Hope of Heaven and the Fear of Hell

Sunday 17thDecember 2023

They will be punished with everlasting destruction
and shut out from the presence of the Lord
and from the glory of his might
on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people
and to be marvelled at among those who have believed.
This includes you…
2 Thessalonians 1:9-10 (NIV)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Hope of Heaven and the Fear of Hell
I understand that the Christian year has not always begun with Advent.  It used to begin with Easter Day, and it is not hard to see why, since the resurrection of Jesus marks the beginning of the new creation.  But by the fourth century the western church had established Christmas Day as the start of the church year (and it is not hard to see why that would be, starting the year with the birth of Jesus our Saviour).  Then Christmas was preceded by a period of preparation for baptisms at Epiphany (January 6th), which became known as Advent. 

However, whatever the history, it is a sound instinct to keep the two comings of Jesus together in our minds, and to remember that the one who is coming again is the one who has come already.  That is, the one who is coming as Judge of all is the one who has already come as Saviour of the world.  In fact, the reason God came in the flesh two thousand years ago was precisely so he could bear in our place the judgment we deserve from him at the end of the world.  That means, if we have already found Jesus to be our Saviour, we have no reason to fear the judgment when it comes (as it will).

One of the songs we love to sing at Christmas takes us on this same journey, beginning as it does with the incarnation when “From the squalor of a borrowed stable, by the Spirit and a virgin’s faith … came the Saviour of the human race.”  The song finishes with the final judgment when “the skies will part as the trumpet sounds hope of heaven or the fear of hell.”  And it takes us there via the cross where “He was punished for a world’s transgressions … loosing sinners from the claims of hell.”

Actually, the song does not quite finish with the final judgment; it looks beyond it as it assures us that “the Bride will run to her Lover’s arms, giving glory to Immanuel!”  It reminds us that, while judgment is inevitable and necessary, it is not the ultimate purpose of Christ coming again, which is “to be glorified among his holy people and to be marvelled at among those who have believed.”  And that includes us!

Lord, thank you for being honest with us about the judgment to come when you come again, and thank you for coming the first time to bear that judgment for me and all who believe.  Amen.

Yours warmly, in Christ,
Chris Hobbs (Senior Minister)