Today we turn our attention to “The Great Climax” (Chapter 10 in the last section of Christopher Wright’s The God I Don’t Understand. Again, I’m just going to skim through the themes.
The Day of the Lord
At first it was understood as the day when God would defeat Israel’s enemies and end oppression. However, some prophets said it would be a day of darkness and judgment. (Amos 5:19-20, Zephaniah 1:14-18 … but also Zephaniah 3:9-17 where it is a day of joy) Paul turns it into “the day of Christ” (e.g., Phil. 1:6, 10; 2:16, 1 Cor. 1:8) with the following three elements involved: return of Christ, resurrection of the dead, and final judgment.
The Return of Christ
Wright says we tend to separate the first and second comings of Christ in our minds but scripture holds them more tightly together (See Titus 2:11-13; Hebrews 9:26-28; 1 John 3:2, 5) The Return of Christ will have the following three elements.
- Personal – Jesus will return in actuality, not in some metaphorical or spiritual sense.
- Visible – It will be a visible return and a return that is visible to all at the same time.
- Glorious – He will come as the glorious king to claim his throne.
Wright asks what this means for us? Reflecting on Isaiah 52:7-10, he notes that God encouraged the Israelites in exile by reminding them that God was the reigning (v. 7), returning (v. 8), and redeeming (v. 9) King. The same good news applies today.
Resurrection of the Dead
Many ancient cultures had a belief in an afterlife in some other form in some other place, but the idea of a bodily resurrection on a renewed earth was unique to the Jews. Quoting N. T. Wright, C. Wright calls it “life after life after death.” Whatever our existence after death, it is a temporary state until we are resurrected again.
Everyone will be resurrected. How will this be done? How will bodies that have become dust or been incinerated be resurrected? We haven’t the slightest clue. But resurrection is the promise. What kind of body will we have? Paul says we will be “like the risen body of Jesus.” (Phil. 3:21) (See also 1 Cor. 15:35-49) Exactly what this means is unknown. Wright will have more to say on this in the final chapter.
The Day of Judgment
All that the Bible has said previously about the day of the Lord or the day of Christ is summed up in that great image in Revelation 20, quoted above: the great white judgment throne of God. The God who sits in judgment is the Lord of history and of humanity; that is, the Lord of life, the universe, and everything.
The first thing we need to say about the day of judgment may seem surprising: It is good news! It is actually part of the gospel. … (see Rom. 2:16) … The day of judgment is something we should be glad about, even as we tremble at the prospect of it. Why is that? (184)
God Will Put Things Right in the End – God’s will be vindicated. We are not promised justice in this life. Many who do evil seem to escape justice while others are horribly victimized. Good often goes unrewarded. At judgment, all that has been done will be made known. “It is not just an act of punishment but an act of rectifying of all wrongs, putting right all relationships, and restoring peace and harmony.” (186) It is good news.
Jesus is the Judge – “The one who will judge all people will be the one who died for all.” (187) That’s good news.
It Will be Completely Just – All facts will be known. No human errors or deceptions will be involved.
It Will Be according to the Light We Have Received – “We will be judged by what we did or did not do, in response to what we did know.” (189) God is a God of justice but he is also a God of mercy. He knows our limitations, frailties, and ignorance. Remember Jesus’ prayer, even at the end, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they do.”
It Will Be according to the Lives We Have Lived – Wright writes:
“But,” you may protest, “I thought we are justified by faith, not by works!?” Yes, of course. We are justified by faith. But we will be judged by our works.” (190)
But as I said, the day of judgment is a day for God’s verdict based on evidence, not a day for hearing faith claims. So what will be the evidence of my faith? Not just that I say I had faith, but that my life has shown it. It is our lives that prove the reality of our faith (or not, as the case may be). I will be judged by the evidence (my works), and they will show publicly and beyond doubt whether or not my life has been built on trust in Christ (my faith). (190)
Jesus spoke of some type of eternal punishment and Paul writes:
“[God] will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes. (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10) (191)
Hell is not explicitly stated by name but Paul articulates it as punishment, destruction, and separation from God. God seems to have deemed it unnecessary for us to understand the precise nature of hell but the idea that there is a penalty for failure to repent seems certain. Still, the weight of the scripture is stacked toward the good news of judgment, not fear of hell.
So once the judgment occurs, what comes next? We will look at “The New Beginning” in the next post.
What do you think about Wright’s views on “The Great Climax?”