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33. Jesus, past, present and future

Christian theology in a Sudanese context. God's chosen Saviour - Jesus!

The Bible’s book of Revelation opens a window into the future for us. The title comes from the first verse in the first chapter and it means an ‘uncovering’ (Greek– apokalupsis, which transliterates into the English word ‘apocalypse’, an event of very great importance, usually including some violence with dramatic change). A lot of symbolism is used in Revelation because the scenes described in it are beyond anything mankind has ever yet experienced. The symbols represent truth, but need not be understood as literal realities themselves. Other Scriptures sometimes give us clues to understanding what is meant in Revelation. As an example, you could study Revelation 5:5-6 and compare the words used in it to those in Genesis 49:8-10, Isaiah 42:1-4, Matthew 2:1-12, Matthew 27:27-56 and John 1:29. My conclusion from doing so is that the central Person, at the throne ruling all of creation, is Jesus Christ.He is born within the descendants of the family of Judah. He existed before King David (like the root before the fruits on the mango tree), yet He came after David into history. His right to rule came from His sacrificial death on the cross. A careful reading of Revelation chapter 4 and on into chapter 5, shows that Jesus, God the Son, is at the centre of the throne of God the Father, 4:2, in the presence of God the Holy Spirit 4:5. Jesus is standing alive although He had been dead, 5:6, and is receiving the worship of everyone 5:13. All of this points to the central truth of Revelation: Jesus is God, Who is working out His purpose, which will definitely be fulfilled (Revelation 22:12,13). However, I do not deny that many mysteries in Revelation will remain. We will do well to hold our beliefs about the details gently and with graciousness towards those who understand them differently. Jesus is the central message of Scripture. The Old Testament shows the roles of the prophets, the priests and the kings during Israel’s early history.

  • The prophets represented God to the people, (for example: Elijah – 1 Kings 18:1-46; Jeremiah – Jeremiah 1:1-19). When they spoke, the prophets spoke in the name of God.

  • The priests represented the people beforeGod. They brought the sacrifices God required to make the people fit to be God’s people, (for example: Aaron and his sons – Leviticus chapters 7 and 8; the Levites – Ezra 6:19-22).

  • The kings were to reign over the people of God for the glory of God, (for example: David – 2 Samuel 5:1-5; 2 Samuel 7:16; Solomon – 1 Kings 2:1-12).

None of these men were perfect. They were only human. But they all pointed towards the New Testament revelation of Jesus Christ as Prophet (Luke 24:19); Jesus Christ as Priest (Hebrews 2:17); and Jesus Christ as King (Matthew 4:17; Matthew 27:27-31; Revelation 19:16). Jesus Christ meets our need for a prophet, for a priest and for a king. The old need, to be born into an earthly nation, is replaced by the new need, to be born again into the kingdom of God (Jeremiah 31:31-37; Hebrews 9:1-28).

We have already seen (chapters 31 and 32) that God the Son existed before His incarnation as Jesus. His birth into humanity was prophesied (Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6), and so was His death (Isaiah 52:13 - 53:6). The fact that Jesus existed as a man is well known from history, both in the Bible and in historical documents. His resurrection from the dead sharply divides believers from unbelievers. The Gospels are clear that Jesus really died on the cross (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46; John 19:30 – 34), that He was buried, and that he rose again to life afterwards. Those who believe, and receive the living Christ into their lives, are born again into eternal life (John 20:31; John 1:12). The resurrection was testified to by angels (Matthew 28:5,6; Mark 16:5,6). It was testified to by an empty tomb (Luke 24:1-3; John

20:1-8). The guards being posted earlier at the entrance to the tomb, and the bribery given to false story-tellers later by the chief Jewish priests and elders, add impressive evidence for the resurrection (Matthew 27:62– 28:15). Though He had always existed as God the Son, the man Jesus Christ was actually born twice. “The (first) birth at Bethlehem was a birth into a life of weakness. The second time, He was born from the grave– ‘the first-born from the dead’ – into the glory of heaven and the throne of God”. Jesus opens the eyes of the heart in those who listen to, and learn from, His teaching through Scripture (Luke 24:25-27 and 44-45). We could summarise that in past history, God the Son pre-existed, Jesus was born as a human being, Jesus lived, Jesus died, Jesus was buried, and later He was raised to life. At the present time Jesus is at the right hand of God acting as the Mediator on our behalf. He represents us, advocating our case, like a barrister or lawyer in a court of law (Romans 8:34).

Jesus is now in the place of highest honour. He is exercising His sovereign right to save and secure people from their sins. He is waiting for the full benefits of His death to become actual reality in our human history, which is obviously restricted to the passing of time. The certainty that they will do so comes to us from the glimpses into this eternal reality that the book of Revelation gives us.

The disciples saw Jesus ascend into heaven (Acts 1:9-11). They ministered the gospel knowing that Jesus was standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56; 2 Timothy 4:8). They believed that the omnipresent Son of God was with the Father in heaven, yet, at the same time, He was with the disciples in the events of life they were passing through. His presence was both here and there, during every moment of time. Jesus has taken into heaven the very humanity He assumed on earth. Jesus, the human being, is on the seat of power over the entire creation. At the very centre of everything, supervising and working together everything that is happening, is a specific Man showing the glory of God! (Luke 24:50-53).

The words describing Jesus’ ascension indicate how it happened. He was ‘taken up’ (Greek – analambano), meaning to be received or taken to oneself. He was ‘lifted up’ (Greek – epairo), meaning exalted and raised up higher. He was ‘received’ (Greek – hupolambano) meaning to be carried up under a cloud. The NIV translates this as “a cloud hid Him from their sight”. The disciples were inspired to witness immediately. And although Jesus had been taken from them into heaven, He was still there working with them! (Mark 16:19,20). Now, Jesus sits in authority at the right hand of God the Father (Hebrews 1:3). He acts as the High Priest, representing us there (Hebrews 4:14-16). The Head of the church is in heaven. He has released God the Holy Spirit to equip the church with every grace and gift necessary for the mission of the church to be completed (Colossians 1:18; John 16:7; Ephesians 4:8-13). When that job is done, the same Jesus will come back to this world as a man blazing with fire, to bring judgement and reward (Acts 1:11;

2 Thessalonians 1:7-10). Jesus who was real in the past, is also real in the present. He has gone from being seen to being unseen. The beginning of Psalm 110:1 is often behind New Testament thinking. “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for Your feet’”. Jesus seemed to have this in His mind as His destiny (Mark 14:61-62). The apostles used it against their powerful critics (Acts 5:31). The writer to Hebrews highlights the difference between the Old Testament Jewish priesthood and Jesus. Theirs was an endless series of sacrifices and ceremonies to be performed. Jesus completed His sacrifice once and for all, and sat down at the right hand of Father God (Hebrews 10:11-14). Jesus is the One in the honoured position of real authority. The earlier sacrifices were simply pictures. How do you usually think of Jesus Christ? He is at this present moment waiting in heaven’s glory for the time to be right – then He will immediately come back! When Jesus comes again He will complete our salvation and bring this world to judgement. These are two certainties of the future. There is no doubt they will happen. Eschatology is the term used for the study of the last things. The word is made up from two other words literally meaning ‘the word of the last’ (Greek – eschatos meaning ‘last’, and logos meaning ‘word’). It is often translated in the NIV as ‘the last day’ (John 6:40; 11:24; 12:48).

God has a purpose in history. The future is planned. Our all-wise and all-powerful God will achieve what he wants. Whether we are alive or dead we will meet the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:27,28). Every person will see him, but nobody knows when (Revelation 1:7; Mark 13:32). The second coming of the Lord Jesus will not be forced into our neat timetables! We are not to guess, but we are to be ready (Matthew 24:44). I noticed that the brides and grooms were not usually on time for weddings I attended in Sudan. As a westerner I was sometimes told of two starting times for wedding ceremonies: one given to the public generally, and the other for khawajas like me. They were quite different, for example 4pm and 5.30pm. The public were given the earlier time and us khawajas the later. It appears that everyone knew that everyone else would be late and so an earlier starting time was announced in an attempt to get the late arrivals to be on time! As far as I am aware it did not work! In any case, even if the whole congregation had arrived, either one or both from the couple getting married would not be there. Wedding days were waiting days. Wait, wait and wait some more! Jesus is coming. God has His own timetable. He may not turn up for a while. Yet we must be ready at any time to be welcomed into the heavenly city of God (Matthew

25:14-30; Revelation 22:12,13).

There are various Christian theological understandings of the major events surrounding Jesus’ return. I am unable to be dogmatic in teaching these when I know well-respected and used-by-God Christians who hold very different views from one another. I also think that none of these understandings are essential to the views every Christian should have about the future. The usual Muslim view of events leading up to the last Day of Judgement is taken from the Hadith literature (traditions) more than the Qur’an. Signs of the coming Day include great tribulation, a widespread decline of faith, the sun will rise from the west instead of the east. A mystery monster will come, possibly out of the Ka’ba (Qur’an 27:82). The anti-Christ (Arabic– Dajjal) will appear and then Jesus Christ will return to the earth and kill him. Jesus’ return is the firm sign of Judgement Day approaching (Qur’an 43:60-61). Jesus will lead the Muslims in prayer, he will preach Islam, destroy all crosses and pigs, and will defeat the Jews. Jesus will then die himself and be buried, to be raised on the last Day. Justice will be given to everyone according to the balance of good and bad deeds in scales (Qur’an 101:6-9). Muslims differ over which ahadith to accept as authoritative. In the less widely accepted literature are teachings of Jesus destroying all Christians who refuse to submit to Islam, of Jesus marrying and having children, and of Jesus being eventually buried next to Muhammad in Medina. Christians believe in death followed by judgement. Hebrews 9:27-28 says that we will all die and face judgement, unless we happen to be alive when Jesus Christ returns to bring salvation to completion. We do not know when either death, or Christ’s return, will happen. Physical death is part of the result of sin in humankind, (Romans 6:23). Christians believe that when they are ‘away from the body’, they will be ‘at home with the Lord’,

(2 Corinthians 5:6-9). But we do not know the date when that will happen. Eternity is not a prisoner of time. Everybody in human history will be judged by Jesus Christ (Acts 17:31; Revelation

20:11-15). A person’s religion makes no difference at all. At that judgement, even those who do not believe in Jesus will “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). It is a person’s commitment to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that decides their eternal destiny – heaven or hell (Matthew 25:31-46). Since Jesus has received God’s judgement on my behalf, I do not have to face it any more

(1 Peter 2:24-25). Thanks be to God. Approximately about the same time, Christians will stand before the “judgement seat” of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10). Some Christians will receive a reward in heaven for their pure following of Christ, while others will enter heaven, but only just!

(1 Corinthians 3:14-15). It is not ‘good works’ that save a Christian. Jesus is the Saviour (Luke 2:11; Acts 4:12). It is good works done because a person is following Jesus in daily life, which will bring a reward.

As a Christian I believe I must seek to remain faithful to the Lord Jesus whatever the spiritual climate is around me. I should plan my life and ministry to use every day of my life obediently serving God (Matthew 25:1-13). I need to be personally ready to meet the Lord Jesus at any moment. I must pay close attention to my invisible heart-attitudes as well as my visible actions. I should expect Jesus to come back soon, but I should not wait aimlessly doing nothing. I must learn to look up towards His coming from heaven. Yet I should also keep looking at the needs of the world around me. I should try to discern what God is doing in my part of human history and think about where that fits into His overall plan. In all of this, I am able to trust Jesus Christ to have clothed my life with His own righteousness, so that I do not need to trust in my own resources on the Day of Judgement (Matthew 13:36-43; Romans 1:16-17; Revelation 19:6-9). I can look forward to the mysterious reality of heaven and not be afraid of the equally mysterious reality of hell (Matthew 25:31-46).

Thinking it through. (a).How can Jesus have lived before King David and yet also lived several hundred years

after him? (John 17:5; 2 Timothy 2:8).

(b). In which ways is Jesus like a prophet?

(c) Like a priest? (d) Like a king? (e).How is Jesus different from all human prophets, priests and kings?

(f). What can we definitely know about Judgement Day?


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