Message 17, All Things New: The Return of Christ:
The gospel reminds us that we are pilgrims traveling from this world to that which is to come. Jesus promised His disciples that He would one day return to bring them to a place that He prepared for them. It is a place where all things are made new, free of sin and sorrow. As Christians, we seek not fame or fortune but a heavenly city whose builder and maker is God. In this session, Dr. Michael Reeves provides an overview of the future hope we have as Christians when Christ returns to establish the new heaven and new earth.
I’d like you to imagine. Imagine you are an Israelite on Yom Kippur, the great Day of Atonement. Now, Aaron the high priest, he has — all dressed in pure linen — he has sacrificed the goat of the sin offering. That is a moment that we recognize as a picture, a blood-soaked type of the sacrifice of the cross. On Yom Kippur, we then would have seen him take the blood of that sacrifice through behind the veil into the Holy of Holies there to sprinkle that blood on the mercy seat.
And again, that’s something we recognize as a picture or type of our great High Priest taking His offering into the true Holy Place of heaven and offering Himself before God His Father. But what I want you to imagine now is a special day of atonement held only once every 50th year. And on this day, when the high priest disappears into the Holy of Holies, everyone would hold their breath.
You would hear a pin drop because when the high priest steps back out, a once in a lifetime event is going to happen. Come with me and see it. It’s Leviticus 25 from verse 9. Leviticus 25 from verse 9: “On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land.” Hear that? “On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land.
And you shall consecrate that fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. For it is a jubilee.”
So, the high priest would make atonement, go through into the Holy of Holies, and when he stepped back out the trumpet would sound proclaiming jubilee. And in that year, debts would be cancelled, slaves freed, the people, the very land itself, would rest. No sowing, no reaping was to be done. This was to be a foretaste of the Bible’s cosmic hope, the time when all our debt will be cancelled, all our captivity and bondage to decay and evil will be ended, and when the meek will inherit the earth.
Now, does any of that sound familiar? The awaited high priest returns, and the trumpet sounds announcing an atonement-bought rest. It should sound familiar. The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with the sound of the trumpet of God. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable. It should sound familiar, for just as the high priest’s going in to the Holy of Holies was a type, a picture of the ascension of our great High Priest, so the high priest’s return especially in that jubilee year was a little picture of Christ’s return.
And friends, in those little details we find a truckload of comfort, for we see that the man who stepped into the Holy of Holies is the very same man who steps back out. It tells us the truth that, as the angels told those gawping disciples as they looked up into heaven, “This same Jesus who is being taken from you into heaven will come back in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.” And so when the trumpet sounds, and the Judge of all the earth appears, we shall see the very same one who died to make atonement for us.
The Heidelberg Catechism puts the question directly and with stunning beauty. I love the way this is phrased. Question 52 of the Heidelberg Catechism, would you ever write it like this? It asks, “What comfort is it to you that Christ will return to judge the living and the dead?” Isn’t that a wonderful phrase? Who would write like that? Most people would write, “How terrifying is it to you that Christ shall return to judge the living and the dead?”
But it asks, “What comfort is it to you?” And the answer: “In all my sorrows and persecution, with uplifted head, I wait for the very One who offered Himself to the judgment of God for me. I wait for that very same One, who has removed all curse from me.” Those are words that sing the theology of the Reformation.
See, in medieval Roman Catholicism, the need to have your own personal merit before God left people with no comfort in the thought of Christ’s return. And you can see that if you look at medieval frescoes, you see grotesque demons taking the naked dead and forcing them into the flames. You can hear it in the sheer terror of the words of the Dies Irae, the day of wrath that will be chanted in every Catholic mass for the dead.
Would you mind if I quote the Catholic mass for the dead here? “Day of wrath, day that will dissolve the world into burning coals, what am I the wretch then to say?” Listen to this “What patron can I beseech when scarcely the just can be secure? King of tremendous majesty, do not lose me on that day. My prayers are not worthy.” That’s where the dependence is, on my prayers! “My prayers are not worthy, but do thou good God deal kindly with me lest I burn in perennial fire.” Medieval terror.
When Luther found he could not place any confidence for that day in his own performance, when he saw instead that he could rest himself down on Christ and His super-sufficient righteousness, that day became for Luther no longer simply the doomsday. It became for him what he would call the most happy last day, the day of Jesus his friend.
Dear brothers and sisters, the judge of all the earth is the one who screamed in agony and streamed with blood for us. Friends, do you think it is possible that He could reject His own or forget us now? Remember who the judge of all the earth is. Remember how He is related to His own. He cannot forget us. He cannot reject us now. And so, Christians confidently long for that day.
We are a people who are supposed to be known for crying, “Oh! Your Kingdom come. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!” For crying it with boldness. We are a people who long for the blessed hope, as Paul put it, “The glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Now, understandably others don’t. They can’t understand this. It simply does not make sense that we should long for the coming of the Judge. The world looks at us and thinks, ‘How can you long for the coming of the Judge?’ And listen to how surprisingly Scripture can phrase it.
Come to Psalm 98. Psalm 98, let’s dive in just at verse 4, “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break into joyous song. Sing praises! Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre with the sound of melody! With trumpets, the sound of the horn.” Do you hear that, with trumpets? Yes. “The sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD! Let the sea roar, all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together, for he comes to judge the earth.”
The earth rejoices because He comes to judge it. Now, that makes no sense to most people. But yesterday, the creation groans under the weight of our sin with all its piled up death and cruelty. And His just judgment means the liberation of His own creation and the children of God. It means the removal of all evil, wickedness, sin, injustice.
And so, it is as it was before Joshua went in to cleanse the land of Canaan. And you remember how it was? The foul depravity of the Canaanites showcased in their willingness. Parents, think on this, their willingness to burn their sons and daughters in the flames as sacrifices to their disgusting gods. That depravity made understandably the very land retch at their presence. And the sounding of the trumpets at Jericho meant a judgment that would be a liberation for that land. The perpetrators would be removed for the liberation of the land, the healing of a land that the people of God could inherit.
And just so, Jesus is our Joshua. Jesus is simply the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua. It’s the same name. Jesus is our Joshua who comes to cleanse the earth for His people, and that is why the creation waits in eager expectation for that day, for this judgment means the destruction of all evil for the renewal of the creation that belongs to Him. Terrible news for evil and those who cling to it to be sure, but glorious good news for the children of God, for those who will embrace Him.
Now, the principal image the Scripture uses to show the beautiful goodness of Christ’s judgment, the first and last image used is that of light confronting night. It’s where the Bible starts, with God speaking light into darkness. It is where John’s Gospel starts. “The light shines in the darkness. The darkness has not overcome it.” And we believers, we rejoice in this judgment, for this is a judgment that has already begun in the house of God.
It can be painful, but already the light has shone into our darkness. We feel it. We sense being exposed by the light of Christ’s glory, and sometimes painfully, slowly the light is even now driving away the gloomy darkness of our sin. And that’s Christian experience now. We feel ourselves exposed as the Spirit opens our eyes to know just how profoundly wicked we are through and through. But as He enlightens us and transforms us, that light shining into our darkness is liberation for us. Senior saints, you know that, don’t you, how sweet it is to be liberated by Christ’s light shining into your darkness.
You can testify, perhaps, to decades of having been liberated from sins by a judging work in your life. Paul put it like this in 2 Corinthians — 2nd Corinthians 4, he said, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Our cold and devilish darkness dispelled by the blazing glory of Christ.
And friends, one day He Himself will come, and He will come like the sun of righteousness, like the rising sun, the Light of the World chasing away all darkness on that day, and He will then usher in the eternal summer of the new Jerusalem, and on that day, the glory of God will suffuse all creation and fill all the earth. There will be no more night then. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of a sun for the Lord God will give them light, and they’ll reign for ever and ever.
So friends, the fact that Christ is the Judge of all the earth is not evidence that there is a vicious, unpleasant side to His character that will reveal itself at the end. No, it is no cause to make us waiver in our love for Him. Quite the opposite, the earthshaking power of the Lamb does not mean that that most lovely, loving Man has changed in His character. It is rather that His cause, His character, His light is victorious. The Lamb wins, and His truth will drive out lies. His beauty will then drive out all ugliness. His goodness will drive out all evil. The Lamb wins.
And on that day believers who have gone to be with Him already will return with Him in His victory train. They will return with Him and we will be caught up together with them. And then, on that day, we will sing together with them a song of judgment just as Moses and Israel after the deliverance from Egypt sang a song of judgment. And with the now departed faithful spouses, parents, martyrs, we will cry with all the cloud of witnesses, “Where O Death is your victory now? Where O Death is your sting? Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
And so the day of Christ’s return will be a glorious day of judgment, a judgment we can look forward to confident in Christ eagerly awaiting the full victory of His righteousness over everything in us, over everything in all reality, a day of righteousness and judgment. And friends, it will be a day of glorious transformation, when His eternal purpose to perfect a people for Himself will be complete. Now, that work has already begun us.
The Lord, right here, right now, the Lord is doing this work transforming hardened, vicious, petty little lives into holy ones. You shine with His likeness. As Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “We all with unveiled face beholding the glory of the Lord are being transformed now into his image from glory to glory.” Contemplating Him by faith, we are being transformed into His likeness. The shining sight of our Savior by faith begins to drive our night away, and we feel that dawn rising.
Even now, with unveiled face, we behold the glory of the Lord, and He begins to put an end to the crookedness and the evil inside us. The sight of the glory of Christ begins even now to make the faces of the saints shine. And isn’t that a beautiful thing to see in the face of a senior saint, to see their face begin to shine as they’ve spent time as Moses had in the presence of the Lord?
Oh, when He appears, when we clap eyes upon Him physically at His second coming, then when He appears, we shall be like Him entirely for we shall see Him as He is. The sight of Him now by the Spirit, by faith, makes us more like Him spiritually bit by bit, but in that day when we see Him, body and soul, we will become like Him. It would be so majestically affecting, that sight of Him, we will see Him, our bodies will transform around us when He appears in the full sweetness, awesomeness of His glory.
We’ll behold Him, and that day will mean the blasting away of all sin and all pain in us, and with that we will at last attain the goal of our salvation. Brothers and sisters, we will be with Him and we will be like Him. Those things in yourself that distress you, that sin that bites, the sin that you know makes you ugly now will be gone. Gone. All your sin will be gone. Isn’t that better than the thought of all your pain being gone? Our pain and our sin gone, and those who’ve delighted themselves in the Lord will have unhampered the desires of their hearts.
For now, we are like Christ in His righteous status before the Father. Then, we’ll be entirely like Him in His glorious resurrection body. We will be like Him. Think of this! You will be like Him in His character. Ah! I want to be like Him in His character. We will be completely alive, transformed, body and soul, like Jesus, shining like stars luminously glorious, our hearts perfectly in tune. It was said in Daniel 12, it is said that we will shine like stars.
The essence of the point is that we’ll be like the Light of the World, holy, glorious, not spotted in any way. Theologians used to call that sight we will have, ‘the beatific vision,’ for that will be the most happifying sight. That’s what the word means, ‘beatific.’ It’s about us being made happy in Him, filled with joy, freedom, righteousness, sin and unrighteousness gone. Seeing Him will be the happifying sight. Now friends, we need to dwell on this point. It is seeing Him that is the sight we long for.
We need to dwell on this because we must be careful as we talk about the blessings, the many blessings the Lord will bring on His return, because our constant danger is that we will set our hearts on the blessings and not on Him; that we’ll long for the Messianic banquet and not for the Messiah. That we’ll long for the crown He’ll give us and not for the King Himself.
But before all else, the delight of the saints in glory is the enjoyment, the head-filling, heart-melting enjoyment of Him. And when saints are in their right mind now, that’s how they think even now. Paul wrote to the Philippians when he was in prison. Do you remember his bind? He wasn’t sure what he wanted, what to wish for, but he knew his desire. And do you remember how he phrased it? He said, “My desire is to depart and be,” do you remember the precise words? He doesn’t say, “My desire is to depart and be in heaven.” He says, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ which is far better.”
For Paul, heaven would not be heaven without Christ. That was the great promise of the Old Testament, “I myself will be with them.” That’s what we want. The bride longs to be with the Bridegroom more than anything else, improving everything else, our hope is that we’ll be with Him. And dear friend, if that doesn’t make sense to you, I don’t think you’ve grasped the glory of Christ. If anything else could rival Him in your affections, I don’t think you know Him very well. What can compare with Him? God will be the glory and the delight of the saints. That is what we’re designed for. This is the heart of the eternal life we’ve been given.
You see, eternally God the Father has found His happiness in knowing, contemplating, His beautiful and all perfect Son, and on that day when He returns we will be allowed to fully share in the Father’s happiness and satisfaction. We’re being brought into His own pleasure in His son. We will see Him. We’ll have perfect life and joy because we’ll be with Him.
So, we can talk about all the wonders of the new creation, all the wonders of bodies set free from sin and unrighteousness, but at the heart of it all, at the heart of the Christian hope, the pleasure of looking forward is that we’ll be with Him. And through the tough times, dear brothers and sisters, through the tough times, set your mind on that thought that you will be with Him, the One who shed His blood for you, the One who will never stop caring for you, the One who is coming to destroy all His and our wicked enemies.
We’ll be with Him. He is the jewel in the crown of our hope, the fountainhead, the source of all blessing. The creation will be a good place because every knee will bow to Him. For now, this is why everything goes so wrong. This is why everything is eccentric and wrong because it is not — the creation is out of step with Jesus. But around Jesus, all things will find what they are meant to be.
Now, just as unbelievers do not understand why Christians should long for the Day of Judgment, you know the other problem they have. They don’t believe this is going to happen, quite simply, and you understand that there is no obvious indication in the world around us that this is going to happen. As the years roll by, Jesus doesn’t appear a bit more, the world doesn’t appear more peaceful or unspoilt. All people see is the law of decay. All people are expecting for the future is nothing to happen, or perhaps a global catastrophe of some sort, but a natural one. An asteroid, natural disaster, the earth will become uninhabitable. They do not expect this.
But Christian confidence that this will happen does not come from looking at the state of the world around us; it comes from Jesus. The ever faithful God of truth has promised, and no matter how many promises God has made, they’re yes in Christ, and more in fact than a promise. The clock is ticking. Ever since that historic day when Christ was raised in that historic event in Jerusalem, the new creation has already begun. It cannot be stopped.
The first born, the first fruit of the new creation has appeared. The resurrection of Jesus Christ has started an irreversible tide. And it is a tide which must and will sweep through all creation. Nothing will stop it now. The clock is ticking. Jesus Christ is the head of the new creation, and this is His Father’s great purpose, to bring all things in heaven and on earth under one head even Christ.
Isaac Watts put it like this in his toe-tapping classic, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing. Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns. Let men their songs employ. Wild fields and floods, rocks, hills, plains repeat the sounding joy,” and the third verse sometimes gets missed, “No more let sins and sorrows grow. Nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.”
When he returns, He will finally and completely undo the fall. Now in Genesis 3, sin brought not only death, but great pain in childbirth, marital difficulties, thorns, thistles. He comes to make His blessings flow far as that curse is found. When He returns, He will overturn and heal all that. His blessings will flow into all that, undoing death, undoing that great pain in childbirth, undoing marital difficulties, thorns, thistles. The heavens and the earth, the whole cosmos will be restored and revived. He will mend it all, for it is His. He will undo all chaos. He will bind His original handiwork back together. Jesus called it “the renewal of all things” when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne.
But you know He will not merely restore Eden. It is better even than that. The story of the gospel is not just paradise regained, John Milton, who was problematic in a few ways. But this he misunderstood. Now, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, it will be better than Eden when Adam was put in charge. Why? For Jesus is better than Adam. As there was more glory in the days of Solomon than they were in the days of his father David, so there will be more glory in the days of the Son of Man than there were in the days of the first man, Adam. For as the last Adam is so superior to the first, so must the days of His reign be.
Now, do you remember, the first man was made to rule over creation. Everything was put under his feet. What about the last Adam, the Son of Man? Come with me to Daniel chapter 7. In Daniel 7, it’s exile for the people of God, and it’s nighttime. In every way it’s dark. And think of how different this is to the story of Adam, when we read about the Son of Man. Daniel 7 verse 13, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,” Now so far, that could sound quite like Adam.
To him was given dominion, but also glory and a kingdom, “That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him,” and now here you cannot get away from the difference. His dominion, the dominion of the Son of Man, is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away; His kingdom, one that shall not be destroyed. What a difference!
Now, it had been good before Adam fell, completely good, but he was fallible. He had only what Paul called a natural body. With Adam, there was a tree to avoid. There was a serpent. With Christ, we have so much more. In Christ, we do not merely have the status of Adam, innocent before God. We are the adopted children of God, sharing the very life and righteousness of His most perfect Son. And He, the Son of Man, is infallibly faithful. He has a glorious, imperishable body that has defeated death.
Paul called it a spiritual body, a body suffused with, energized by the Spirit. The sort we will have. And when he appears, there will be no threats, only the Tree of Life. And brothers and sisters, with Christ, we have His righteousness, a hope that outstrips Eden itself. The creation that is now sliding back into willful darkness will be suffused with the bright glory of Christ. It will share the liberation of the children of God. The sound of weeping will no longer be heard. The lion will lie down with the lamb. The desert will bloom like the rose. The plowman will overtake the reaper.
The mountains will run with new wine. And a Man, this time the faithful Man, at peace with the Ancient of Days, He will reign in this paradise. And this Son of Man’s wonderful rule will never fall or be destroyed.
Shout for joy to the Lord all the earth. Burst into jubilant song with music, with trumpets. The blast of the ram’s horn. Shout for joy before the Lord, the King. Let the sea resound and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands. Let the mountains sing for joy. Let them sing before the Lord for He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.
Our glorious Father, oh how we praise You for that day. Come, send Your great Son. Send Him forth once again. Come, Lord Jesus. Maranatha! Put an end to this darkness. And Father, strengthen our hearts and minds in the knowledge of his magnificent hope for then we will sing for joy to You, then we will proclaim Your great salvation day after day to each other, to the world. We will declare Your glory among the nations, Your marvelous deeds among all the peoples.
Oh! With hearty praise we bless Your Holy Name and thank you for this sweet hope that we will be with You, and we Father will be like Your beautiful Son in His world made perfect. How we long for that day. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.