01 May 2009
The Basics: Return of Jesus Christ
In our 11-part series looking at how the Alliance's Basis of Faith is Good News for our neighbours, Justin Thacker discusses…
- The personal and visible return of Jesus Christ to fulfil the purposes of God, who will raise all people to judgement, bring eternal life to the redeemed and eternal condemnation to the lost, and establish a new heaven and new earth.
Among the many motivations that we have to proclaim the good news, these things are pivotal: the return of Jesus Christ, the fulfilment of God's purposes, the judgement that awaits, the promise of eternal life, the tragedy of eternal condemnation, and the glory of the new heaven and new earth.
Perhaps this is most obvious in respect of the judgement that we will all face. In our ongoing debates about the precise nature of hell, one of the points that is often forgotten is that, while those who believe in annihilation deny eternal conscious torment, they do not deny the reality of postmortem judgement.
As the report of the Alliance's Theological Commission puts it, there is "more than mere annihilation at the point of death. Rather, death will lead on to resurrection and final judgement to either heaven or hell." The reality of such judgement must then be a spur to mission.
In saying that, it is interesting that the majority of Jesus' discourse on hell was directed either at the Pharisees or his disciples, both of whom would have assumed that they were not especially in danger of going there. Less frequently did Jesus speak of hell with the general population or with the marginalised. Hence, the reality of hell is a reminder that none of us should take our own salvation for granted, and it should also drive us to mission for the sake of others.
Not all bad news
Jesus' more typical mode of proclamation was in terms of the good news of the kingdom, namely that it had arrived in Him. When John the Baptist was languishing in prison wondering whether Jesus really was the Messiah, the reply came like this: "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor" (Luke 7.22).
Now we might be tempted to think that by responding in these terms, Jesus was trying to prove to John His miraculous power, as if the Messiah was simply the one who would come and perform amazing deeds. Far more likely is that Jesus was drawing attention to the Old Testament prophecies that described the nature of the kingdom the Messiah would inaugurate. It would be one in which there would no longer be any suffering or death. So Jesus' reference to these miracles was to draw John's attention to the fact that these are the signs you should expect of the coming Messiah - and so, yes, He is the one they have been waiting for.
It is for precisely this reason that when we, in Christ's name, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal sickness and so on, we are also demonstrating the character of the kingdom that He brought into being. It is not just that we are doing some good humanitarian work - though we are - and it is not just that we are opening the path to more explicit verbal evangelism - though we are doing that as well: it is that we are acting as signs and foretastes of the kingdom that is currently only glimpsed, but that one day will be fully realised. Moreover, as we hold out by both practical action and verbal proclamation the promise of this kingdom, we announce in words and deeds the good news, the Gospel, that Jesus proclaimed.
As Paul reminds us, though, that Gospel did not begin with Jesus, but was "preached in advance to Abraham" (Galatians 3.8). So what we experience in Jesus is the fulfilment of God's purposes from the start. In particular, it is the fulfilment of the Abrahamic covenant that, through him, "all peoples on earth will be blessed" (Genesis 12.3).
When in Galatians 3.29 Paul concludes his disputation on faith and law, he does so by drawing together our present status in Christ and our inheritance of the Abrahamic heritage. "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise," he writes. In other words, what God has now brought to completion in Christ, and is bringing to completion in us, is the fulfilment of that which began with Abraham.
That promise finds its ultimate fulfilment, of course, in the new heaven and new earth in which we will enjoy fellowship with God and one another forever. Moreover, we have the privilege now of working with God to bring that kingdom to reality.
Millard J Erickson has put it this way: "The Church, then, is called to mediate the presence of Christ, who in turn mediates the future of God. But how do we mediate this hope? It is not by merely waiting passively, or even by announcing what is to come. The community has been called upon to bring about that future."
The fact remains then that one day Christ will return and God's purposes for the world will be fulfilled. In the meantime we have the glorious responsibility of inviting others to join in this cosmic reconciliation project. What a wonderful privilege!
- The Alliance's full Basis of Faith can be found at: eauk.org/basisoffaith
- Justin Thacker is the Alliance's former Head of Theology
This series is not a commentary on the Basis of Faith, neither is it an explanation of how the Basis is interpreted by the Alliance. Rather, it focuses on the relevance of the Basis to spreading the Good News.