When you read the New Testament, at some point you will encounter Jesus talking about the judgment day. And if you keep reading, you will run into it again and again. It is easy to think that Americans “like Jesus, but don’t like the church.” But I suspect that when most people say they like Jesus they aren't thinking about his teachings on sex or the judgment day. A God that is holy and just isn't customizable. We don't like a God that punishes people for their transgressions. Accordingly, the world mocks this, and sadly many Christians retreat or apologize to avoid embarrassment.
But in the New Testament gospels, Jesus talks about the judgment day. He talks about it a lot. Really. And when he talks about it, it is vivid, bold, and surprisingly very practical. At Free Grace Church are in the middle of a series of sermons on the book of Luke. While studying chapter 12, I noticed three ways that Jesus talks about the judgment day and what effect it should have on us.
First, Jesus uses the judgment day as an antidote to hypocrisy.
A hypocrite is a person who wears a mask. They pretend to be what they are not. Jesus famously compares the hypocrites of his day to people who clean the outside of the cup but leave the inside filthy (11:39). Hypocrites work hard on branding. They have to parade their good deeds, and hide their corruption. In order to be a successful hypocrite you have to keep a lot of secrets.
Jesus reminds his disciples, “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.” (Luke 12:1-3) The coming judgment day will be a day of exposure. And everything that we hoped would stay hidden will be plastered on the front page news. God already knows the secret things, but one day everyone will know them. If we remembered this, we could never hope to maintain a life of secret corruption. Since we know that our sins will be revealed at some point, we should expose them ourselves through confession and repentance.
Second, Jesus also uses the judgment day in order to put persecution and suffering in perspective.
Our fear of death and pain is almost universal. And Jesus tells us that we should not be controlled by this fear, because dying is not the worst thing that could happen to us. “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” (Luke 12:4-5) Jesus invites us to face the “worst case scenario” head on. Death and the torture of the body is NOT our greatest enemy. The destruction of the soul is far worse. In his perfect Justice God will bring every person to account for their sins.
Following this warning, Jesus also reminds us that when we fear God, we don’t need to fear anything because he cares for us. “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” When we live in fear of people who threaten us with death, we become their slaves. They own us, and we will never completely escape from this fear. But when we come to God in holy fear and faith, he promises to care for us. It is only when we fear him that we hear the words “fear not.” After all, Jesus faced death for us that we might live forever.
Third, Jesus uses the future judgment as a prescription for greed and covetousness.
A man asked Jesus to help him settle a financial dispute within his family. Jesus rebukes him and then tells the parable of the rich fool. The man in the parable had tunnel vision. He only thought about his money, and he only thought about this mortal life. He didn’t think about his soul, or about eternity. The sober truth is that one day all of our possessions will be taken away from us. We can only live for “stuff” if we believe it is safe and secure. But money is the most insecure thing in the world. Jesus instead encourages us to be rich toward God. (Luke 12:16-21) He tells us that “life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions.”
What does that mean?
Elsewhere the apostle Paul would write, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus… 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Phil 3:13-21)
There is something more permanent, more satisfying, and more secure than money. And that is a relationship with Christ. And that relationship is one that is full of hope rather than fear. And Jesus reminds us of a coming judgment to help us put it all in perspective.