We’re fascinated by the future. Books and films love the subject. And so authors have written story after story that they chose to set at some time in the future. In 1968 the film 2001 A Space Odyssey was released being based upon a short story by Arthur C. Clarke a revered writer of science fiction. And which of us has never heard of Star Trek or Star Wars. Herne Bay even has its own Science Fiction day (June19th this year) known as "Sci-Fi by the Sea".
Of course much of this is just a bit of fun but others through history have not written with fun in mind at all. Back in the first half of the 16 th century Nostradamus published collections of his "prophecies". His books remain in print and he has something of a following even today. And in 1949 George Orwell published his famous book "Nineteen Eighty Four" with its gloomy views of big brother is watching you and political correctness.
Virtually from the beginning of recorded human history men and women have been concerned about the future. The unknown future can appear very scary and consequently men have tried to know what the future holds. Such knowledge means power and the ability, perhaps, to control the future and not be controlled by it.
This desire to know and to control the future remains vibrant today – the plethora of astrologers, fortune tellers and so-called clairvoyants of which there are 6 listed in Herne Bay alone. There is actually a Psychic Night organised this coming week.
This morning we are not concerned with works of fiction or the activities of modern day fortune-tellers be they well-meaning but misguided enthusiasts, charlatans or worse. No, this morning we are concerned with what the Bible has to say about the future. Listen to what the relevant article in the churches Statement of Faith:
"The Lord Jesus Christ will return in glory. He will raise the dead and judge the world in righteousness. The wicked will be sent to eternal punishment and the righteous will be welcomed into a life of eternal joy in fellowship with God. God will make all things new and will be glorified forever."
The Bible and the Future:
Now we might have some questions in our minds as we begin our investigations this morning.
For example, we may not simply want to know what the church believes about the future but why the church believes what she does. Is the church’s teaching based on anything more than educated guess-work? Are the church’s views simply the result of wishful thinking? Perhaps the church merely adopted the views that were current in at the time and while we might find their views of historical interest we’re not really that affected by them now.
Well let me begin by telling you that no attentive reader of the Bible will have to wait long before he/she comes across a passage with a prophetic content. The Bible in fact contains many prophecies, a vast number of which have already been fulfilled and remarkably so. If we were to try to take the prophetic/predictive element out of the Bible we would find ourselves left with a vastly different book than the one we actually have. Some estimates suggest that we would have to lose about a quarter of the entire Bible!
As with all things in the Christian faith the most important prophecies relate to Jesus Christ and we find prophecies in the OT relating to his virgin birth, his place of birth, and his miracle-working powers. These prophecies were written centuries before the event and their fulfilment gives us good reason to take the rest of what the Bible has to say seriously.
Jesus himself when he came to earth predicted what was going to happen to him before the event and in doing so he shocked his own followers who didn’t want to envisage their leader suffering and being put to death. Jesus did speak about his subsequent resurrection too but his followers simply couldn’t take it in, not that is until he did actually conquer death and live again!
I can’t prove to you this morning what is going to happen in the future but what I can do is show you what this man Jesus said would happen. And this man Jesus is trustworthy with a great proven track record! No-one before or since has been able to say and do what he said and did. Not only did he announce beforehand his death and die – many others have done this – but he also announced his subsequent resurrection and did it! His followers could have tried their hardest but had Jesus stayed dead the whole Christianity business would never have got off the ground. The disciples themselves didn’t expect the resurrection but were bowled over by the events and couldn’t deny them.
Some of Jesus’ teachings are directly recorded for us in the NT and some of his teaching has come to us mediated through the men he appointed as his apostles and their inspired writings are also contained within the confines of the NT.
The church finds her understanding of the future in the teachings of her Master, teachings that the church embraces with faith. It is perfectly reasonable to trust one who has proved so trustworthy and reliable in everything else he has said and done.
If you are going to reject what he has to say what are your reasonable grounds for doing so?
As we consider what Jesus taught concerning the future we are going to focus on just two main ideas. Each of these three are alluded to in the passage we read earlier in Mt.25:31-46. They are:
It is the Christian conviction and the Christian hope that the world has not seen the last of Jesus Christ.
This lovely man who did so much good when he was alive on earth and has continued to do so much good through the transformed lives of his followers ever since, will, one day return in person to this same earth.
It might sound strange, it might sound impossible – but then again that’s what his disciples thought when he said he would return to life after being crucified!
Look at v.31:
""When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne."
Not a mere wish, not a possibility but an inevitability. Not "if I come" or "if I can come" but a resounding "when I come"! And this in harmony with other declarations that he made.
Eg. Jn.14:3 "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again..."
Angels declared the same truth to the apostles as they stood gazing towards heaven where Jesus had just ascended to the Father’s right hand:
Acts 1:11 they "said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."
This hope was still shining brightly two decades later when Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica:
1Thess.4:16 "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God."
The writer to the Hebrews put the same truth in a slightly different way:
Heb 9:28 "Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him."
The future then contains this unique event of the visible, bodily return of the Lord Jesus Christ to the earth. It will be a return in glory not in weakness; a return to rule and to reign but not to suffer again; it will be a return to bring about the fulfilment of the salvation of those people who have put their trust in him.
You won’t miss that day, no-one will miss that day:
Mk.13:26 "And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory."
Rev.1:7 "Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen."
No, you won’t miss that day – the only question that need concern you is "Am I ready for it?"
Jesus return will signal the end of history as we know it because he will at his coming usher in the Last Day, the Day of Judgment.
Our text from Matthew’s gospel tell us several significant truths about this coming Day of Judgment.
Firstly, everyone will be concerned. This is not a judgment reserved for those who have some sort of faith it will involve "all the nations".
Mt.25.32 "Before him will be gathered all the nations..."
In two separate letters the apostle Paul underlined the universality of this judgment:
2Cor.5:10 "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil."
Rom.14:10 "Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;"
It doesn’t matter which country you come from or which country you might happen to be in at the time of Jesus’ return, you will be assessed on that day.
There won’t be any advantage or disadvantage on that day depending upon where you come from. There won’t be special favours granted to those from the so-called Christian nations and there won’t be any exclusion-clauses because you come from a Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist country.
Given this very simple straightforward fact that we will all be judged on that day should encourage us all to consider whether we are indeed ready for it and not to put our head in the sands hoping things will simply pass us by.
Secondly, this judgment will not be reserved solely for those who are physically alive at the time of Jesus’ return. It will be a judgment of both those who are alive when he returns and those who had already physically died. Jesus Christ has been qualified by God to judge the living and the dead!
Peter told Cornelius that:
Acts 10:42 Jesus is "the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead."
He later wrote that we must "give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead." (1Pet.4:5).
Similarly, Paul wanting to motivate Timothy preach the word, told him that it is:
2Tim.4:1 "Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead."
Thirdly, Jesus’ judgment separates people into one or other of two and only two camps
Mt.25:32 continues with the following words:
"...he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats."
In the Middle East sheep and goats looked very similar and to the untrained eye could be easily confused. The shepherd however had no trouble is distinguishing between them. And Jesus, the good shepherd, has no trouble in distinguishing between one person and another even though outwardly they may look very much like each other. In fact we often do compare ourselves with others and we say something like: "I just as good as him" or "I’m not as bad as her." But Jesus knows what each of us is like and knows how to assess us properly.
His judgment is by no means arbitrary but he separates one group from another according to sound principles. One the one hand there are those whom he describes as the "righteous". These are those who responded to Jesus and allowed their interaction with him to transform their lives (Mt.25:35-36). On the other hand there is another group who haven’t responded in anything like the same way. Like the righteous they address Jesus as Lord but their lives give no evidence of being transformed by him. On another much earlier occasion Jesus had said very much the same thing. Listen to some of his words from the Sermon on the Mount:
Mt.7:21-22 ""Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’"
Has your knowledge of Jesus and your encounter with him produced the necessary changes in your life? Faith which does not go on to be accompanied by good works is not a living faith that leads to salvation but is rather dead and its end is destruction.
Fourthly, Jesus’ judgment which separates men and women into two distinct categories leads to totally different outcomes for each group. How stark the contrast is between those two alternatives and we see it very clearly when we put the relevant verses side by side:
Mt.25:24 "Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’"
Mt.25:41 "Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’"
Or again in the final verse of our text:
Mt.25:46 "And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
So what is your future going to be like?
Jesus is coming – it doesn’t matter whether he comes this year or whether he comes 2.000 years from now – his coming is sure because he has said he will and his word is trustworthy just as he himself is trustworthy.
In the light of this certainty are you ready to repent of your sin and put your trust in him? He calls upon you to do so and is both willing and able to save all those who do so turn from their sin and call upon him for mercy. But you must do so now – when he comes it will too late for you to change your mind or to undergo a change of heart.
The last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, has much to say about the future. Among the various subjects it treats the return of Jesus to judge figures prominently. There are typically two responses to his actual coming:
Rev.6:15-17 "Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?""
How dreadful to be numbered along with these people! For these people Jesus’ coming will not be joyous; for them it will a coming that is associated with the wrath of the Lamb.
But it need not be like that for there is another possibility. There will be a group, a large group, of people who will be found to have put their trust in Jesus and specifically in his death on behalf of sinners and for them Jesus’ coming will be absolutely wonderful:
Rev.7:9-10 "After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!""
Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift and may he give us his grace that we might believe and receive the Saviour.