What We Believe
In God, the Father almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into Hell. On the third day He rose again. He ascended into Heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. We believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.
We Believe in God...
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
The Scriptures declare God’s existence. They do not attempt to prove it. Certain things are so true that philosophers call them “properly basic.” They are so true that you can’t properly understand reality without them. From a biblical standpoint, the existence of God falls into that category.
We Believe in God the Father Almighty...
The Apostles’ Creed compresses the entire nature of God into just two words—"Father Almighty.” The Apostles were telling us that if we comprehend the meaning of those two words, we will know who God is, one is intimate and personal, the other speaks of his unlimited power. To call him “Father” means that he is a personal God who cares about me. To call him “Almighty” means that he is able to do whatever needs to be done. There are no limits with him.
Creator of Heaven and Earth...
“In the beginning God created heaven, and earth.” (Genesis 1:1).
“By faith we understand that the world was framed by the word of God; that from invisible things visible things might be made.” (Hebrews 11:3).
(Psalm 33:6) “By the word of the Lord the heavens were established; and all the power of them by the spirit of his mouth:”
(Psalm 33:9) “For he spoke and they were made: he commanded and they were created.”
(Psalm 148:5) “Praise the name of the Lord. For he spoke, and they were made: he commanded, and they were created. ”
(2 Peter 3:5) “For by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in water.”
Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord...
Conceived of the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary...
He Suffered Under Pontius Pilate...
Did Jesus Really Die?
First, Jesus repeatedly predicted his own death. In Matthew 20:18-19 he told his disciples,
"Behold we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man shall be betrayed to the chief priests and the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death. And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked, and scourged, and crucified, and the third day he shall rise again."
He was even more specific in Mark 10:33-34,
Saying: "Behold we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man shall be betrayed to the chief priests, and to the scribes and ancients, and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles. And they shall mock him, and spit on him, and scourge him, and kill him: and the third day he shall rise again"
Nothing that happened to Jesus was a surprise to him. He saw it all coming, knew it was part of the Father’s plan for him, and warned his disciples about what would happen to him in Jerusalem.
Second, Pilate delivered Jesus over to be crucified. Although he tried to wash his hands of any guilt, he could not wash the blood of Jesus away. He knew what he was doing when he caved in to the crowd. They wanted Jesus dead—and he gave in to their hatred and bloodlust.
Third, the Romans designed crucifixion as a particularly terrible way to die. Over the centuries, the Romans developed a number of ways to kill people. Of the various options, crucifixion was the worst, reserved for the worst criminals and for traitors against the state. No Roman citizen could be crucified—and no freedman either. It is said that the Romans crucified 250,000 Jews.
Fourth, the Romans scourged Jesus as part of the preparation for crucifixion. This involved beating him with wooden rods and with leather belts embedded with pieces of stone, metal and glass. The beating not only weakened the victim, it lacerated him until his flesh hung in tatters.
Fifth, the centurions declared that Jesus was already dead—which is why they didn’t break his bones. The centurions were professional soldiers who didn’t care about Jesus one way or the other. They had a job to do and they did it. Over time they became good judges of the people they crucified. They knew the difference between a coma and death. After all Jesus had been through, they knew he could not possibly be alive. They saw him die, they knew he was dead, and they declared him dead.
Sixth, the soldiers pierced his side with a spear to be certain he was dead. Most authorities believe the “water and blood” that gushed forth came from the sac around Jesus’ heart. The effusion of liquid provided another proof he was dead.
Seventh, the women prepared his body for burial following accepted Jewish practices. This involved cleaning the body (a difficult job because of Jesus’ many wounds), wrapping it tightly with a linen cloth, and sprinkling spices and aromatic resins between the linen wrappings. The spices and resins hardened to form a kind of cocoon around the dead body both to preserve it and to deter grave robbers.
Eighth, the tomb was sealed with an enormous boulder weighing 3-5 tons.
Ninth, the Roman guard at the tomb ensured that no one could attempt to steal the body.
Tenth, on Saturday night the Romans, the Jewish leaders, and the disciples agreed on just one point—Jesus was dead. No one believed for a moment that he had somehow survived the beating, the scourging, the crown of thorns, the severe blood loss, the exhaustion, the crucifixion, the exposure, the incredible physical suffering, and the gradual collapse of all his bodily systems. Jesus didn’t die in some corner. He died in public, outside the walls of Jerusalem, surrounded by soldiers who had seen many men die, with his mother nearby, the Jewish leaders watching, and a large crowd of onlookers. No one could have faked his own death in that situation. Jesus was truly dead. All the evidence points in that direction—and the evidence is overwhelming.
Let’s consider three passages that put it into a broader biblical context:
He Descended into Hell..
What happened to Jesus between his death and resurrection? Where was he and what was he doing between his death and his resurrection on Sunday morning?
We begin with the answer offered by the Apostles’ Creed: Jesus “descended into hell.” Let’s notice how the Creed uses a certain verb form to describe Jesus Christ. Most of the phrases are in the passive voice: “He was conceived … was born … was crucified … was buried.” These verbs describe things that happened to Christ or things that were done to him by others. But when the Creed comes to this phrase, it switches to the active voice: “He descended into hell.” Whatever else that means, the Creed tells us that Jesus did this of his own initiative. By using the active voice, the writers of the Creed make a strong statement about what Jesus did. It didn’t happen by accident, but by our Lord’s divine design. He went there and he did it on purpose.
Let’s look briefly at three relevant passages of Scripture.
1) Psalm 139:7-8
“Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy face? If I ascend into heaven, thou art there: if I descend into hell, thou art present.” The phrase “descended into hell” is translated from the Hebrew word sheol, The early verses of Psalm 139 assure us of God’s omnipresence—wherever we go, he is already there, and there is no part of the universe—no matter how low or how dark or how distant it may be—where he is not already and always present.
2) Colossians 2:15
“And despoiling the principalities and powers, he hath exposed them confidently in open shew, triumphing over them in himself.” The phrase “principalities and powers” refers to the spiritual forces of wickedness, not to human rulers. By his bloody death on the cross, Christ triumphed over Satan and his demons in all their various ranks and titles. The cross was a decisive victory for the Son of God. He won the battle so convincingly that the outcome of the war can no longer be in doubt. To “despoil” someone means to take his weapons away. If a man has a gun pointed at you, he’s not despoiled until you take the gun away from him. As long as he has the gun (and sufficient ammunition), you’re in big trouble. When Jesus died on the cross, he took the guns and the ammo out of the hands of the demons. And he publicly humiliated them.
When Jesus died, something stupendous happened in the spiritual realm. Although it was invisible to the naked eye, it was seen by all the angels and the Old Testament saints. They watched as Jesus, like some conquering Old West hero, entered the infernal regions and disarmed the “bad guys” one by one. Then he marched them in full view of his Heavenly Father so that every created being would know that he had won the victory.
3) I Peter 3:18-19
"Because Christ also died once for our sins, the just for the unjust: that he might offer us to God, being put to death indeed in the flesh, but enlivened in the spirit, In which also coming he preached to those spirits that were in prison:” Verse 18 is clear as it stands. It’s a simple statement of a vicarious substitutionary atonement: Christ died on our behalf to bring us to God. If Peter had stopped right there, we wouldn’t have any problems. But he continued in verse 19 by talking about Jesus being dead in the flesh “but enlivened in the spirit,” meaning Christ’s human spirit. Then Peter says Christ went and preached to the spirits in prison. Christ preached to the imprisoned spirit beings-the just that had gone before Him.
Here are three Bible words that will help us think about the phrase “he descended into hell.” First, there is the Hebrew word sheol. A very common word in the Old Testament, it refers to the shadowy realm of the dead. Sheol is where dead people go when they die. Sometimes it is translated as “grave.” Second, there is the Greek word hades, which to us means “hell” but in the New Testament, it is the equivalent of the Hebrew sheol. Third, there is the Greek word gehenna, which always refers to the place we call “hell,” the place of fire and brimstone. It is the place of eternal torment. The word gehenna comes from the enormous trash dump in the Hinnom Valley outside Jerusalem. Smoke and fire ascended from the dump day and night. It became a symbol for hell—the place of eternal suffering.
How does this apply to the Apostles’ Creed? When we hear that Jesus “descended into hell,” we automatically think of the word gehenna—the place of fire and smoke and suffering. But that’s not what the Apostles meant. They were not trying to say that Jesus entered the burning flames of hell. When the Creed uses the word “hell,” the real meaning is closer to sheol or hades. The Creed is telling us that when Jesus died, he fully entered the realm of the dead. He was truly and utterly and completely dead from a human point of view. You may recall that scene from the movie Princess Bride where the handsome hero has apparently died. But then he is taken to Mad Max, a local magician who assures his friends that the hero is not really dead. He’s only “mostly dead.” That was good news for the hero because there is a huge difference between “mostly dead” and “totally dead.” But when Jesus died, he was totally dead. What happens to us when we enter the realm of death happened to him when he died. He was not spared the pains of death in any way. That’s the main point the Creed is making.
The Church teaches that between his crucifixion and resurrection, Christ went to the regions of darkness and proclaimed his victory over the devil and the demons. The value of this doctrine is that it answers the question, “What happened to the Old Testament saints when they died?” While we know that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8), the Old Testament believers did not always have that same assurance. Christ liberated the righteous souls who were in the “paradise” part of Hades and thus “led captivity captive” (see Ephesians 4:8-10). The story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 lend support for this view. This whole scene takes place in hell, that is, in Hades. On one side of hell, as it were, is paradise, where Abraham and Lazarus are. On the other side, beyond a great chasm, hell is really hell, and that is where the once greedy rich man now is. This also agrees with what Jesus said to the thief on the nearby cross who believed in Him: ‘And Jesus said to him: Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise."’ (Luke 23:43). Presumably, then, Jesus went to hell, proclaiming his victory to those given over for damnation, while actually staying in the paradise precincts.
The death of Christ brought startling changes in the spirit world, most of which remain hidden to us.
On the Third Day He Rose Again..
When we say that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, we mean something like this: Jesus truly died on Friday afternoon, and on Sunday morning he personally, bodily, physically, actually, literally rose from the dead, never to die again. He rose personally—it was Jesus himself, not some substitute. He rose bodily—meaning that it was his crucified body that was raised from the dead. He rose physically—meaning that he wasn’t a ghost or a phantom or a figment of someone’s imagination. To say that he rose actually and literally means that it really happened. And the word “resurrection” means that he was raised immortal and incorruptible, never to die again. During his earthly ministry, our Lord raised several people from the dead, most notably Lazarus. But those miracles were resuscitations, not true resurrections. Lazarus was destined to die again. But Jesus, having once experienced death and having triumphed over it, would never die again. He was raised immortal—alive from the dead—and he still lives today. That’s what we mean when we say that on the third day he rose again from the dead.
The resurrection of Christ has always been a fundamental truth of Catholic doctrine. If you do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, you have placed yourself outside the boundaries of orthodox Christianity. If you truly don’t believe it, you are not a Catholic at all.
We worship a risen Christ. Jesus was crucified once and for all he did not stay dead.
What if Jesus has not been raised from the dead? What if his bones really are in some box in the Middle East? What then?
Four conclusions follow:
And if Christ be not risen again, your faith is vain, for you are yet in your sins. Then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ, are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. I Corinthians 15:17-19
Our faith is vain.
He says this explicitly in verse 17. The word vain means “useless, empty, futile, of no value.” The Christian faith without the Resurrection is an exercise in futility. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, it’s not true and we are wasting our time believing it.
We are still in our sins.
That’s also in verse 17. Christ’s death cannot save us if he is still in the tomb. There is no forgiveness and we are eternally lost if Christ is still in the tomb.
We will never see our Catholic loved ones again.
“Then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ, are perished.” (I Corinthians 15:18). Death has won the final battle if Christ did not rise. Then our worst fears are realized as we lay our Catholic loved ones to rest, knowing that we will never see them again.
We are a miserable people.
“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (I Corinthians 15:19). Sometimes well-meaning people say something like this: “Even if Christianity isn’t true, it’s still the best way to live.” The proper theological term for that is Baloney. If it’s not true, why would anyone want to believe it or live it? I don’t want to spend my days deluded, following some clever fable. Life is too short to do anything but find the truth and then commit yourself to it 100%. If Jesus did not rise on the third day, then the “Hallelujah Chorus” is just another piece of nice music. It’s beautiful but it’s not based on truth. If Jesus did not rise, then our prayers are empty, our preaching is in vain, our missionary work is useless, and the Church itself is a danger because it stands for something that is not true. If Jesus is still in the grave, then we’re just talking nonsense on Easter Sunday morning. That’s what Paul meant—and he’s right!
It all hangs on that little word “if.” If Jesus did not rise … But what if he did?
Having stated the negative, Paul now triumphantly asserts the positive truth in verse 20: “But now Christ is risen from the dead, the firstfruits of them that sleep.”
We can simply reverse all of Paul’s previous points. Now that Christ is risen …
Our faith has meaning.
We have forgiveness.
We will see our loved ones who died in Christ.
Today we can be certain about our own future.
Now there is hope for the hopeless. Now light shines from heaven in the midst of the darkest corners of the world. Now we can say to anyone, “If you come to Christ, he will not turn you away.” No one is beyond the reach of God’s grace. Whatever “your” sin might be, no matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, the blood of Jesus Christ can forgive you and wash you clean in one great moment of transformation. Heaven now becomes real and death has lost its victory. We still die—but we don’t stay dead forever. There is good news from the graveyard because Jesus has come back from the dead.
He ascended into Heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty...
We face certain difficulties when we consider the ascension of our Lord. The event itself is only briefly mentioned in Mark, Luke and Acts. By contrast both the crucifixion and the resurrection are described by all four gospel writers in detail. And because the event itself is so unusual, it is difficult for us to visualize exactly what happened. Yet it is rare to find someone who doubts the ascension of Christ. Vigorous apologetic debates have raged around the resurrection, but the ascension is not a topic of much discussion. Perhaps most people don’t think about it enough either to doubt it or to debate it.
But a quick glance at Church history tells us that there is more here than meets the eye. For one thing, every major Christian creed includes the ascension of Christ. You find it in the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. The liturgical calendar always includes Ascension Day—always on a Thursday—always 40 days after Easter. And both the event and doctrine behind it are highly biblical.
· Luke 24:50-52 “And he led them out as far as Bethania: and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. And it came to pass, whilst he blessed them, he departed from them, and was carried up to heaven. And they adoring went back into Jerusalem with great joy.”
· Acts 1:9 “And when he had said these things, while they looked on, he was raised up: and a cloud received him out of their sight.”
· John 3:13 “And no man hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven.”
· John 16:10 “And of justice: because I go to the Father; and you shall see me no longer.”
· John 16:28 “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again I leave the world, and I go to the Father.”
· Ephesians 4:10 “He that descended is the same also that ascended above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.”
· I Timothy 3:16 “He was manifested in the flesh, was justified in the spirit, appeared unto angels, hath been preached unto the Gentiles, is believed in the world, is taken up in glory.”
· Hebrews 4:14 “Having therefore a great high priest that hath passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God: let us hold fast our confession.”
· I Peter 3:21-22 “[Jesus] who is on the right hand of God, swallowing down death, that we might be made heirs of life everlasting: being gone into heaven, the angels and powers and virtues being made subject to him.”
There are many other verses that speak of Christ’s exaltation at the Father’s right hand in heaven, and what this truth means for believers. The truth of Christ’s ascension answers two important questions:
What happened to Jesus?
Where did he go?
Here are two statements that answer those two questions.
I. He Ascended into Heaven
We can state what we know about the event itself in very simple terms. While Jesus is speaking to his disciples in Bethany (several miles east of Jerusalem), he blesses them, and is taken up into heaven before their eyes. They were there, they saw it, it really happened. It was not a figment of their imagination or a dream or vision. Unlike the resurrection, which no one saw as it was happening, the disciples actually saw Jesus ascend into heaven. Both Luke and Acts say that Jesus was “taken up” into heaven. The verb has the idea of being lifted straight up into the air. They saw him rise, then they saw him disappear into a cloud, then they didn’t see him at all. Note that he ascended bodily—not as a spirit, but in his glorified body. The same body that was crucified, and the same body that was raised incorruptible, in that body our Lord ascended into heaven. By means of the ascension, Jesus’ triumphant return to heaven signaled that the days of his suffering were over at last. Death and the grave are behind him forever. He who suffered more than any man will suffer no more forever.
II. He Sits at the Father’s Right Hand
The New Testament uses three words to describe Jesus, status in heaven:
He is exalted.
He is glorified.
He is enthroned.
In the ancient world, when a king wished to honor someone, he offered them a seat at his right hand. That seat was the highest seat, the greatest honor, and the supreme glory the king could confer on anyone. What does it mean to say that our Lord is now seated at the Father’s right hand? First, it means he has a permanent place in heaven. When he returned in triumph, he was given a permanent place next to the Father’s throne. Our Lord didn’t have to search for a seat in heaven. When he arrived, there was a seat with his name on it (so to speak). That seat at the Father’s right hand is his forever.
Second, it means that his work of redemption is now complete. While he was on the earth, he spoke often of “the work” of the Father (John 4:34; 9:4; 17:4). His work came to a climax when he hung on the cross, bearing the sins of the world. The Bible says that when he died, he became a sin offering for us (II Corinthians 5:21). When he died, God poured out his wrath on Jesus even though Jesus was perfect and pure and wholly innocent. But as the sinless substitute, he took the punishment I should have received so that I might go free. Just before he died, Christ shouted out, “It is finished” (John 19:30), which literally means “paid in full.” The work was done; the debt was paid. I can never be charged with the guilt of my sins because Jesus paid it all. The ascension signifies that the Father has accepted the work of his Son. Since God has accepted Christ, nothing more can be added to what he did when he died on the cross and rose from the dead. Hebrews 10:11 reminds us that there were no chairs in the tabernacle because the priests were not allowed to sit down. They stood to perform their work because their work was never done. Every day the priest would kill another animal—signifying that the price of sin had not yet been paid. But when Christ returned to heaven, he sat down because he had offered himself as the one sacrifice for sin forever.
Third, it means he is now in the place of supreme and highest honor in the universe. God has exalted him and given him a name that is above every name (Philippians 2:9-11). At the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will one day confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. The ascension means that Jesus has been vindicated in all that he came to do.
Because of the ascension, we may rest assured that the religion of Christ is true. God has accepted him and because God accepted him, he will accept all those who trust in him. Because he is safe in heaven, we will someday be safe in heaven. We will be where he now is.
“From Thence He Will Come Again to Judge the Living and the Dead”
John 14:1-3; II Peter 3:3-10
Some may be wondering if it’s too late for anything but the coming judgment when Jesus returns. And that brings us directly to this phrase from the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe … he will come again to judge the living and the dead.” These simple words consist of two complementary truths:
1) Jesus is coming again.
2) Jesus is coming again to judge the living and the dead.
It has been said that the New Testament refers to the second coming of Christ in over 300 verses. That means one of every 13 verses deals with some aspect of our Lord’s return to the earth. It is so central to the New Testament that Christians everywhere have always believed that Jesus will return someday. Though we differ (and argue!) over the details, Those who identify with Christianity unite in believing that Christ himself will return to the earth. Jesus said in John 14:3, “I will come again.” Here are five words that help us understand what that means. His second coming will be …
Personal (It will be Jesus and not some substitute)
Literal (Not a vision or a dream)
Visible (“Every eye will see him”)
Sudden (Not a gradual return)
Unexpected (Like a thief in the night).
Acts 1:11 makes it clear that Jesus himself will one day return to the earth. It will be “this same Jesus” who is coming again. Twice in one verse Luke uses the word “same” to tell us something crucial about the Second Coming. The same Jesus who left will one day return. And he will return the same way that he left. If plain English can have any meaning at all, those words teach us that Jesus is coming back personally, literally, visibly and bodily. We might also add that his coming will be sudden and unexpected. Luke 24:50-52 informs us that as Jesus reached out his hands to bless his disciples, he began to rise from the face of the earth—evidently without any warning whatsoever. We can assume that his return to the earth will be no less astonishing and no less surprising.
This Same Jesus
This is truly an astounding thought. The same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem is coming again. The same Jesus who grew up in Nazareth is coming again. The same Jesus who turned water into wine is coming again. The same Jesus who walked on water is coming again. The same Jesus who healed the nobleman’s son is coming again. The same Jesus who raised Lazarus is coming again. The same Jesus who entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is coming again. The same Jesus who was betrayed by Judas is coming again. The same Jesus who was whipped, beaten, scourged, mocked, and condemned to death is coming again. The same Jesus who died on Skull Hill is coming again. The same Jesus who rose from the dead on Easter Sunday morning is coming again. The same Jesus who ascended into heaven is coming again.
That’s what we mean when we say that Jesus is coming again. The actual, historical figure that lived 2,000 years ago on the other side of the world is returning to the earth one more time. There awaits in the future an event more marvelous, more startling, more amazing, and more blessed than anything that has happened in the last 2,000 years. I speak of the literal, visible, bodily return of Christ to the earth. No event may seem less likely to modern men and women; no event is more certain in the light of inspired Scripture.
A Word from Saint Peter
But before we sell our houses and move to the mountains to await the Lord’s return, as some misguided souls have done in the past, let us heed the words of II Peter 3:3-10. In this passage Peter addresses a puzzling question—one that bothered believers in the first century and troubles thoughtful people today. Why hasn’t the Lord returned already? What is he waiting for? Does the 2,000-year delay mean that he isn’t coming at all? Should we give up our Christian hope? Listen to Peter’s answer:
“First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (II Peter 3:3-10).
This passage is full of important truth that deserves close consideration. Here are three points to ponder:
1) Despite what the scoffers think, the Second Coming is certain because God promised it.
The scoffers will always be with us. They will say, “Twenty centuries have come and gone and still Jesus has not come. Give it up. He’s not coming back.” To which Peter replies, “Think about Noah’s flood.” Before the flood, men lived in reckless disregard for God. They lived as if tomorrow would never come. They sinned in every way possible. But one day the skies poured forth water and the fountains of the great were opened, and water covered the entire earth. If God could do that once, he could do it again—only this time the coming of Christ will bring a judgment of fire to the earth.
2) The Second Coming will usher in a day of judgment for the ungodly.
Notice the sequence of words: water, destruction, judgment, fire. Just as God destroyed the world once with water, the next time he destroys it with fire. For the ungodly, the Second Coming of Christ will be bad news indeed.
3) The Second Coming is delayed to give people a chance to come to Christ.
Here is the good news. The “delay” the scoffers talk about is actually God’s gift to them. He purposely delays the Lord’s return in order to give men and women more time to repent. Verse 9 reveals God’s tender heart toward the lost. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He does not enjoy sending people to hell. Contrary to popular opinion, he is not some crazed old man in a white beard, laughing while he hurls lightning bolts to the earth. For 2000 years he has held back the final judgment in order to give rebellious men and women a chance to surrender their arms and yield allegiance to Jesus Christ.
As the Creed says, Christ will eventually judge the living and the dead. All must stand before him and give an account. No one can escape that day.
The Bible teaches a resurrection of the righteous and the wicked. The righteous and the unrighteous are raised at the end of the millennium and you will find that that this resurrection is clearly taught in God’s word. In fact, Jesus refers to this resurrection in John 5:28-29: “For the hour cometh, wherein all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God. And they that have done good things, shall come forth unto the resurrection of life; but they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment.”
The resurrection of the just we can understand. They are raised to be given eternal rewards.
But why are the dead raised “to be judged” after they have already suffered in hell? The story in Luke 16 may suggest an answer in that the rich man was somehow able to converse freely across the great divide that separated hell from “Abraham’s bosom.” He evidently hoped to convince Abraham to send someone to ease his torments. He also wanted someone to go back and warn his five brothers. These facts suggest that while hell is a place of torment, those who are there know it is not their final destination. They are conscious not only of their sufferings, but of other places, other people and other possibilities. Is it possible that some in hell resent their sentence and argue that they have been treated unfairly? If so, then it makes sense that they will be raised bodily to face the Lord at the final judgment. At that time, all secrets will be revealed, the books will be opened, and ultimate judgment determined. This is not to suggest that after spending “thousand of years” in hell that the Lord will discover they should have gone to heaven. Nor does it suggest that hell itself is a kind of short-term purgatory preparing people for heaven. Perhaps the case is similar to a man who is arrested, denied bail and kept in jail until his trial, at which time the final sentence is pronounced.
But what is that “final sentence?”
Here we come face to face with the most awful reality in all the Bible. After the unsaved dead are raised, after they face the Lord in the final judgment, they are condemned forever to suffer everlasting conscious punishment away from the presence of the Lord. Note the words of II Thessalonians 1:8-9, “...giving vengeance to them who know not God, and who obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Who shall suffer eternal punishment in destruction, from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of his power:” The phrase “eternal punishment in destruction” seems like an oxymoron–destruction that never ends, a process that goes on and on and on. It is an apt description of the final fate of those who do not know Jesus Christ. They suffer forever, they are destroyed forever, they are punished forever.
Revelation 20:11-15 describes exactly what happens when the unsaved dead are finally raised to stand before the Lord.
And I saw a great white throne, and one sitting upon it, from whose face the earth and heaven fled away, and there was no place found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing in the presence of the throne, and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged by those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and hell gave up their dead that were in them; and they were judged every one according to their works. And hell and death were cast into the pool of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life, was cast into the pool of fire.
Think of it. An entire pool (better translated lake) filled with waves of burning fire. A lake as vast as an ocean, a lake with no shoreline, only wave after wave of burning sulphur and brimstone. In this lake, unbelievers are cast one by one, screaming, pleading, cursing, their voices drowned by the crackling of the flames as they enter the burning fire. Acrid burning smoke fills the lungs, fire hotter than any earthly fire engulfs the human body, pain unlike any human pain courses through the burning veins. Voices cry out, but no one hears, people sink but do not find the bottom. Fire is everywhere, and smoke, and poisonous fumes. Here and there ghastly hunks of humanity desperately swim through the flames. Although they swim forever, they never reach the shore. No ships ply the lake of fire, no fishermen ever visit, no vacationers ever come this way.
As you stand in the distance, two striking facts come before you. First, there is no sun, only an eerie orange-yellow glow that seems to come from within the lake itself, a hideous, hellish emanation that seems to have come out of the bowels of evil. There is no light, no sun, only darkness and shadows. But then you notice something else. Although the fire is burning across the lake, and although the lake is filled with people, no one is consumed. What kind of fire is it that burns but does not destroy?
This is the lake of fire, the final destiny of the unsaved. If my description be rejected as a lurid literalism, let me ask the reader to consider this: If the lake of fire is not literal, if we are to understand it as a kind of symbol, must it not be true that the reality behind the symbol is even worse than the symbol? I have no objection to those who say the fire in hell is not “literal,” if by that they mean that the fire is not the same as human fire since it burns but does not consume.
If this picture of a lake of fire is not “literal,” that must mean that the reality is so terrible that no human words can describe it. Please do not make the mistake of trying to “humanize” hell by playing down the images. The Bible uses “fire” and “darkness” and “torment” too many times for us to glibly say, “That’s not literal.” It means something and the something it means is so eternally terrible that only these awful words and pictures can remotely begin to convey the ultimate meaning.
Let me clarify that point. I am sure my description of the lake of fire is no closer to reality than was Dante’s Inferno. But of this much I am sure. The reality is much worse than anything I or Dante or anyone else could ever imagine.
This is what we mean by “everlasting conscious punishment.” It is the final destiny of those who do not know Jesus Christ. To make it more personal, it is the final destiny of your friends and neighbors, your loved ones, your parents, your brothers, your sisters, your children, if they die without Jesus Christ.
And, yes, it is your destiny if you die without Jesus Christ. Let that thought linger in your mind. The reality of hell is more than just a theoretical doctrine. There is a place reserved for you in the lake of fire unless you by a conscious choice “Do penance, and are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins:” Acts 2:38.
I Believe In the Holy Ghost...
And on the last, and great day of the festivity, Jesus stood and cried, saying: If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink. He that believeth in me, as the scripture saith, Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. Now this he said of the Spirit which they should receive, who believed in him: for as yet the Spirit was not given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39).
This is a moment of high drama. It is the last day, the greatest day, the eighth day of the final feast of the year, the Feast of Tabernacles. It usually took place in early October, at the time of the final harvest. And it was a great celebration. For seven days the Jews lived in lean-to tents or shanties or booths made of palm branches, leaves and tree limbs. This was their way of remembering the 40 years that their ancestors spent wandering in the wilderness. That was a hard time, a long time, and a whole generation died while waiting to enter the Promised Land. Why celebrate that difficult period? Because every day, even in the wilderness, God provided manna and quail. Though they lived in the desert with the sand and heat and the flies and the desolation all around them, God never failed them. They discovered that God could prepare a table in the wilderness and feed them for 40 years. So for seven days each year the Jews came to Jerusalem, made their lean-to's, and celebrated God’s goodness.
But it wasn’t just food that God gave them in the wilderness. He also gave them water. When the people became thirsty and had no water, they accused Moses of bringing them into the desert so they would die of thirst. The Lord told Moses to take the same staff he used to part the Red Sea and hit the rock at Horeb. When he did, water gushed out. Clean, fresh, pure water, more than enough for all the people. It was a mighty miracle—made even greater because the people had grumbled against God—and he provided for them anyway. So each day for seven days during the Feast of Tabernacles, the priest would form a procession from the Temple to the Pool of Siloam. There he filled a golden urn with water and brought it back to the Temple. While he poured the water on the western side of the massive altar, the choir of 4,000 singers accompanied by 287 instrumentalists began to sing. The people cheered and sang Psalm 118, which ends with these words: “O praise ye the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.” The priest repeated that ritual every day for seven days—and the people cheered for joy each time. When the eighth day came, things were different. This was the final feast day of the entire year. It was truly the greatest day. On that day there was a solemn convocation, but the priest did not go to the Pool of Siloam to draw water.
On that day—the greatest day of the final feast—the day with no water—Jesus stood up and spoke to the throngs of people crowding the Temple precincts. The fact that he stood would have gotten their attention since Jewish rabbis normally were seated when they taught. The impact of his words on this particular day was enormous. On the one day when there was no water, Jesus said, “If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink.” The Jews understood him immediately. For Jesus to say those words at that moment meant, “I am the rock that brought forth water in the wilderness. I am the true source of living water. Come to me, believe on me, and I will give you living water from heaven.”
With that as background, I want us to see that these words are for us today. They speak a message of hope to a thirsty world.
I. We come to Christ because we are thirsty.
Most of us know very little about thirst. If we are thirsty, we go to the refrigerator and get some water or some milk or some tea or a coke. We go to the faucet and turn it on, and if we don’t turn it off, water pours out 24 hours a day. So most of us rarely experience true thirst. A few years ago Gatorade promoted itself with this slogan: “Gatorade—for that deep down body thirst.” One commercial showed a runner at the end of a race, having crossed the finish line totally spent, bent over, arms resting on his knees, his body dripping sweat. The commercial sends the message that there is a deep thirst that Coca-Cola can’t satisfy. We know that a man can live for weeks without food, but he can only live a few days without water. Once thirst takes over, it becomes a raging demon and all you can think about is finding a few drops of water. And when thirst controls a person, you will do anything, anything at all, to get those few drops. You will lie or cheat or steal or kill if necessary.
Inside all of us there is a thirst that nothing in this world can satisfy. We all have a “God-shaped vacuum” that only God can fill. Some people thirst for sexual fulfillment, so they hop from one relationship to another. Some people think career advancement is the key to happiness, so they move from job to job. Husbands leave their wives for other women, and still they are not happy. Wives leave their husbands for other men, and they aren’t happy either. Some of us are adrenalin junkies, always on the move, looking for the next jolt of excitement, the next big adventure, the next battle to fight, trying to fulfill the “Wild at Heart” impulse we feel on the inside. But adventure itself never lasts very long. Life returns to the ordinary and we wonder, “What do we do now?” Some people thirst for significance, others thirst for power, others thirst for fame or wealth or close relationships to fill the lonely void inside.
· There is the thirst of the intellect—we want to know the truth.
· There is the thirst of the conscience—we are guilty and need forgiveness.
· There is the thirst of the heart—we desperately search for happiness and don’t know where to find it.
We come to Christ because we are thirsty, and until we see our need and cry out for help, we will never come at all. As Jesus said, only the sick need a physician. Only the hungry will be fed. Only the lost are found. Only the thirsty drink the living water.
II. When we come to Christ, our thirst is quenched.
How simple it is to be saved. It’s like drinking a glass of cool water on a hot day. Notice the verbs that Jesus uses: Come … drink … believe. We all know what these words mean. Jesus used simple words so everyone could understand the Good News. There is a story of A priest who received a letter from a prisoner in Kansas. This is his letter as he wrote it:
“First of all, may God bless you. I pray that this letter finds you in the best of health. Me, I’m blessed, Sir, I just got done reading some of the literature you sent me, and believe me, I have been a mess up all my life, and my wife and my kids have always be saved, “Godly people.” It’s always been me the messed up father and husband, but after reading the literature-Oh, I’m in prison now for drugs and I got to do 58 months, my out date is 8-03-07, but after I read your book, I asked the Lord Jesus into my life, and had the Chaplain here baptize me and I don’t know what happen, but I do know it were good. So thank you for everything and I would like for you to assist me more about knowing Christ.
“Father, I would really like to hear from you.
Isn’t that a wonderful letter? I was touched by his straightforward honesty about his own sinful past, but this is my favorite part: “I don’t know what happen, but I do know it were good.” Those are the words of a man who has found Living Water; he just doesn’t know how to explain it yet.
In a real sense, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in prison or on the outside because apart from Christ, we’re all in the same boat together. We’re all hungry and thirsty and desperately searching for something we can’t quite find. Then one day we meet Jesus, and suddenly everything is different.
Here is one mark of true conversion—we are deeply changed by Jesus and we know it. That’s the meaning of “Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water ” This literally meaning out of the deepest place, the seat of the emotions. When we talk about a “belly laugh,” we mean the same thing. A “belly laugh” comes from deep within us. The deep change Jesus makes touches us at the very core of who we are. You will know you are converted when you come to Jesus and something happens to you that you cannot fully explain. True conversion means that Almighty God enters your life, in the deepest, most personal part, and takes up residence within. You can truly say, “I am converted,” when you know that God has done something for you that only God can do. Let me say that another way: If everything in your life can be explained apart from God, what do you need God for? True conversion goes beyond religion—which is why religious people are often the last to be converted. Religious people trust in their religion—but their lives are never changed. They go to Mass and go through the motions, they may even pray the Rosary and say all the right words, but they have a Sahara heart—hot, parched, barren, empty.
When Jesus comes in, living waters flow out. And they keep on flowing.
III. When our thirst is quenched, we become a river of living water for others.
Here we have the whole course of the Christian life set before us.
What starts with God, comes down to us, and then goes out from us to other people. Living water flows from God into us, and then from deep within us (from the “belly” of life), the river flows out from us for the benefit of others. The concept of a river of living water can be found in various places in the Old Testament, including Isaiah 44:3, “For I will pour out waters upon the thirsty ground, and streams upon the dry land: I will pour out my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thy stock.” In John 7:39 Jesus tells us the living water is the Holy Spirit. That’s the connection with the Apostles’ Creed, which says, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” And what does the Holy Spirit do? He brings God to us. When Jesus was on the earth, his name was Immanuel—God with us. Now that he has gone back to heaven, the Holy Spirit comes and brings God to us. The Holy Spirit opens the springs of life and a river of living water begins to flow from within us.
But God never gives his blessings simply to be hoarded. He gives his blessings to us so that we can share them with others. Here is a simple sentence to help you think about this truth: The Holy Spirit brings God to us so we can bring God to others. The river flows from us to others. A genuine believer in Christ is not self-centered. He says to himself, “I have been greatly blessed. I must pass these blessings along to others. I can’t keep them for myself.”
What God gives me, I give away. If it’s money, it’s not mine anyway. If it’s my time, it all belongs to God anyway. If it’s something I own, I can give it away because I don’t own anything; God owns it all. If it’s a helping hand, I can do that because God reached down and helped me.