Several weeks ago, I received a note from someone in our church, which held a very important question I surmise many of us might want to ask. Unfortunately it’s one of those questions we may be too afraid to say out loud. Some of us might wonder, “Is my question going to bring a lightning strike? Or am I speaking in contradiction to God’s Word? Will someone think I’m not a good Christian if I ask this?”
So with the permission and encouragement of the person who wrote me, I’ve included their note and my response. The personal information of the member has been changed or removed to protect their anonymity.
Thank you for your sermon today and the elements and reminders that give us believers such Hope. The thing I struggle with is not being able to say, “Jesus, Come Quickly”. What about all the people that believers might know who don’t know the Lord Jesus as their Savior? One of my close relatives, for instance, is living a life separate from God. There are many more I could think of.
My heart aches for what the day would look like for the unsaved when all of us that are saved are rejoicing. It is a picture that I don’t like to envision often. Would there be any kind of help you could give me for this? I’m just pretty confused. Thank you for how you serve so diligently at North Park. I am thankful for your biblical leadership in the church.
Dear North Park family member,
The joy and delight in God’s Word that I see in you deeply encourages me! You and your family are such a blessing to North Park Baptist Church.
You have raised a very good question. How can we rejoice and look forward to the second coming of Christ, when the “day of the Lord” will mete out judgment and eternal condemnation to all the unrighteous? As you point out, all of us are close to those who show evidence of being spiritually lost and apart from Christ. Our relationships make the heartache all the more palpable. And what of those who have never heard or responded to the Gospel all over the world?
First of all, I believe the love, compassion, and concern you have for those outside of a relationship with Christ is no accident. God has filled your heart with love for the lost because this reflects His heart for the lost. Relating directly to “the coming day of the Lord” the apostle Peter described God’s heart this way,
“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 (see the prior context, too).
The same reflection of God’s heart for the lost is described in 1 Timothy 2:3-4,
“This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Paul then immediately conjoins God’s desire with God’s provision for salvation:
“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:5-6).
God has provided the Way of rescue through Christ alone. From the deep well of God’s love, the Father ordained for the Son to die in our place, suffering the death we all deserved and bearing the just wrath of God, so that all who place their full trust in His provision will receive new, eternal life. The beautiful hope all believers have is summed up in John 5:24,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”
All who trust in Jesus Christ will never face judgment. We will not be condemned. We are forgiven full and free because of the saving work completely finished by Christ. And yet, as you can easily see, we all must hear and believe. Those who do not believe the Gospel are already destined for judgment and nothing they do or don’t do can reverse their course. Only saving faith in Christ will save and change their eternal destination.
But here’s what we must remember…
1. God’s desire is on display in His provision of His perfect Son… who bore all God’s just wrath against sin so that all who receive the Son as their Savior will receive the righteousness of God in Him (cf. Rom. 3:21-26).
The Bible tells us no one is born in right-standing with God (Rom. 3:9-18, 23). Every human who has ever lived after the Fall of Adam has been born “in sin” (Psa. 51:5; Rom. 5:12) and bears the weight of God’s holy judgment against all sin, deserving death. This means that our children, our brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and everyone else across the globe are born already condemned. But in great contrast with the judgment of God is the gift of God:
“For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one [Adam], much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. . . . so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom. 5:18, 21)
So your heartache over what God’s judgment means for those you love is not wrong at all. In fact, your heart is reflecting God’s heart for the world.
2. God’s patience is on display every day through the provision of His Church… commissioned and empowered to herald the good news of His perfect Son.
If all people everywhere throughout all history are born sinners and thereby deserve God’s just judgment, the bottomline question is: so why hasn’t it already happened? And the answer is: God’s incredibly patient love for the people He has made. The “day of the Lord will come like a thief [unexpected, announced, suddenly]” (2 Pet. 3:10), but God’s patience is currently offering many the opportunity to hear and respond to the Gospel.
Violence and immorality had completely overtaken the world during the days of Noah. But year after year went by before judgment arrived. Why? The patience of God. Peter paralleled this to God’s offer in the ultimate ark of safety, Jesus Christ,
“…when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, that is, eight persons were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you – not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 3:20-21).
Just as God provided the ark built by Noah as the rescue from judgment, so now God has provided the good news of Christ as the rescue from ultimate judgment.
At any given moment God has the just and righteous prerogative to consume every sinner and send them to their place of eternal torment: hell. But He doesn’t. He is patient, full of compassion, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy (cf. Isa. 30:18; Jonah 4:2). In Jeremiah’s Lamentations he wrote, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail” (Lam. 3:22 NIV).
Our grace-giving, patience-loving God has now sent you and me and all the rest of His people into the world to share the message and mercy of Christ. He hasn’t provided the Church with salvation so that we may can it in jars, store it in the church pantry, and keep it all for ourselves. God is showing His patience to the world by sending His Spirit-empowered people into the world, equipped with the Gospel.
But this age will not last forever… which give us a very real sense of urgency to live for God’s mission.
3. God’s people don’t rejoice at the judgment of sinners but in the justice of God. Just as we shouldn’t rejoice or salivate over the execution of a murderer (no matter how evil they may be), we should never be gleeful over the impending judgment coming to earth.
We (aligned with God’s character) are thankful for vindication, justice, and freedom from the oppression of evildoers, but not at all happy that so many have rejected God’s provision of rescue and eternal life. We can be grateful that God is the one who will seek vengeance for His people, and therefore, we don’t have to take vengeance into our own hands.
Throughout Scripture, we find heaven rejoicing over lost sinners coming to repentance (see Luke 15:10), but judgment is always accompanied not with rejoicing but with sobriety, deep grieving, and humility. Our posture should reflect the position of heaven toward repentance and judgment.
We are to “love His appearing” (2 Tim 4:8), “looking for and hastening the coming day of God” (2 Pet. 3:12), because for those “in Christ” it will mean unending joy, peace, justice, and righteousness in the presence of God for all eternity. But we also look on the day of the Lord with an attitude of humility, contriteness, and urgency for God’s mission.
I hope this rather looooong reply helps you balance the two sides of “the day of the Lord” and yet also guides you to worship the Lord through the words, “come, Lord Jesus.”
Let me know if I’ve made this as clear as mud or if it helped at all.
In Christ Alone,