While here in South Africa, my in-law’s house-keeper (a precious black woman, Sylvia), asked me to help her understand “everything the Bible has to say on Christ’s return!” No small task there!! So, I spent a bit of time summarizing (hopefully in a concise and simple manner) the basics of Biblical eschatology! I thought it good enough that I ought to share it with you all!
One of the foundational truths of the Christian faith is the fact that Christ promised His church that He will return in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven (Acts 1:11)”. As the ancient Apostle’s Creed affirms: “[Christ] ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” Thus, as Christians we must live with a mindset of readiness for either our death or His return, and we must warn this careless world the danger of neglecting “so great salvation (Heb. 2:3)” offered to us through Christ’s saving work on the cross.
As with any topic, the Scripture alone must be our source for truth; many people have come up with fancy, and imaginative theories about Christ’s return, and many of these ideas (though certainly creative) have no basis in the Word of God. Since we are in the Kingdom of God, King Jesus’ Word must be the lone authority for us in matters of doctrine; and the doctrine of Christ’s return is no different.
There are essentially four different views of Christ’s return: dispensationalism, historic premillennialism, amillennialism, & post-millennialism. These four views have certain key similarities, but they also have some very profound differences. However, despite these differences (which we ought to study and understand, but I’ll leave that for a different time), all four views agree on the fact that at some point in the future, though we do not know the hour (Mat. 25:13 & 24:36), Christ will return to sit as Judge over all the earth, and every man and angel, along with their every action, thought, deed, and word will be judged by Him (Rom. 14:10).
Furthermore, the redeemed of the Lord will—presumably after they are judged first and declared righteous by the merit of Jesus blood, and their faith in Him—will sit with Christ in the judgement of the rest of mankind, and even of the angels (1 Cor. 6:1-3)! This great judgement is spoken of in a few places in scripture as the separating of the sheep and the goats (Mt. 25), the great white throne judgement (Rev. 20:11-15), and the opening of the books (Dan. 7:10).
At this Judgement, all creatures (angels and men) will be made to stand before God to give an account of their works, and to receive either the reward or the punishment of these works. The Psalmist declares to us that: “[God] renderest to every man according to his work (Ps. 62:12, see also Rom. 2:6).” This is why “the books” are opened, the one book being understood to be God’s Omniscience (all-knowing wisdom) along with man’s conscience, for “there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known (Luk 12:2).” The second book, is usually understood to be the Scriptures, being that which contains God’s revealed will, His holy law, His righteous standards, and His commands.
Matthew Henry, states it well: “Those whose names are written in that book (that is, those that are justified and acquitted by the gospel) shall then be justified and acquitted by the Judge, and shall enter into eternal life, having nothing more to fear from death, or hell, or wicked men; for these are all destroyed together. Let it be our great concern to see on what terms we stand with our Bibles, whether they justify us or condemn us now; for the Judge of all will proceed by that rule. Christ shall judge the secrets of all men according to the gospel. Happy are those who have so ordered and stated their cause according to the gospel as to know beforehand that they shall be justified in the great day of the Lord!”
However, for the wicked, it will be a great terror and horror, and will come as a “thief in the night (1 Th. 5:2 & 2 Pt. 3:10)”. Jonathan Edwards describes it well: “This will be a most unexpected sight to the wicked world: it will come as a cry at midnight: they shall be taken in the midst of their wickedness, and it will give them a dreadful alarm. It will at once break up their revels, their eating, and drinking, and carousing.”
Edwards continues with an awesome description of the sentence that shall be proclaimed to the righteous and to the wicked: “The sentence shall be pronounced on the righteous and the wicked. Christ, the glorious Judge, shall pass that blessed sentence on the church at his right hand, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Mt. 25:34).’ This sentence shall be pronounced with infinite love, and the voice will cause every heart to flow with joy. Thus Christ shall pronounce a sentence of justification on millions, who before had a sentence of condemnation passed upon them by their persecuting rulers. He will thus put honour upon those who have been before despised: he will own them for his, and will put a crown of glory upon their heads before the world; and then shall they shine forth as the sun with Jesus Christ in glory and joy, in the sight of all their enemies.
And then shall the sentence of condemnation be passed on the wicked, ‘Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels (Mt. 25:41).’ Thus shall the church’s enemies be condemned; in which sentence of condemnation, the holy martyrs, who have suffered from them, shall concur. When the words of this sentence are pronounced, they will strike every heart of those at the left hand with inconceivable horror and amazement. Every syllable of it will be more terrible than a stream of lightning through their hearts. What horrible shrieking, quaking, gnashing of teeth, distortions of countenance, hideous looks, hideous actions, and hideous voices, will be seen through all that vast throng!”
In Matthew 24:42, we have one of the clearest instructions in regards to what our response should be to the truth of Christ’s imminent return, in which He will come as King and Judge; it says, “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.” Thus, the calling for the Christian is to live in readiness—as the five wise virgins, whose lamps were full of oil, ready for the coming bridegroom (Mat. 25:4). The warning to unbelievers is to repent of their careless neglect of the Gospel message, to repent of their crimes against God’s holy law, and cling to the saving grace of Jesus Christ; otherwise they shall be as the five foolish virgins who were left outside in darkness when the bridegroom came at midnight (Mt. 25:11-12).
To the believer, this is a day of longing expectation, as a Bride waits for the wedding day, and we ought to be in readiness and to “examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5)”. For those outside of Christ, there is a fearful judgement and doom that awaits; for they shall receive the consequences of their willful rebellion to God and His Gospel, for they are those who trod the Son of God underfoot (Heb. 10:29). Thus, the word to all mankind is this: “Watch!” Be in readiness; which is as much as to say: believe the Gospel of Christ, that you might be saved from the wrath to come!