This is an article I prepared for The Gatherer, the newsletter of St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton where I serve as Lead Pastor. It will appear in the June issue, but I thought I’d give blog readers a preview. It’s not an easy subject, but I’d be glad for your comments and constructive criticism.
As I write this, the earth is supposed to be shaking, and the judgment of humanity is supposed to be taking place – or, so says the owner of several American Christian radio
stations, who has gone to great trouble and expense to alert the world to his reading of Scripture, which leads him to the conclusion that the beginning of the consummation of the world was supposed to take place on Saturday, May 21, 2011.
If you’re reading this, that didn’t happen. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t have happened; but, as I’ve explained in Encouragement From The Word, my weekly email, it’s not up to us to try to predict when that might happen. Jesus himself said that only the Father knows for sure when it will happen. It seems to me, then, a waste of otherwise
valuable time to attempt to figure out when all this will take place. As one friend wrote on this blog, “too many believers spend far too much time peeking down the hall to see if the Lord is coming that they forget their need to be out working in the field.” If these folks who were putting their energy into predictions instead put their energy into growing God’s kingdom, we might get closer to fulfilling the Great Commission!
Still, all the hubbub about this prediction has a moment of instruction for us, a reminder that in fact, there will be judgment that will be faced by the whole human race. A good study Bible will help you understand how the Scripture demonstrates this, but here are a few tips:
One of the more popular stories outlining the coming judgment is found in the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25.31-46. On the surface, this appears to be a works-based judgment, yet we believe in a faith-based salvation! Why this apparent discrepancy? We need to read the text more carefully, for there are layers of meaning behind it. First, we need to understand that the criterion of judgment is not how we treated other people, as important as that is; the criterion of judgment is how we treated Jesus. Did we love Jesus enough to care for him? That’s what matters, ultimately, in the judgment. Lesser criteria have to do with how we lived out our faith, but how we lived out our faith does not determine our final, eternal destiny.
In parabolic terminology, followers of Jesus will be sheep, and those who did not follow Jesus will be goats.
Of course, this is a very simplified reduction of what Scripture says about judgment, but my purpose here is to assure you that if you love Jesus, if he is Number One in your life, you do not need to fear the coming judgment – whenever it may come.
Those we know (and those we don’t) who have not made Jesus Number One in their lives, however, should fear the coming judgment. But our goal is to help them experience the blessings of the Christian life, and let that draw them to faith. Fear and intimidation is unlikely to work.
So if, by faith, you are ready for Jesus’ return, fear not. We don’t know much about what the end of time will look like, in spite of the snapshots the Bible gives us.
What Scripture tells us about the final judgment is like the part of an iceberg that we can see: it is, quite literally, just the tip of the iceberg.
Because we can’t see more, we must trust. And isn’t that, after all, what the life of faith is all about?