Advent is name given to the four week period preceding Christmas. It’s when Christians think about the coming of Jesus as a baby in Bethlehem. In some versions of Christianity, the Sunday before the beginning of Advent is traditionally the time to think about the second coming of Jesus. And that’s what I’d like for us to think about today—the second coming of Jesus.
Virtually all Christians believe, at least officially, that Jesus will come again. But the second time He comes will be completely different than the first time He came. The first time, He came as a little baby. The second time, Jesus will suddenly appear in power and glory, and He will come in judgment.
The second coming of Jesus is seen as the culmination of history, popularly called “the end of the world.” When Jesus returns, all evil will be completely destroyed in a final, cataclysmic battle. This battle will be so destructive that the whole earth will be virtually destroyed, and afterwards, God will create a new earth.
I know beliefs like this seem so out of place in the modern world, but just bear with me as we think about it.
These beliefs come from the Bible. Jesus talked about it. He said not one stone would be left lying on another. He talked about wars, famines, earthquakes, and pestilences, about the sun and moon being darkened and the stars falling from heaven. Jesus said the very powers of the heavens will be shaken. The book of Revelation talks about fire coming down from heaven and destroying all the forces of evil.
The second coming of Jesus is the time of judgment. The time for repentance will have passed, and evil, wherever it is found, will be obliterated.
In the past, in the Roman Catholic Church, the second coming of Jesus and the associated judgment and end of the world was talked about at funerals. The original purpose of funerals was to give people one last chance to beg God to have mercy on the dead person. To do that, by the 1200’s Catholics had developed a funeral service called the Requiem Mass. It pictures God coming in fury, smashing everything, and utterly destroying all evil. It begs God to have mercy on us, to deliver us from all that. It contains ominous phrases, things like, “Death and all creation are stupefied when the judge appears;” “When the judge takes his seat, everything hidden will be exposed, and nothing will remain unavenged.” It talks about fear, trembling, calamity, misery, and bitterness when God comes as the furious judge. It talks about a dreadful day, when the heavens and the earth are moved and God destroys the earth with fire.
I’d like for us to look at one part of the Requiem Mass, a part that’s called “Dies Irae.” That’s Latin for “day of wrath.” The words to it are, “Day of wrath, that day when the world is dissolved to ashes, as David and the Sybil said. All will tremble and quake in that day, when the Judge comes to strike down strictly according to the rules.” This was originally in Latin, and the exact translation varies. You can find various different translations, but they all reflect the same basic meaning.
It pictures a horrible time. God comes, and He’s furious. He comes with a vengeance and with power that is unimaginable. God’s wrath and power are so vicious that everyone is dumbfounded. And not just people. The whole creation is astounded and overwhelmed at the intensity of the power and fury of God. God burns the earth to ashes and gives everyone their due. God comes without mercy and lashes out in anger and destruction. By the time God is finished, the world is a smoldering heap of ashes.
This is serious stuff, and it’s a terrifying picture.
We need to look at it, first of all, in the context of the time in which it developed. The words to the Requiem Mass were developed back during the Medieval period in Europe, during the time of feudalism. Back then, there were lots of wars and unrest. It was one war after another, and many people died in those wars. Also, big cities were being populated in Europe, but people had lost the rudimentary standards of sanitation that the Romans used. Conditions in the cities were unsanitary, and there was lots of death from disease. As a result of all these factors, people’s lives were full of death and violence. That, in turn, was reflected in religion, in the way they thought of God.
The feudal lords maintained their power by violence and terror. One wrong move, and they’d send their soldiers to burn your house, rape your wife and daughter, and cut off your ears and cut out your tongue. The fear of stuff like that is what people’s daily lives were like, and so naturally, they transferred that over to God. That’s how the feudal lords operated, and that’s how people envisioned God as operating. And thus we find all this violence and destruction portrayed in the Catholic Requiem Mass. It was a product of the time when it was created.
Of course, times now have changed, and Catholics no longer use that at funerals. The tone has softened a great deal.
But, we’ve seen that the idea behind it actually does come from the Bible. So what do we do with it today?
One of the things I try to do here is give you a broad view. My goal is for us to look at the forest instead of the individual trees. And so I’d like us to look at this by stepping back and taking a broad view.
The broad sweep of the Bible tells us that evil will eventually be overcome and destroyed. But remember, the book of Ephesians tells us evil is not located here in the physical world; it is spiritual powers of evil located in the spiritual realm. It manifests itself here in the physical world, because it does things here, but its origin is in the spiritual realm. Since the powers of evil are spiritual in nature, their defeat is something that happens primarily on the spiritual level. It’s just that the only way we have to talk about it is to put it in physical terms because physical terms are all we know.
So with that in mind, taking a broad view and looking at the forest and not the individual trees, the idea of the second coming of Jesus, judgment, and the destruction of evil tells us that history is moving to a moral conclusion.
What does that mean?
Well, to understand that, let’s look at something from the Old Testament. Christians interpret the third chapter of the book of Malachi as talking about Jesus, mainly about the second coming of Jesus and judgment. At one point in there God says, “You have said, ‘It is useless to serve God. What profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, and that we have walked as mourners before the Lord of Hosts? So now we call the proud blessed, for those who do wickedness are raised up; they even tempt God and go free.’”
The people are saying, “What use is it to follow God? We look out in the world and see people who ignore God and do all kinds of wickedness, and they not only get by with it, they prosper. There’s no justice in things. Why bother to do good? It doesn’t get you anywhere. The people who lie, cheat, steal, and do all kinds of evil are the people who get ahead.”
And that’s the way it does work when you look out in the world. Dishonesty pays. Lying pays. Greed pays. Taking advantage of other people pays. The people who get ahead are not the people who are trying to follow God. The people who get ahead are the people who are following evil. Just look out into the world. Isn’t that how it works?
Doing wrong pays.
But the second coming of Jesus and the judgment tell us that in the long run, it won’t work that way. It works that way now, but that’s only temporary, because history is moving toward a moral conclusion, so that in the long run, it won’t work that way.
Ecclesiastes chapter 3 says this, “In the place of judgment, wickedness was there. And in the place of righteousness, iniquity was there.” Chapter 4 says, “The tears of the oppressed have no comforter, but on the side of their oppressors, there is power.” Chapter 8 says, “There are just men to whom it happens according to the work of the wicked; again, there are wicked men to whom it happens according to the work of the righteous.”
Things don’t work like they should. Things don’t work like God wants them to. The wrong does not fail, and the right does not prevail. Just the opposite—the wrong prevails and the right fails. But that’s going to change.
In order for it to change, the things that cause it to work the way it does now will have to be removed. In order for things to work the way they should, what causes things to work the way they do now will have to be separated out and removed.
And that’s the true meaning of judgment, in the sense of the “final” judgment and the destruction of evil. Judgment involves separating things out; judgment involves the affirmation of some things but the rejection of other things. The only way things can be the way they should be is if that which is keeping things from being the way they should be is identified and removed. That’s what “The” Judgment is.
And that’s what is meant by all the destruction. The way things are now is what will be destroyed. That has to happen. In order for things to work the way they should, they way they work now has to be removed, and in place of that, something new must take its place. And hence the theme of destruction of this world—the way things work now—and the creation of a new world, a world where things will work the way they are supposed to.
Back in the 1200’s, people expressed this in terms of their own experience, in terms of life as they knew it. That’s where these horrible, terrifying images come from that we saw in the Requiem Mass.
But we have to keep that in perspective. We have to keep in mind that the terrifying images in the Requiem Mass are an attempt people made to describe in physical terms, in terms of their own experience of life back then, something that happens in the spiritual realm. Any kind of description using the terms of the physical realm to describe something happening in the spiritual realm will always fall short, because physical terms cannot adequately describe the spiritual. But they’re all we have to use. So we have to realize their limitations. We don’t look at this as describing the actual scene that will happen. We look at it as telling us about something in the spiritual realm using the inadequate concepts of the physical realm.
In the end, we don’t look at God as a terrifying monster. We don’t look at God as the angry feudal lord swooping down in fury to exact vengeance.
We have to keep in mind that what God is doing is not really for Himself; it is for us. God’s anger and fury is not directed at us—human beings—it is directed at the forces of evil. God is directing his anger and fury at the forces of evil because they’re out to destroy us, and that’s something God will not allow to happen.
That’s something Christianity has often not understood, but it is something we must always keep in mind as we read the Bible and interpret what’s in there.