When Jesus Comes Back to Judge the World (Continued)
Sunday, March 22, 2009 -
“We believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hades; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen”
Last week we began our study of the last judgment by considering believers and the last judgment. Today we consider unbelievers and the last judgment. Our numbering will continue from last week. So we’ll begin today with point number two:
2) UNBELIEVERS AND THE JUDGEMENT - We open this teaching with very chilling words from the last book of the New Testament: Revelation 20:11-15 - “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.  And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.  And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.  Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.  And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
These are hard words to explain away. They seem to be a description of what happens to people who reject Jesus Christ by the way they live. Of course, the question people immediately ask is would God actually do that? Do the wicked really end up in the lake of fire? And one of the writers of the New Testament actually anticipated that very probing question. Peter seems to have this very question (objection?) in his mind as he wrote these words - 2 Peter 2:4-9 - “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment;  if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;  if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;  and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked  (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard);  then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment....”
The Apostle Peter says all these examples of judgement are meant to wake us up to the reality of the wrath of God against sin. These historic cases of divine judgement are merely pre-cursors of the final judgement yet to come. Sinners don’t receive full punishment right now in this world. Because of this many of them grow more and more careless and bold and ugly in their wickedness. But God is “keeping the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgement.”
John says one day books will be opened. I don’t know all that this picture is meant to convey, but I know this much; it speaks of records - permanent records. We are so prone to think that words and actions and sins just evaporate into nothing as soon as they are issued - that they just spend themselves out into nothing. Not so says John. They are all recorded. They are all kept for judgement. Your actions don’t die at the end of the day. And they don’t die at the grave. They await judgement. John says they await the second resurrection. John says they await the lake of fire.
Let me close with these unforgettable words from the Apostle Paul:
2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 - “....since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you,  and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels  in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,  when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.”
Paul builds an argument in these verses. People find it hard to believe a good, loving God would ever execute vengeance on those who choose to reject His saving mercy in Christ Jesus. And Paul knows people have a hard time with that concept of divine justice. That’s why it is important to note how these verses begin.
Paul starts out with that word “since” - “....since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you....” There it is. God considers it just to “repay with affliction....” And if God considers it just to repay with affliction people who were cruel, just in an earthly, temporal sense, to Christians, how much more just would He consider it to punish those who eternally reject the grace and mercy and splendor of God’s offer to them in Jesus Christ?
Again, while it’s not impossible, it does require quite the hermeneutical slight of hand to totally take the edge of these words: “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,  when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.”