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Judge the living and the dead

Last Judgment

and will come again
to judge the living and the dead.

References to “the quick and the dead”, and puns or jokes about that, derive from this line, the old translation being:

He ascended into heaven: And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty: From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

Every Eucharist we declare: “your coming we await; Amen! Come Lord Jesus.” Or similar.

So this is about the end of time; the end of the universe.

Possibly.

Religious movements seem often to have an obsession with the end of time. The end of the universe.

It’s very difficult to get into the mind of Jesus – but it seems very likely that Jesus thought the end was nigh. Jesus regularly used an enigmatic title, The Son of Man – often he refers to himself like that. But some scholars see Jesus’ use of the Son of Man in the third person as showing that Jesus thought someone else, whom he called the Son of Man, was coming to vindicate Jesus and his life and teaching. Some scholars see Jesus as trying to force God’s hand, trying to change history through his own death. I don’t think we can actually get much further than that Jesus appears to have thought the end was nigh.

The early followers seemed to think the end was near. Don’t bother getting married – the end will be here soon. When, in the war with the Romans, God’s temple in Jerusalem was destroyed – that was unthinkable. Obviously the end of the universe would happen soon.

You see this pattern again, and again, and again. Jehovah’s Witnesses predicted Jesus would return in 1914. Well he didn’t. So they changed their tune – in 1914 Jesus “returned invisibly”. Seventh Day Adventists have a complicated return-of-Jesus calendar: 1844 the investigative judgment began; when that closes, the tribulation begins; then Jesus returns; then there’s a thousand years (a millennium) before the end.

So people who take this all literally argue about whether Jesus returns before the tribulation – “pre-tribulational dispensational premillennialism”; or after the tribulation; or whether Jesus returns after the millennium – “postmillennialism”. In USA of course where these are very important distinctions there’s a top-seller set of novels, the Left Behind series, all about this – and now a franchise of movies is picking this up.

Personally all this stuff does not interest me one iota. I see other people fascinated about debating these details – good on them. When I see people making life decisions based on some belief that the world is going to end very, very soon – yes then I am concerned. I am saving diligently for my retirement; and if Jesus comes back before I get my government superannuation – well that will be an interesting surprise for me. And I’ll be perfectly happy to see him. My advice to you: don’t base your life on the end of the universe happening soon. And be wary of groups that make that a significant part of what they teach.

For me, judging each one of us will happen when we die. Again I’m not too hassled – I think my judge’s relationship with me is great. I think my judge loves me; is nuts about me – and the same for each of you.

Sure – Jesus returns at the end. But I think, more importantly, Jesus returns at each moment: when I receive holy communion, each day the sun rises, in my friends, in the beauty, truth, and goodness I meet each moment.

And judgment is in the words you say to another – being friendly, or putting them down; in the way you treat all that you have received, looking after things, or not realising they are precious gifts; in the way you care for yourself; and in the relationship you develop with your judge.

Jesus returns again, and again, and again, at every moment, and at the end;
to judge the living and the dead. You and me.

*****

This is the nineteenth post in a series on the Creed.

The first is Apostles’ Creed.
The second is I believe in God.
The third is a source of the Apostles’ Creed.
The fourth is I believe in the Father.
The fifth is Handing over the Creed.
The sixth is I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son
The seventh is Don’t use the creed in worship
They eighth is Truly God truly human
The ninth is Conceived by the Holy Spirit
The tenth is Don’t use the creed in worship (part 2)
The eleventh is Born of the Virgin Mary
The twelfth is Don’t use the creed in worship (part 3)
The thirteenth is Crucified under Pontius Pilate
The fourteenth is crucified
The fifteenth is Holy Saturday
This sixteenth is He descended to the dead
The seventeenth is on the third day he rose again
The eighteenth is Seated at the right hand of the Father

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6 Responses to Judge the living and the dead

  1. I was somewhat surprised by how my attitude to and the ‘meaning’ of words like judgment have changed since reading the psalms: at the centre of psalm 67: for you judge peoples with equity. Or the statement at the marriage of the king (Psalm 45): Your throne O God is now and for ever, a sceptre of equity the sceptre of your kingdom.

    This seems to me to be completely positive “good news” and as present as future. I have some trouble with the implied timeline of the creeds in the English tense “he will come to judge the living and the dead”. The lamb was slain before the foundation of the world and he says, I will come to you, my father and I will come to you and make our home in you.

    It seems we are to be present to the Holy One wherever and whenever we are. The common phrase is “already / not yet” for this type of thinking – but maybe that puts off till tomorrow what we may engage with today. I want to hear now the presence of the call of the future and so to be drawn into the promised judgment with equity.

  2. It’s true that here in the “anything goes as a date for Armageddon” USA, the many predictions for this event have become almost laughable. And the question being who or what do we actually want to believe. Fundamentalists as a whole seem to be more interested in this actually taking place sooner than we would expect and actually do base their existence and future on it happening. “Only a few will be taken or rise again from the dead” while the unsaved will be left behind with an impossibly difficult reality. Hard to swallow if you are not sure that Jesus is coming to take you with Him. To me,judging or condemning is something none of us want when we are in pain or dying so I believe that Jesus meant to give us all a break in the end. People are constantly rating us as it is whether we like it or not, so yes Jesus is with us at every moment to remind us we are still loved. The emotional or physical pain that we may suffer daily is meant to bring us closer together spiritually, not tear us apart. We are all precious in His sight and the challenge is to see this in each other and everyday life. And the realization does come when we take the time to understand and accept that we are here to appreciate all that has been given us to enjoy,cherish,and love. Here and in eternity.

  3. Thanks for this timely reflection, Bosco. I, like you, feel that millenarianism is strictly ‘for the birds’ and other feather-brained individuals. I, too, opt for the Jesus of the ‘Here and Now’ in the Eucharistic assembly; where He has promised to be with us – till He comes again, whenever that may be.

    Regarding judgement, I think we should fear more the human judgement that comes our way from the self-righteous among us – than that which will rightly be our from a loving, redeeming God.

  4. The anamnesis, in the Byzantine anaphora according to Saint basil, prays thus: «…remembering his redeeming Passion […] and his glorious and awesome second coming, we offer thee…» We do the memory of something that hasn’t happened yet. Because God is above time-space. And when we eucharist, when we church, we are in God’s untime-unspace.

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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