- Matthew 24: 36-44;
- 2Thessalonians 1:3-12
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
The last time God spoke to us from 2 Thessalonians, we also asked the question, “Why is knowing God such a big deal?” At that occasion we learnt two significant things from the Bible:
- Our Lord Jesus Christ will certainly come again in glory. It is an event filled which will be very public, visible and spectacular—literally, a world-changing experience. It will be cosmic and unprecedented, glorious, both terrific and terrifying.
- The Bible also teaches that the suffering we might endure in the meantime is for our benefit: To suffer persecution and painful affliction in perseverance and faith may seem like a hardship, often needless and unjust, but viewed in its pure light, it is “an indication of the righteous judgment of God.” Like with fine gold in the crucible persecution is a refining and moulding precess of preparation for eternal life.
There are other aspects concerning the return of Christ from this chapter that we need to hear.
- Those who hear the Gospel and obey it will be saved
- Those who do not believe God to obey the Gospel of Christ will be judged with eternal punishment
Justice in Judgement
Before we hear the Word about God’s judgment, let’s pause at the statement of verse 6: “God is just.”
People may mistreat us. They might break into our homes and steal our belongings; someone may disobey traffic laws and cause us to be involved in an accident; someone may cheat us out of money and goods. In cases like these we love to demand justice. We will only be satisfied when these people are dealt with according to the law. When it seems that the judge or magistrate do not apply the law, we feel done by because justice was not served.
Interestingly, when we are on the wrong side we can argue at length why we should receive mercy.
This starts early in life. Children do the same: they want justice and mercy—justice to those who wrong them, but mercy if they are on the wrong side. The only way out, of course, is to have someone who is just; someone who can objectively work out what is right, and pass just judgment.
Modern Christianity generally interprets grace and love as attributes of God, which are seemingly incompatible with his justice. When God judges, as we learn from the Bible, the message is often watered down to love, mercy and grace without justice. God is a God of love – so goes the argument – and He will surely not measure out judgement in the form of penalty, especially not an eternal punishment. For some, the idea of eternal hell is incompatible with the Person of God.
Our verse teaches very clearly: “God is just.” Just think about it for one moment: if God does not judge in perfect righteousness according to his holy justice, for what reason did Jesus Christ die on the cross? It is precisely because God is just in righteousness that Jesus took our sins upon Him and faced the perfect justice of God by dying in our place. Were it not for this act of grace, we will have to face God in his perfect justice. And who will be able to plead for grace if we rejected that grace in Jesus Christ?
God is never more gracious than He is holy; He is not more loving than He is just. He is always holy, always merciful, full of grace, full of love, forever full of justice and filled with righteousness. He cannot be holy and just, and then be gracious apart from the grace in Jesus Christ. See, Christ is the only way to the Father, the only door, the only truth. There is but one Name under heaven and on earth through which we must be saved, and that is the Name of Jesus (Acts 4:12).
Therefore, when Christ comes again – and He will surely return as the Bible already taught us – He comes as the One sent by the Father to execute judgment. He is with the Father and the Holy Spirit just. When He first came to earth He came as our Redeemer; now at the throne of God He is our Advocate; when He returns He comes as Judge. With justice He will judge.
Those who hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and obey it will be saved
What will this salvation entail?
First of all, our text speaks of salvation from the trouble of this world. More so, then, the distress of persecution and trials. God will vindicate the hardships of his people. The Bible is clear about it. Agents of the devil who are causing the people of God to be persecuted and troubled then will not get away with it. There will be a day of reckoning when God will judge with justice those who oppressed his church. This will happen when our Lord Jesus Christ appears in blazing fire with his mighty angels. That’s the day of the trumpet when judgement will take place.
Those who have heard and obeyed the Gospel of Jesus Christ will be glorified. This will be a day of marvel and astonishment. The night will be over, the new day will break for the sun never to set again. Those who worship Jesus will then hear the trumpet call, they will see their Lord come in glory. They will listen to his voice calling them home, not to be judged but to hear the words of freedom and vindication. Revelation 20 says:
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also, I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshipped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4, ESV)
There are differences of opinion about this particular verse, but let’s try to focus on what proponents do agree on: those who had not worshipped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands, are safe with Christ. Revelation also teaches us:
… people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. (Revelation 3:4–5, ESV)
These are the ones who will hear these words:
Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. (Revelation 19:7–8, ESV)
Our bodies will be resurrected and be reunited with our souls which will be kept safe in the presence of God till that day into eternity (if we have not died then, we will receive new bodies, imperishable to be like those who had died but received new resurrection bodies.) Then the promises of Revelation 21 will be eternally true:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1–4, ESV)
How will this be possible? There is no secret about it—and it is available today, now as you hear this message. Listen:
On the day He comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. (2 Thessalonians 1:10, NIV)
The testimony is the word of God about new life, the forgiveness of sins, receiving the righteousness of God through Jesus Christ. This is the essence. He and she who believes this is saved—now and for eternity. John writes:
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11–12, NIV)
Are you sure about this? Have you come to Christ, confessed your sin, turned from your passed, received grace, and followed your Saviour? This is absolutely crucial, because:
Those who do not believe God to obey the Gospel of Christ will be judged with eternal punishment
God is just: He judges in righteousness. Not all people will go to heaven, and whoever teaches grace in this way is a false teacher and will face God for this gross lie.
The return of Christ will be a glorious day for those who obey the Gospel of Christ, but it will be a dreadful day for those who rejected the message of the Bible.
First, they will be held accountable to God for ridiculing his people and holding his church in derision, for rejecting Christ as the only Saviour between God and man, and scoffing at the message of the Bible.
Second, God will punish those who do not know Him. It is only by knowing Christ that we know the Father. Jesus declared that those who reject Him reject the Father.
Third, the punishment will be everlasting destruction. There is no second chance, and those who teach this will also stand condemned. We are destined to live once and die once, and after — as the Bible teaches in Hebrews 9:27 — we will face judgement.
Fourth, those who die outside of Christ will be shut out – forever – from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power. This is something we cannot contemplate now, for even though some may blaspheme his Name now, they still enjoy his common grace: He still feeds them, yet provides the oxygen to breathe, still have the sun shining upon them, still have friends and shelter. But on that day, these things will be removed. Then they will be forsaken by God. The worst thing about hell is to be separated from the love of God and to face his wrath forever.
Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:14–15, NIV)
Is this where you are heading? Why?
Receive the Gospel of Grace—today
When the apostle wrote these things, he was not standing on higher moral ground with his tongue stuck out his mouth, saying, “Haha, I’m saved you’re not.” No, he put his life on the line and pleaded with the lost to be reconciled to Christ.
If you’re saved and you know it, don’t have an attitude of judging the lost; pray for them, because you know that you too were saved by grace. The most off-putting attitude of Christians is to act as they are better than others. The most attracting attribute of a Christian is to stand alongside the lost, praying for and them, weeping for them, and be a true brother or sister in Christ. May our prayer also be that of Paul,
… we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power He may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12, NIV)
In Christ’s Name. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 11 August 2019