God's End Game - Part 43

Series: God's End Game

December 15, 2019
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

God’s End Game - Part 43

If you’ve been with us any length of time, you are well aware I’m preaching through a series called God’s End Game. It breaks the record for the longest sermon series ever for me. It’s so long because we had to start in the past, all the way back in Genesis 1:1, and work our way forward to the very end of all things. You can’t do that in six weeks. 

We've been digging deep into the arc of God’s plan for how he’s going to set all things back to rights. The major play in God’s End Game was the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And the final play is Jesus’ return, his second coming, when, “at the end of time… he will come to judge the world and usher in the fullness of his kingdom.”[1] The old saying is true when it comes to God’s plans for us and the world, “It’s all about Jesus.”

We are wrestling with the hard part of what Jesus will do when he returns: “he will come to judge the world.” AKA THE FINAL JUDGMENT. It’s kind of like the good news/bad news scenario. I’m covering the bad news on this final play first. Then we’ll get to the good news. The best news we could ever hear.

The doctrine of the final judgment is defined this way:

This doctrine affirms that when Christ, the merciful and righteous king of the earth, returns, all human beings will be held accountable for their lives, resulting in eternal condemnation or eternal blessedness.[2]

Last week we fleshed that out using the vision of Jesus’ future return given to the apostle John as recorded in the book of Revelation. Contrary to what you see in books and on video these days, Revelation is so mysterious you’ll never be able to figure out what it all means. But you can get the bigger picture. That’s what we’re doing.

Let’s revisit our text from last week and do a little review…

Revelation 20:1–6 (ESV) — 1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. 4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

Without a doubt, there are several interpretations of the resurrections in this text, but what I think fits best, what makes the most sense is what I shared last week. At the end of this age when Jesus comes back…

Those who died but at some point in their life put their faith and trust in Jesus will be resurrected to reign with him. That’s resurrection number one.

After a period of time those who died without Christ (those who never put their faith and trust in Jesus) will be resurrected to be judged by him. 

And that reveals a little known and much-misunderstood truth about God’s End Game: everyone, saved or unsaved, is resurrected in the end. Those who die in Christ are resurrected to live forever as part of God’s kingdom in the new heavens and earth. That’s why those who share in the first resurrection are blessed and holy and the second death doesn’t worry them. Those who die apart from Christ are resurrected to be judged and live forever separated from God in a place called hell, AKA the second death. 

This sobering and heart breaking truth is echoed in prophecies of a man in the OT and in the theology of a man who wrote most of the NT…

Daniel 12:1–3 (ESV) — 1 “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

In Acts 24, Paul had been accused of preaching heresy and profaning God’s temple by bringing a Gentile into it. He was brought before the Roman Governor Felix for judgment…

Acts 24:9–15 (ESV) — 9 The Jews also joined in the charge, affirming that all these things were so. 10 And when the governor had nodded to him to speak, Paul replied: “Knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense. 11 You can verify that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem, 12 and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city. 13 Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me. 14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, 15 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.

In the end, everyone is raised to live forever, the just (those right with God) and the unjust (those not right with God). Following that the final judgment begins…

Revelation 20:11–15 (ESV) — 11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Kings do two things from their thrones, rule and make judgments. Jesus has ruled and reigned from his throne for a thousand years (literal or metaphorical, it matters not) and now he’s ready to judge.  And like any judge, he does so by examining the charges. That’s where these books come into play (a book, singular, and books, plural, to be exact). 

Look at verse 13…

13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.

Now look back at verse 12…

12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.

Now look at a text in Daniel (a book with prophecies tying directly into Revelation in case you haven’t figured that out yet)…

Daniel 7:9–10 (ESV) — 9 “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. 10 A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. 

And Isaiah where God is recounting the sins of his people…

Isaiah 65:6–7 (ESV) — 6 Behold, it is written before me: “I will not keep silent, but I will repay; I will indeed repay into their lap 7 both your iniquities and your fathers’ iniquities together, says the Lord; because they made offerings on the mountains and insulted me on the hills, I will measure into their lap payment for their former deeds.”

Now look at a verse from an ancient Jewish text that’s not in the Bible but revered by the Jews. Jude and Peter quote from it in their letters… 

Now, you sinners, even if you say, ‘All our sins shall not be investigated or written down,’ nevertheless, all your sins are being written down every day.[3] — 1 Enoch 104:7

One commentator calls these books (or scrolls in some translations) the “heavenly records of human deeds”[4] because it seems since the beginning of time God has kept written accounts on what every person has done. And these are the “books” — a multi-volume set — used by Jesus to judge at the end of time.

It’s from these books the charges against us will be read. And they won’t involve just the big stuff, the obvious stuff… 

Luke 12:1–3 (ESV) — 1 In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 3 Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.

That’s a scary thought, isn’t it? Not only what we’ve done openly is being recorded and will be brought to light on on judgment day, all we’ve done secretly, all we’ve covered up. This would have to include our thoughts.

We’ll have no defense.

Wait a minute, do these books record only bad? Surely they record the good things we did. That’s only fair! Tell me they include the good stuff!

I do believe these books include the good we’ve done, but the final judgment doesn’t involve a balancing act where our deeds both good and bad are weighed out as if maybe there’s a chance for us if our good deeds outweigh the bad. It’s too late for that.

The judgment of the unjust is not to decide whether they get to live forever with God or not, it’s to determine the extent of punishment they receive in hell.

If in this life we choose to go our own way, to make our own rules, to live our own lives apart from God, we have in effect chosen the same in the next life. That’s why CS Lewis talks of the gates of hell as being locked from the inside. All get what they want in the end.

Even if the judgment seat of Christ were a balancing act, we’d all still be in trouble. We might have done way more good things than bad, but we were depending on our good works to make ourselves right before God. Who then were we looking to as our savior? OURSELVES.

A case in point is those Pharisees. Tim Keller writes…

“They’re following all the law fastidiously, and yet they’re lost. Why?”

… When the Pharisees serve as their own savior and lord, because they’re seeking to earn their own salvation … They’re trying to put God in the position where, because they’re so good, God has to bless them, and he has to answer their prayers, and he has to give them a good life, and he has to take them to heaven. When Pharisees, by obeying the law, do that earning their own salvation, they’re actually building their identity not on God but on their moral performance.”[5]

You see, it’s our sins that condemn us in the end, and sin ultimately is "building [our] identity on anything besides God.”[6] We can build our identity on good things, folks. Keller goes on to say…

“If you take a good thing and make it an ultimate thing, if you look at anything in this life and say, ‘If I have that, then I have importance and value, but if I don’t have that, then I’m nothing …’

If you look at money, career, your talents, your looks, if you look at a relationship, if you look at your parents, if you look at your children, if you look at power, approval, comfort, control, if you look at any of these things and make them more fundamental to your significance and security than the love and knowledge of God, then though you may believe in the God of the Bible, you may pray to the God of the Bible, you may obey the laws of the God of the Bible, but your faith, the justification of your life, the roots of your identity, what you really worship, in other words, is something else."[7]

There’s only one savior sufficient to save us, and his name is Jesus.

Conclusion: If it’s not a matter of good deeds versus bad, how do we get to live forever with God? That’s where the book singular comes in, the book of life. This is the good news I was talking about. Next week is our Christmas service, but after that we’ll discover what the book of life is and how it factors into God’s end game. 

But here’s a little teaser. When it comes to where you’ll spend eternity, if your name is written in the book of life, you don’t have worry one bit about what’s written in the books of deeds because…

Romans 8:1 (ESV) — 1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

[1] Bray, G. (2018). Jesus’ Second Coming. In M. Ward, J. Parks, B. Ellis, & T. Hains (Eds.), Lexham Survey of Theology. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[2] Bray, G. (2018). The Final Judgment. In M. Ward, J. Parks, B. Ellis, & T. Hains (Eds.), Lexham Survey of Theology. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[3] Charlesworth, J. H. (1983). The Old Testament pseudepigrapha (Vol. 1, p. 85). New York;  London: Yale University Press.

[4] Koester, C. R. (2014). Revelation: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. (J. J. Collins, Ed.) (Vol. 38A, p. 780). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.

[5] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

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