On the Incarnation of the Word 56 – When Christ Appears Again

This penultimate section looks forward to the “appearing” of Christ in glory.

And you will also learn about His second glorious and truly divine appearing to us, when no longer in lowliness, but in His own glory,—no longer in humble guise, but in His own magnificence,—He is to come, no more to suffer, but thenceforth to render to all the fruit of His own Cross, that is, the resurrection and incorruption; and no longer to be judged, but to judge all, by what each has done in the body, whether good or evil; where there is laid up for the good the kingdom of heaven, but for them that have done evil everlasting fire and outer darkness.

Much of the language commonly used in English discussions of Jesus today implies that he has gone off somewhere away from the world and will one day “come” back to it. That’s a distortion of the language of Scripture. “Ascension” describes royalty coming into their power. And that’s obviously the case with Jesus as he “ascended” to the throne of God to be seated at his right hand. “Clouds” or smoke are the imagery of the presence of God throughout the OT. I think we miss that as well.

But Jesus isn’t somewhere far away. He is with us always. He is our head and is the wellspring of the life of the Church. He is now veiled, and when he “appears” in glory that veil will be dropped and all creation will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord that already fills it. But Jesus is not coming back from some distant place. He is here now. He has already ascended to the power of his kingdom. It’s just a kingdom that operates very differently from any other kingdom we’ve ever encountered.

I also want to point out what Athanasius describes as the fruit of the Cross. (Certainly not the only one as the work of the Cross surpasses our imagination, but the main fruit.) It’s not forgiveness, which it would be if the primary problem was that we had done wrong by violating a law. Nor is it payment for a debt that could not be forgiven (as some put it instead). No, the fruit of the Cross is life. The instrument of death becomes the source of our resurrection and incorruption defeating the power of corruption and death that had before ruled man.

And, as Scripture always says, we will be judged for the works we have done in our body. We are our bodies and the things we do with them matter. Oh, they don’t change God’s attitude toward us. God has made that as clear as it can be made in Jesus of Nazareth. But the things we do in and through our bodies shape who we are as human beings. Are we becoming the sort of people able to experience the fire of God’s love as comfort and warmth? Or are we making ourselves into the sort of people who will experience that love as pain and torment when we can no longer feed the destructive passions we have written into our flesh? Through the grace and power and love of Christ, may it be the former!

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