass – Paul explained that God “has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31). However, even though this day has been “fixed,” it has not been revealed when that day will be. Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Matthew 24:36).

When Peter wrote about this day, he did not say when it would occur; but he did reveal something about it: “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:3-4). In other words, there would be enough time that would pass to cause some to doubt the promise that the day of the Lord would come.

Life will be going on normally – Again, Peter explained that some would be saying, “All continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4). Of course, these “mockers” (2 Peter 3:3) would forget about the destruction of the world in the flood (2 Peter 3:5-6). However, aside from events like this, they were right. Even now, everything does continue as it has because this is how God designed the world to operate (cf. Genesis 8:22). As Paul explained to the residents of Lystra, God’s ongoing providence serves as a “witness” for Him (Acts 14:17).

Though many want to look for signs that indicate the final day of judgment is approaching, there will be no signs that point to the arrival of this event. Notice what Jesus said about this day:

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:36-39).

The only “signs” that would signal the day of the Lord approaching would be the “signs” that existed during the days of Noah – the righteous making preparations and preaching being done to warn of God’s judgment (cf. Hebrews 11:7; 2 Peter 2:5). Peter wrote, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).

Jesus used this same imagery when He discussed this day: “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will” (Matthew 24:42-44). Since we do not know when this day will be, we must be prepared for it at all times.

The Events on That Day

The Lord will return from heaven – As we noticed, this day is when “the Son of Man is coming” (Matthew 24:44). Jesus is going to return “in just the same way as [His apostles] watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). However, the reaction to His return will not be the same for everyone. Notice the following passages:

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).

The Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory or His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

For some, the expectation of Jesus’ coming is a source of comfort. For others, the prospect of Christ returning in judgment is terrifying. The Lord’s return will either be a cause of joy or fear, depending on how one has conducted himself in this life.

Everyone will stand before Christ in judgment – Paul explained this in his letter to Corinth: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). As he explained, we will be judged according to our deeds. This is why God is “declaring…that all people everywhere should repent” (Acts 17:30). To prepare for our appointment before the judgment seat of Christ, we must change our lives to make sure our actions are pleasing to Him.

As we understand the reality of the judgment, it is essential that we know what the standard of judgment will be. Jesus said, “He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day” (John 12:48). The word of God that has been revealed to us is the standard by which we will be judged. Therefore, we need to make sure that our deeds are in line with His word.

The righteous and wicked will be separated – Jesus described this when He spoke of the judgment on the final day: “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left” (Matthew 25:31-33).

Sadly, many on the “left” will be surprised to be there (cf. Matthew 25:44). In the Sermon on the Mount, after explaining that only those who do the will of the Father will enter heaven (Matthew 7:21), Jesus described the shock that many would have and the plea they would make that there had been some mistake in the Lord’s decision: “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:22-23). These individuals were ones who believed in God and attempted to serve Him, yet they would be told to “depart” because they were guilty of practicing “lawlessness.” In other words, they were engaged in practices which had not been commanded or authorized in God’s word. The Lord is not going to judge us merely by our intentions, but by our actions.

Those who are judged will go either to “eternal punishment” or “eternal life” (Matthew 25:46), depending on how the Lord judges them to have lived up to His standard.

Key Lessons

Judgment is certain for all men – As we already noticed, Paul wrote, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). This judgment is for everyone.

This means that we will not escape from this. Therefore, we must be faithful to the Lord. The Hebrew writer explained the importance of this: “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:26-29). We often think of the Law of Moses being severe in its punishments. Yet this passage shows us that a “severer punishment” than those under the old law is deserved by those who sin against God. The prospect of receiving the full wrath of God ought to be “a terrifying thing” to us (Hebrews 10:31). This mental image is not necessarily meant to “scare” us into obedience, but to get us realize the great importance of faithfully serving the Lord.

This also means that those around us will not escape from this, either. Therefore, we must try to reach them with the gospel. In fact, immediately after explaining the certainly of judgment, Paul wrote, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). Just as we must prepare ourselves for this day, we need to help others see the need to be prepared for themselves.

Judgment will be according to the Lord’s standard – Jesus is the one Judge (James 4:12) and His word is the standard (John 12:48). Therefore, it is His word that must be taught. This is why He commissioned His apostles to “preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). Similarly, we must “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11, KJV).

This is also why we are not to judge over matters of opinion or human commandment. Paul told the saints in Rome, “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions” (Romans 14:1). Jesus condemned the Pharisees because they were “teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Matthew 15:9). What if our opinions seem harmless to us? What if our traditions seem perfectly reasonable? Why could we not preach them anyway? One of the reasons why we must keep from teaching personal opinion or man-made commandments – no matter how “harmless” or “reasonable” they seem to us – is because these do not help anyone prepare for the final judgment since these are not the standard (John 12:48). In fact, teaching those things that are beyond the Scriptures could actually hinder others and put a stumbling block before them. Paul explained, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way” (Romans 14:13). We must be content to remain within the bounds of Scripture to prepare ourselves and others for the Lord’s judgment.

In looking forward to the day of judgment, John provided some encouragement to those who were following the Lord: “Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him” (1 John 2:28-29). “By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in the world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:17-18). If we are following the Lord – practicing righteousness and walking in love – we can look forward to His return with confidence, rather than in fear.

Judgment will be final – When we are judged, we will either go to “eternal punishment” or “eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). These are the only two options. Jesus said, “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29).

Those who are lost have “no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Instead, what they have to look forward to is worse than anything they could experience in this life. John described this scene: “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night” (Revelation 14:11). Everyone should want to do whatever is necessary to avoid this fate.

Those who are saved will “always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). This means that we, like Paul, should be willing to “count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus…in order that [we] might attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11).

Conclusion

We do not know when it will be, but we do know that the Lord will return one day to judge the world. He has given us His word (the standard) and the time necessary to prepare. We must use the time we have now to prepare for our appointment before His judgment seat.


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