Four Important Truths Relating to the Second Coming of Christ (2)2
In the previous article we looked at Hebrews 9:27-28 and took note of the first two of four truths concerning the Second Coming of Christ. We now turn to the remaining two. Continue reading . . .
In the previous article we looked at Hebrews 9:27-28 and took note of the first two of four truths concerning the Second Coming of Christ. We now turn to the remaining two. Here again is the text under consideration.
“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so 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” (Heb. 9:27-28).
(1) The Second Coming of Christ ends all opportunity to be saved.
This is an extremely sobering and serious assertion, but we can’t afford to overlook it. Several things in this passage confirm it. I’ll return to this in a moment but clearly the purpose of Christ’s return is to consummate the salvation of those who already know him and are anxiously awaiting his coming (v. 28). There is nothing to indicate he is coming to save those who up until that time have lived in defiant disbelief and rebellion against his claim to be God incarnate.
We also know that there is no second chance to be saved after physical death because our author says that “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (v. 27). He doesn’t say that after death comes yet another opportunity to be saved.
Whereas it is true that physical death is not the end of our existence, it is most assuredly the end of all opportunity to be reconciled to God. Contrary to those who argue for naturalism or that the only reality is physical or material in nature, when we die we do not simply go out of consciousness and decompose in the ground.
Sadly, most people today operate on the assumption that if we die only once that’s ok because everyone immediately goes to “heaven” or some such place of their own making. Did you see this recently in the wake of the tragic death of Robin Williams and especially of Joan Rivers?
I bring this to your attention because of a headline that appeared on the Drudge Report, the popular on-line news service. There it was in all caps and bold print: “Joan Plays Heaven”.
The default belief of most Americans is that when someone dies, indeed when anyone dies, he or she is automatically assumed to go to heaven, or some such place. You hear it from athletes around the globe. Following the death of a parent it’s common to hear the football player or golfer declare: “Well, I’m sure dad is looking down on me now and I hope he’s proud of what I’ve done.” Or when a politician passes away after a tumultuous and difficult life, it’s not uncommon for many to say: “At least he is now at rest. He’s in a better place and for that we can all be grateful.”
The inescapable fact is that the western world simply assumes the truth of universalism. The suggestion that those who leave this life in unrepentant denial of Jesus Christ are eternally separated from God and subject to his judgment is regarded as unloving and inexcusably insensitive.
We witnessed this same phenomenon when Robin Williams committed suicide. A few expressed their hope that Williams had actually professed faith in Christ at some earlier time, and I certainly hope that is true. But for most people that hardly matters. As one news commentator put it, “He’s now making God laugh.”
I feel profound sadness at the thought that Joan Rivers and Robin Williams may have left this life without Christ. Maybe they didn’t and both of them are making God laugh. God does have a sense of humor. But if they are in the presence of Christ it is only because in mercy and love the Holy Spirit awakened their hearts to their need for Christ and drew them effectually to saving faith while they were still alive. We aren’t justified by comedy or the ability to make people laugh and feel good about themselves. We are justified during this life alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
What awaits all mankind after death is judgment. For non-Christians it is the judgment that consigns them to eternal separation from Christ. That is a judgment from which Christians are spared. But we also face judgment to determine the degree of blessing and reward we will experience in eternity future.
Christians die just like non-Christians, but our death is not punitive. It is not punishment for our sin, for as we’ve seen, Christ has already endured the penalty we deserved. If you wonder, then, why Christians die at all, it is in order to provide us and the world with abiding testimony to the profound horror and wickedness of sin. But the sting of physical death as punishment for sin has been eliminated. The apostle Paul declared, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:56). His point is that although death is inevitable it is, for the Christian, our entrance into eternal glory.
Now, to return to what I said a moment ago, this passage rules out the baseless hope that there will be a second chance after physical death to believe in Jesus. Quite a few folk believe that those who die without having heard of Jesus in this life will be given yet another opportunity after physical death to hear the gospel and believe and be saved. But this notion falters on at least two points.
First, it assumes that people who didn’t hear about Jesus in this life were never given a legitimate or genuine opportunity to repent and believe in God. But Paul refutes this notion in Romans 1:18ff. where he declares that all mankind are the recipients of clear and unmistakable evidence of God’s existence and power and divine nature. God has made himself known to everyone in nature, in creation, in the things that are seen. The result, says Paul, is that they “are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20b). Such people who never heard of Jesus or the gospel in this life will be judged based on their response to the revelation of God that they did receive and then rejected.
Second, there simply are no biblical passages that teach the idea that after death people will have a second chance. Contrary to what some have thought, 1 Peter 4:5-6 does not teach this:
“But they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does” (1 Peter 4:5-6).
Without going into detail, let me simply say that the context of this passage indicates that Peter is talking about the gospel being preached to Christians who are now dead. These people had heard and believed the gospel while they were alive but had subsequently died physically.
Thus the “dead” men and women of v. 6 are people who are physically dead at the time Peter is writing this letter. The preaching is that done by Christian ministers and missionaries, like us. Christ isn’t the one who preaches to them after they die. He is rather the content or focus of the message preached to them while they were still alive. These people weren’t physically dead when they heard the gospel. They are people who heard the gospel and believed and have subsequently died physically.
Thus the gospel was preached to living people who are now dead. It isn’t preached to dead people after they lived.
(4) The Second Coming of Christ will consummate the salvation of those who eagerly await his return.
Whereas it is gloriously true that Christ’s sacrifice was a single, once-for-all event in the past, something unrepeatable and definitive and final, that does not mean his role in our salvation is finished. Paul says this in Romans 5:9-10 –
“Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by his life. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:9-10).
The future tense here (“shall”) points forward to the consummation of our salvation, what we call glorification, that will occur when Christ returns and we receive our resurrected bodies.
And for whom is this final stage of salvation intended? It is for those who anxiously await “him,” namely, Jesus. Our eyes are set on seeing Christ, not antichrist! It is not to an event or world crisis that we look, but for the person of our Savior himself. The word translated “eagerly waiting” is a strong verb suggesting intense and passionate expectation (see Phil. 3:20).
I am deeply concerned for people who say they are Christians but have little if any love for the appearing of Jesus. They are so immersed in the affairs of daily life now that they are blinded to the beauty of him who is to come. They are so consumed with themselves and their possessions and their power and their physical comfort and all the gadgets and conveniences of life that they think nothing of the possibility that in the next ten seconds the Lord of the universe could appear in the heavens.
So let me ask you: Does your heart ache for him? Do you long for his appearing? Do you agonize over what seems to be an interminable delay? Or would you just as soon keep him at arms’ length so you can continue to play with your toys? John Piper puts it to us this way:
“This eager expectation for Christ is simply a sign that we love him and believe in him authentically. There is a phony faith that wants only escape from hell, but has no desire for Christ. That does not save. And it does not produce an eager expectation for Christ to come. It would rather that Christ not come for as long as possible so that it can have as much of this world as possible. But the faith that really holds on to Christ as treasure and hope and joy is the faith that makes us long for Christ to come, and that is the faith that saves. So I urge you, turn from the world and from sin and to Christ. Take him not just as your fire insurance policy, but as your eagerly awaited bridegroom and friend and Lord” (“What Christ Will Do at the Second Coming,” February 9, 1997; www.desiringgod.org).
My prayer is that we might all adopt the perspective of the apostle Paul who, from prison, wrote this:
“Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).