Chapter 3: The Coming Of The Lord (cont.)

A second observation that must be made concerning the coming of the Lord is that it is the final wonder of grace.

The confession that we believe in a literal, personal return of our Lord Jesus Christ must not tempt us to overlook the equally important truth that it is a wonder, and that, therefore, we dare not conceive of it and speak of it in terms derived from our present, earthly life and existence.

There can be no doubt that this is frequently done. We are inclined to picture the return of our Lord in earthly, and carnal colors and forms, as if He were to return to us in His former, earthy body, sitting on some cloud in the sky above us, and as if thus, with our earthly eyes, we shall see Him. That this is the conception many form of His second coming is evident from the irrelevant questions that are often asked concerning the possibility of such a universally observed advent, and the silly objections that are raised against it; as well as from the equally irrelevant answers that are given to such questions and objections. How, it is asked, is it possible that every eye, that all men over the whole earth, shall see Him, when He comes on the clouds of heaven? Have we not definitely discovered that the earth is a sphere? If, then, men that live in the western hemisphere shall see Him at His coming, it must follow that those that live on the other side of the earth cannot possibly be witness of His coming.

And with perfectly good intentions, believers have attempted to reply to this objection, and to explain the possibility oil the second coming as witnessed by all. Modern inventions, such as the wireless and the radio, and especially television are supposed to demonstrate this possibility. Even Dr. A. Kuyper reminds us of these wonderful powers of nature that are brought to light by these modern inventions, and then concludes: “Now, keep this in mind, and then remember that Christ, as potentate over all the mysteries of nature, can dispose of all her powers;—and it is evident that all the inconceivableness (of Christ’s second coming as universally witnessed, H.H.) is removed, and already you see through the possibility that Jesus, without the means of a metal wire can do what we are capable of doing with it, and spread His voice and appearance to all parts of the world, to every ear and heart.” (1).

All such attempts to explain the second coming of our Lord are oblivious of the fact that the parousia lies in the line of the wonders of grace: the incarnation, the death of the Son of God, the resurrection, the ascension into glory, the coming with the clouds of heaven.

We believe that the Son of God assumed our human nature, soul and body, from the virgin Mary; but this does not mean that we can comprehend or demonstrate this wonder of wonders. We believe that, on the cross, it was the Son of God that laid down His life; that He arose from the dead on the third day; that He ascended from the mount of Olives to heaven, and sits at the right hand of God; but this does not imply that we conceive of these wonders in a carnal and earthly way, or that we can comprehend and demonstrate their possibility. And the same is true of the wonder of the second coming. We believe that our Lord, Who arose from the dead, and ascended up into heaven, shall come again in person, at a definite moment, in the end of the world, and that His coming shall be witnessed by all men, that every eye shall see Him; but no more than our modern airplanes explain the possibility of His ascension do wireless and television demonstrate the possibility of His return.

If it be pointed out that the angels on mount Olivet assured the gazing apostles that He “shall come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven,” we should not forget that He ascended in His resurrection body, that in that body He appeared to His disciples on mount Olivet, and that in His appearance they saw Him being taken up. So also He shall come again, not in an earthly, natural body, but in the heavenly, spiritual body of His resurrection.

The Bible, therefore, speaks of this second coming as an appearance. Our life is now hid with Christ in God, but when He shall appear, we shall appear with Him in glory. Col. 8:4. And we look “for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” Tit. 2:18. Or it speaks of the coming of Christ as His revelation. The tried faith of believers must be found “unto praise and honor and glory at the revelation (en apokalupsei) of Jesus Christ.” I Pet. 1:7. Just as He appeared several times to His disciples during the forty days between His resurrection and His ascension, so He shall appear to all in the end of the world, then to be revealed in all His glory and never to leave us again, or rather, to take us with Him into glory. And His coming will be as the lightning flashing through the heavens. Matt. 24:27.

It seems, then, that we must make a distinction between His sudden appearance in the clouds of heaven, to all that shall live on the earth at the time of His advent, and His complete revelation to all that have ever lived in the world, after the resurrection. It would seem that Scripture makes this distinction in Matt. 24:30: “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shad see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with great power and glory.” Whatever this “sign of the Son of man in heaven” may be, it seems that it must be distinguished from His full and final revelation. Then, too, it is evident that, if all are to see Him, also they that pierced Him, this cannot take place till after the resurrection. In as far as it is possible, therefore, in the light of Scripture, to conceive of the order of events at the parousia, we would suggest the following: 1. First, and in the midst of great distress and dreadful signs, when “the powers of the heavens shall be shaken,” the “sign of the Son of man” shall appear in the heavens, visible to all that shall then live on the earth. And by that sign, all shall know that He is come to judge. 2. Then shall follow the resurrection of the dead, and the ingathering of all the elect. 3. And in their resurrection bodies all, the righteous and the wicked, shall behold Him in the full revelation of His glory and power. 4. All this shall be followed by the last judgment, and the execution of its verdict.

Scripture presents this final wonder as always near.

And when the apostles speak of this coming of the Lord as near, and at hand, and about to occur, we must not explain this as an error on their part, as if they expected the coming of the Lord in their own lifetime. It is true that, in the time of the apostles, believers often conceived of the time that must elapse before the Lord would come again as much shorter than it actually has proved to be. In fact, many expected that the second coming would take place before they died. The Thessalonians were, evidently, worried about those of them that slept, as if they would be deprived of the glorious privilege of seeing and meeting Him at His coming. Mockers, of which the apostle Peter writes, asked: “where is the promise of His coming?” And believers, hard pressed by persecution, complained that the Lord was slack concerning His promise. There seems to have been a general expectation among believers of apostolic times that the Lord would come in their own day.

But this does not mean that the current and definite testimony of the New Testament, with regard to the nearness of the parousia, dare be interpreted as due to the same mistaken expectation.

It is true that this “nearness” cannot be understood and expressed in terms of days and months and years. The apostle Peter reminds those that complained of God’s slackness in fulfilling the promise, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years are as one day. But, first of all, believers must live in the constant consciousness of the ever approaching coming of the Lord, and of all it implies. For them, the parousia must be near. In fact, they must live as in that day. Secondly, that day is near in the sense that it is next. No other “comings” of the Lord, as in the flood, the incarnation, the resurrection, can be expected. It is the last hour. In this dispensation we are in the day of the Lord. Just as a traveler by train passes several stations on his long journey, but finally the conductor comes through the coaches announcing that the next stop is the terminal, where all get out; so we, in the new dispensation have passed the last station-stop on the world’s journey through time, and the gospel-call is: “the Lord is coming next!” And thirdly, the Lord is coming quickly, as fast as possible, so to speak. Tremendous things must still come to pass before that final coming. They must be finished. And they are being accomplished with amazing rapidity. This is especially evident in, our day. We are flying toward the end.

In view of all this, believers must take the testimony of Scripture very seriously, that the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

They must live as in that day.

In the world they must keep their garments clean. They must be sober and watch.

And in the midst of tribulation they must lift up their heads, and earnestly look for the coming of their Lord, and their final and complete redemption.

That is the hope of His coming!

Chapter 4: The Final Judgment.

With the coming of Christ, the Apostolic Confession connects the final judgment: “From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

Accordingly, the Heidelberg Catechism lays all stress on the same element of judgment in connection with the truth of His coming again: “What comfort is to thee that Christ shall come again to judge the quick and the dead? That in all my sorrows and persecutions, with uplifted head I look for the very same person, who before offered himself for my sake, to the tribunal of God, and has removed all curse from me, to come as judge from heaven: who shall cast all his and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but shall translate me with all his chosen ones to himself, into heavenly joys and glory.”

That there will be such a final judgment to bring to a definite close the history of our world, and to serve as the revelation of God’s justice as maintained in the everlasting state of the righteous and of the wicked, Scripture teaches throughout. To such a day all the saints of the old dispensation looked forward. “Say among the heathen that the Lord reign eth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved: he shall judge the people righteously. Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth he glad; let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the Lord: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth.” Ps. 96:10-13; cf. Ps. 98:7-9. All the prophets speak of a day of the Lord, when the Lord shall deliver His people, and judge the nations righteously. “Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” Joel 3:12-14. And again: “The great day of the Lord is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the Lord: the mighty man shall cry bitterly. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness. A day of the trumpet, and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers. And I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord: and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as the dung.” Zech. 1:14-17. “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud:, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” Mal. 4:1.

In the New Testament, as might be expected, this “day of the Lord” is more clearly defined.

It is a day of judgment that is connected with the coming again of the Son of man. “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” Matt. 16:27. And again, “The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Matt. 13:41-43. He, the Son of man, shall sit upon the throne of his glory, and “before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. . . . Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Matt. 25:31ff. The Father “hath committeth all judgment unto the Son.” John 5:22. “And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.” His judgment is just, for as He hears, so He judges, and He does not seek His own will, but the will of Him that sent Him. John 5:27, 30.

The apostle Paul speaks of “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, Who will render every man according to his deeds.” Rom. 2:5, 6; and of “the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.” Rom. 2:16. And “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” II Cor. 5:10. He charges Timothy to preach the Word, “before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom.” II Tim. 4:1, 2. The epistle of James exhorts believers to be patient, “for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh,” and “the judge standeth before the door.” James 5:8, 9. And “the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished.” II Pet. 2:9. When, however. His love is made perfect in us, “we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.” I John 4:17.

To the seer on Patmos was given a vision of this final judgment, recorded in Rev. 20:11-14: “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened:, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

And the last chapter of the book of Revelation solemnly emphasizes the Lord’s coming to judge both quick and dead: “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” Rev. 22:12.

Our Confession, too, inseparably connects this final judgment with Christ and His coming: “Finally, we believe, according to the Word of God, when the time appointed by the Lord (which is unknown to all creatures) is come, and the number of the elect complete, that our Lord Jesus Christ will come from heaven, corporally and visibly, as He ascended, with great glory and majesty, to declare Himself judge of the quick and the dead; burning this old world with fire and flame, to cleanse it. And then all men will personally appear before this great, judge, both men and women and children, that have been from the beginning of the world to the end thereof,” etc. Conf. Belg. Art. 37.

Several elements in this doctrine concerning the last judgment require a little closer investigation.

First of all, we may ask the question: what is the idea of this last judgment, by which all the affairs of this world, especially as they are concerned with the moral creatures, will be terminated, and their eternal state will be decided?

(1) E Voto II, 69.