“He Will Come to Judge”

posted by R. Fowler White

Continuing this series of posts on the Apostles’ Creed, we focus now on Article 7: from there—from the right hand of God the Father Almighty—He will come to judge the living and the dead. Just as we did with Article 6, it’s important to go back in history to get the most out of Article 7.

Remember the question that has haunted dying sinners since the fall: Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? In the liturgy of Leviticus, God provided Moses His answer to the question: only a man undefiled by sin and death is welcomed on His mountain. Thus God made known that the way to enter His presence undefiled was through the sacrifice and the priesthood that He required. Following God’s direction, Moses set up the sacrifices and the priesthood for the first old covenant worship service, and then he and Aaron were ceremonially cleansed to enter the Holy Place to meet with God and to intercede for the people. The drama of that first old covenant worship service was not over, however, when Moses and Aaron went into the Holy Place. No, the culmination of that service was when Moses and Aaron came out of the Holy Place to bless the people as the glory of the Lord appeared to them.

It is at that point that we engage with the seventh article of the Creed: Jesus our High Priest and King will emerge again from Heaven’s Holy of Holies, descending from His seat at His Father’s right hand. In other words, we confess what the Apostles heard when Christ ascended: This same Jesus, who has been taken … into heaven, will come back in the same way that you have seen him going into heaven (Acts 1:10). In the Creed, following Scripture, we confess His purpose in returning: He will come back to judge. As we know, depending on the context, the verb to judge can be negative, or positive, or both. Both is the Creed’s point. Christ’s purpose when He returns is to hand down His rulings, whether negative or positive. The Heidelberg Catechism, Question 52, makes this point well when it declares, He will cast all His and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, and He will take me and all His chosen ones to Himself into heavenly joy and glory. Here we can pick up again the events that unfolded back in Leviticus. After Moses and Aaron came out of the place of meeting, they pronounced God’s blessing on the people, and all the people saw the fiery glory of the Lord, and they let out shouts of joy and fell on their faces, overcome with awe. That was the positive result of Moses and Aaron’s return from the Holy of Holies. Yet that’s not all that happened. There was also the negative result in that first old covenant worship service: Aaron’s two oldest sons Nadab and Abihu decided that any priest could enter the Most Holy Place at any time and in any manner. In response, the fiery glory of the Lord came out and consumed them. When Moses and Aaron reemerged from the tabernacle, then, Israel saw God’s glory alright—not just in His stupefying splendor, but in His terrifying anger. Likewise, when Christ returns from His seat in the heavenly Holy of Holies to judge, all will see His glory. His return will bring comfort to everyone who trusts in Christ, who submitted Himself to God’s judgment in their place and removed all curse from them. To all others, who would enter God’s presence on their own at any time and in any manner, there will only be agony and anguish.

But there is more in Article 7: dead or alive, each and all will be judged by Christ. Notice that it is the living and the dead whom He will judge. To this effect the Apostle John recounts the words of Jesus in John 5:26-29: all people who have ever lived on earth will personally appear before Christ the Judge. By His power the bodies of all who have believed His gospel will be raised to honor and brought into conformity with His own glorious body. Likewise, the bodies of all who have disbelieved His gospel will be raised to dishonor, and their souls united with their bodies in which they formerly lived. All people will appear before His judgment seat to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds and to receive judgment according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil. Those who disbelieve Christ’s gospel and remain in their sins will be thrown into the lake of fire to suffer eternal punishment, both in body and soul, along with the devil and his angels, having been expelled from God’s gracious presence and from the marvelous fellowship with Christ and His angels. Those who repent of their sins and believe Christ’s gospel will enjoy full and final deliverance, hearing their vindication made known to all as Christ confesses their names before God His Father and His elect angels and wipes away all their tears and, for a gracious reward, brings them into possession of a glory beyond all that they can imagine.

Skeptics mock our confession. They focus on the present, ignore the past, and deny the future. They ask, “Where is the promise of his coming?” but their question is no innocent request for information. Rather their question is a mockery of the truth that God intervenes in this world. In all their vanity, skeptics deliberately and conveniently ignore His past interventions. Scripture documents how God intervened to create the first world and to destroy it with a flood, to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah with fire, to destroy Egypt with plagues, to destroy Canaan with the sword, and to destroy Jerusalem—not once, but twice—by invading armies. Because of God’s supernatural interventions, the inhabitants of all of these places either perished or were deported.

So don’t be shaken when skeptics mock your confession about Christ’s return. Contrary to what they say, God will intervene to destroy the present world with fire (2 Pet 3:4-10). And that last Day will not only be a Day of Destruction, but also a Day of Judgment. From His seat in the Holy of Holies in heaven, Christ will return to judge, and all will see His glory. Until that Day, we must bear witness of His return to judge. For all who would enter God’s presence on their own, there will only be unending agony and anguish. But for all who trust in Christ who submitted Himself to God’s judgment in their place and removed all the curse from them, there will be everlasting comfort and consolation. Even so, we pray, Come, Lord Jesus.

Jubilee

Leviticus 25: 8-22
Picture yourself a child at school. The teacher is about to ask you a question. You already know what the question is, and you haven’t the foggiest idea how to answer it. You might even have studied the issue. You just couldn’t quite wrap your head around the answer so as to be able to give a decent answer. The person two chairs ahead of you answers a different question correctly. The person one chair ahead of you is asked a question, and you start to really sweat. The person answers it correctly. And now it time. The teacher calls your name, but as you rise to answer the question, the bell rings, telling you that class is over, and you won’t have to answer the question. “Saved by the bell” you were.

Now imagine yourself an ancient Israelite. You have had to sell your land, your goods, and now even yourself, since you had a whole string of bad farming years. You must think by now that God hates you, since He has unleashed so much bad luck against you. Just as you are about to give up everything as a loss, the horn sounds in all Judea. Jubilee! The year of redemption is here, and you are saved by the ram’s horn. You are set free from your slavery, and given your land back. The slate is wiped clean, and you have a completely fresh start. That is the idea of Jubilee.

The idea of the Jubilee year is based on the telescoping pattern of sevens that we find in Holy Scripture. The most basic pattern of seven is the Sabbath, where one day in seven is sacred to the Lord. The Sabbath was based on creation and salvation, if you look at the two different accounts of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. In Exodus, the reason is that God created the world in six days and rested the seventh day. In Deuteronomy, the reason is that God brought the people of Israel out of Egypt, and so they wouldn’t have to work as hard as they did for Pharaoh. Because the Israelites have been redeemed, therefore they should obey the Sabbath.

The next element in this telescope of sevens is the Sabbatical year. Every seven years, the land was supposed to have a rest. This was so that the land would not get worn out. The Lord promised that He would provide for the people of Israel during the year before the Sabbatical year, the year of the Sabbatical year, and the year after. The Lord promised three years’ worth of farming to carry the Israelites through the lean time when there were no crops growing. The Lord had regard not only to the people of Israel, but also to the land, you see. Even the land was to follow the work patterns of the Lord God in creation.

That brings us to the final segment of seven: Jubilee. The name Jubilee refers to the ram’s horn that was blown at the beginning of the Jubilee year. The purpose o the Jubilee year was to ensure that no one Israelite would become so impoverished that he could never get out of the hole into which he had dug himself. There was always to be a light at the end of the tunnel. It was plain, however, that this command of the OT was not always obeyed. In fact, there is no record that it was ever obeyed. The Israelites became greedy for land and gain. And so they would make deals that got around this law. The words of this law, you see, were such that no land in Israel was ever regarded as permanently sold. Instead, it was a calculation of the number of crops, as it says in verse 16: “it is the number of the crops that he is selling to you.” Land was never to be permanently sold to someone, since the land belonged the Lord. It was the Lord, you see, who had apportioned the land to the twelve tribes, when they came into the land of promise. It was not land that belonged ultimately to the Israelites. The same promise that was made for the Sabbatical year was also made by God for the Jubilee year. The Lord would honor the keeping of the Jubilee year by a very good harvest the year before the Jubilee started. It was definitely a move of trust on the part of the people of Israel to actually do this. There was no human tangible guarantee that the Lord would do this. There was only the Word of the Lord. That is all they had.

Notice then, that the three patterns of seven that we have seen telescope into each other. It’s like those nesting dolls, which fit one inside another, inside another. The Sabbath points to the Sabbatical year, which in turn points to the year of Jubilee. But there is more. The year of Jubilee points to a time when there shall be no more slavery to sin. Just as God freed the Israelites from the oppression of slavery to Pharaoh, so also the Lord delivers His people from their slavery to sin and death. The real Year of Jubilee starts with the incarnation, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We were in slavery to our own sin, and willingly so. We loved it, contrary to the Israelites loving their oppression. But Satan and our flesh blinded us to the fact that we were slaves. It is only when the Lord opens our eyes to see what was unclear before, that we come to realize that there is no way out of this slavery, except through Jesus. We have bet set free from the law of sin and death, if we are of Jesus Christ. That is, we must have faith in Him as Lord and Savior.

It is quite common to have New Year’s resolutions. The very best resolution that we can have is that we will live like free people. That means that we live as people free from sin and death. We cannot do this on our own strength, of course. However, the Lord wants us to press on toward this goal. In this New Year, will we live as children of the King, heirs to the entire kingdom?

You see, the problem is that we like to live our old lives over again. We love going back to Egypt, just like the Israelites did. We love to revel in our old life of sin. Instead of doing that, we should break free from that.
This applies especially well to those old sinful habits that we hate to give up. There are probably one or two sins in our lives that seem to have us in their grip. We seem enslaved to it, unable to break free. We have to understand that the Lord allows us to struggle with sins so that we will rely more completely on the Lord’s strength in the Holy Spirit. But the Lord will break us of those old sins. We should not give up the struggle. Many people come to the conclusion that those sins cannot be gotten rid of, so therefore they should give up trying to get rid of them. That is the path of despair, which Paul explodes in Romans 7. After describing the struggle that he goes through all the time, he says, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory.” Victory? What victory? Struggle doesn’t sound like victory to me. But that is exactly what Paul is saying. The struggle does avail. The very fact that you have a struggle inside you is proof positive that the Holy Spirit is working. Unbelievers have no such struggle. They have an easy time with sin: they just give right in, as the father says in “My Fair Lady”: “When temptation comes, I’ll step right in.” But when believers are faced with temptation, there is a struggle. What we must remember in that time of temptation is that we have been set free from sin and death. So therefore, that slavery is supposed to be a thing of the past. We should not live in it any longer, therefore. That is the ultimate meaning of the Jubilee year. It makes a much better New Year’s resolution than is normally the case. Happy New Year.