Sinclair Ferguson: The Last Things

Sinclair Ferguson: The Last Things

Let us turn in our Bibles to the letter to
the Hebrews. I want to read there Hebrews chapter 9. Ligon Duncan made reference to
Donald Grey Barnhouse this morning, and those of you who have the set of Barnhouse’s expositions
of Romans, in either 12 volumes, or four volumes, or there may even be a one-volume edition.
For all I know, I was given them when I was in my early twenties, and I was always intrigued
by the folly of the statement on the dust jacket, which was that in these expositions,
Dr. Barnhouse took the letter to the Romans as the point of departure. Sadly, that is
what often happens in pulpits, that the text becomes the point of departure, and one sees
this, I think more and more on television. When I came first of all to work in the United
States in 1983, I often thought about those I saw, that a good number of them needed to
see psychiatrists because they were mentally sick and unbalanced people handling the Scriptures,
and some of them so proved to be. It was an astonishment to me that more people did not
see that. But at least, what they were doing in an unbalanced way was connected to the
Scriptures. It was their point of departure, and now what one often sees on television,
although I do not often see it on television, is people with huge Bibles on their laps,
eagerly nodding their heads and taking notes who have no sense whatsoever that what is
being said has no connection whatsoever with the book that is on their laps. Dare I say that our ignorance of Scripture
in the Western pseudo-Christian world has made us one of the most, if not the most,
religiously gullible societies in the face of the earth. We just do not see it, and that
is why to return to where at least I began, that is why it is so important in days when
people have itching ears and find teachers to suit their own desires that we stick faithfully
and manfully to the task. But as Paul says to Timothy, “We keep the head,” “Keep your
head,” he says, “in all things,” and you remember how he says to Timothy in words that very
much have become a watchword of ministry for me, “The thing to do is to keep your head
in the Word, and whether you are in season or out of season, with patience and careful
instruction, teach the truth of God’s Word.” You may know the story of the Welsh man who
was brought up before the bishop of the Church of Wales because he was preaching the Scriptures,
and the bishop complained that he was always preaching the Scriptures and he wanted him
to stop, and the very wise and biblically instructed Episcopalian minister said to the
bishop, “Sir, I am not always preaching the Scriptures. I only preach the Scriptures at
two times.” The bishop said, “Well, what are those times?” He said, “In season and out
of season.” Well, let us turn to Hebrews chapter 9, which
is actually going to be my point of departure. I am not going to linger with this passage,
but it very much puts our thinking about the last things and especially the return of Christ,
on which I am going to focus all of our attention this morning, into a wonderful biblical perspective: “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of
the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with
hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means
of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an
eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons
with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more
will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish
to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” And then the author goes on in verse 26 that
if he had offered repeated sins “then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation
of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away
sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after
that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will
appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting
for him.” Our Heavenly Father till we come to the end
of our time together, we thank You for the blessings You have poured out upon us through
the fellowship of Your children and fellow servants in the gospel, for the joy of worshipping
and praising You together, for the interaction of iron sharpening iron, as we have sought
to sit under the ministry of Your Word, and to encourage one another personally through
that Word. We pray that by Your Holy Spirit, Your Word will be a living Word to us today
and that once again we may feel, as Your children, that You are addressing us as sons and that
You are displaying to us the riches of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. This we pray
together for His name’s sake. Like many of you, I am sure, in our church
Sunday by Sunday, with probably many millions of Christian believers, our congregation stands
to confess the three appearings of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 9:26 “He has appeared once for all at
the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” Verse 24, “He now appears
in the presence of God on our behalf.” Verse 28, “He will appear a second time to save
those who are eagerly waiting for Him.” And so every single Sunday, every member of the
congregation stands to answer the question, “What is it that you believe?” And we believe
in His first appearing, that He was born of the Virgin Mary. We believe in His present
appearing, that He has ascended to the right hand of the Father, and He there appears before
the presence of the Majesty on High for our sakes, as our mediator. We believe that He
will come again to judge the quick and the dead, and by His appearing, not this time
deal with sin, but bring about the consummation of our salvation, by His return in majesty
and in glory. We confess, as we learned very early on in
the Acts of the Apostles, that the heavens have received our Lord Jesus Christ until
the consummation of all things, which rather suggests to me that from the very beginning
of the Christian church, from those early apostolic messages, the return of Jesus Christ
and the consummation of all things were seen by the apostles as coterminous events. Where
they fix their gaze therefore, essentially, when they thought about what we call “the
last things” was not upon the things that were last but upon the appearing of the Savior
who would come at the end of the ages. It is, at least in my estimation, something
of a tragedy that the Christian church has so often lost sight of this that eschatology
is, at the end of the day, Christology. So often in our systematic theological textbooks,
as in a sense may be understandable to us logically, we have divorced eschatology from
Christology and not understood that all eschatology is but the consummation of Christology. Which
is why the apostle Paul says in 2 Timothy chapter 4 that the crown of righteousness
is given not to those who have worked out their eschatology, but to all those who love
the appearing of Christ. That is to say the Christ of the third appearing. I suppose if there were any burden that throbs
through the New Testament message, it is this, that when we think about the last things,
we must never allow our minds to be diverted from this principle that the last things,
like the first things and the present things for the Christian believer, are always first
and foremost the things of Jesus Christ and that the whole purpose of the teaching of
the New Testament on the last things is to fix our gaze and focus on the way in which
our Lord Jesus Christ will accomplish the work that He came to earth to do. So the moment my eyes are diverted from the
Lord Jesus Christ, that is the moment when I have divorced eschatology from Christology
and cut, as it were, the essential relationship in the gospel between the kingdom of God and
the ministry of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ. I say that for the very obvious reason that
the teaching we are given in the New Testament about the last things was never intended to
make us arm chair theologians, but lovers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Any investigation
of eschatology in which I engage that does not bring me to bow in further awe and reverent
worship for my Lord Jesus Christ is, by definition, an unbiblical eschatology. Since the first
principle of satanic operation in the Christian life is to divert you from Jesus, it should
not at all surprise us how much more excited and interested we can be sometimes, including
in our preaching, about the last things than we are about the exalted and coming Savior. I say that because it is endemic in the Christian
world, and it is not just the Christian world out there, it is the Christian world in here.
That it seems to be almost infinitely easier for us to focus our gaze upon talking about
this world, and about man, and about our experience, and about systems of thought, than it is in
exalting and magnifying the Lord Jesus Christ. One of the plagues of our time in preaching
is the extent to which men of consummate ability and unusual skills of communication do very
little more than talk about man and his need, and his sin, and his plans, and how his life
can be changed, rather than exalting the person and the ministry and the glory of the Lord
Jesus Christ. I have come to call that the “Find Waldo”
hermeneutic. You remember Waldo, the little fellow with the striped jersey and the funny
hat, in the books with no words, full of people, and the only purpose of reading the book,
I do not know whether it was meant for children or for adults, the only purpose of reading
the book was to try to find Waldo in this picture. My conviction is that is the dominant
hermeneutic in the evangelical church, and therefore when you expound the gospel the
real question of interest is, “Where are you in this gospel?” The answer to that question
is, “You are nowhere in this gospel.” This gospel was not written in order that you might
find yourself in this gospel. This gospel was written so to magnify and glorify our
Lord Jesus Christ that you might be found by Him through the gospel and found in Him
by faith. You see, it is altogether possible even to
engage in a systematic expository ministry but to use the wrong fundamental principle
and actually be talking about man rather than talking about Christ, and your best energies
and your greatest imagination has all got to do with man who needs salvation and little
to do with Jesus Christ who brings salvation. If that is true generally, it is certainly
most particularly true in eschatological matters, is it not? That you do not, so often leave
with a sense of the sheer, undiluted, majestic glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, bowing down
before Him, lost in wonder, love, and praise, but either admiring the brilliance of the
plan that the preacher has set before you or scratching your head and wondering how
these locusts turned into tanks, although this is supposed to be the literal interpretation
of the book of Revelation. I want to say this to you who preach and teach
with all my heart, because it is a scourge of our time, that gospel ministers, including
Reformed ministers, may be far better at exposing the sinfulness of the human heart than we
are at exalting the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is why, as we think about the
last things, I want us to try and focus our attention exclusively on what the New Testament
has to say to us about the return of Jesus Christ and in five ways. Number one, the promise
of it; number two, the manner of it; number three, the time of it; number four, the purpose
of it; and number five, our response to it. I will try and do these just as quickly as
would be reverent. First of all, “The Promise of our Lord’s Return,”
remembering that every promise of God finds its “yes” and “amen” in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Here the important thing for us to notice, since there is really not an author in the
New Testament who does not, in one sense or another, touch on the theme of the return
of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is so important for us to grasp the context in which particularly
our Lord Jesus Himself, and therefore, the early Christian community that awaits the
return of the Lord Jesus, it is so important for us to catch a sense of the atmosphere
in which the promise of His return is given. For this reason, since we presume our Lord
Jesus knew that none of those to whom He was speaking would be alive at His return, since
He presumably knew that none of those to whom He was speaking would be alive at His return,
what was the function of teaching them about His return? Or to put it another way around,
what actual, practical difference would it make to your Christian life? What difference
has it made to your Christian life today that there is a promise of the return of Jesus
Christ? Why is this such a big thing in the New Testament? Well the simple reason is this,
and actually becomes clear as I see in the context, the atmosphere in which our Lord
begins to unfold, with increasing clarity to His disciples, not only that He is going
to die on the cross, that He is going to rise from the grave, but He is also going to return
again. It is simply this, the promise of His return is given to the disciples, not just
because He is going to return. He did not need to divulge that. There are many things
the Lord Jesus Christ has not divulged to us. There are many questions that the Lord
Jesus Christ does not answer. So why does He divulge that He will return again in majesty
and glory? Well the answer is this, He begins to teach
His disciples this precisely in the context of the increasing unveiling of the shame,
the humiliation, and the rejection that He is going to know in Jerusalem, and in Gethsemane,
and in Golgotha. He wants them to understand that this is not the final act in His work
but that there will be, for their blessed Lord Jesus Christ, a worldwide exaltation
of Him in majesty and glory that will be correlative to the humiliation, and shame, and rejection
He has experienced by all men. If we grasp that, then we are able to bring
to, for example, the teaching of the epistles, and to some of the intricate details and frankly
difficult verses in the epistles about the last things, the appropriate atmosphere of
our Lord Jesus’ own teaching, that every single detail we are given in connection with His
return is related in a very direct way to the degree of His humiliation. Sometimes very
clearly, the very spheres in which the Lord Jesus Christ’s exaltation will be seen in
His return and glory and in the last things, is intimately related to precisely the ways
in which He was rejected, and demeaned and humiliated in this world. There is a sense therefore, in the New Testament
Scriptures that Jesus must reign because Jesus has been humiliated, and every eye that has
cursed Him, every mouth that has rejected Him must see Him in His glory, because God
will not have His Son demeaned in this world but has determined that since He is the Son
of the passion of His love, He will be given a name that is above every name that at the
name of Jesus every knee should bow, when during His ministry essentially no knee naturally
bowed and proclaimed Him Lord of all. He comes, in that sense, to bring a consummation
to the kingdom He established, to turn the secret of the kingdom of God into an open
proclamation of His royal majesty and glory, and to demonstrate without a peradventure
that the cross on which He died was, as Calvin said, “But the triumphal chariot on which
He would ride, as He would bring in His kingdom and finally consummate it throughout the earth.” And not least, and this is particularly clear
in the teaching of the apostle Paul, that since He had come, and indeed through His
companion Luke, that since he had come as it were in essence to bear the judgment of
God on Adam’s sin and its consequences, to undo the tragedy that Adam’s sin had brought
into the world, and to do what Adam was called to do, it is of the very essence of our Lord
Jesus Christ’s finished, continuing, and consummate work that the word that was spoken to Adam
of which we thought yesterday morning, “You are to have dominion,” should be fulfilled
in the person, in the work, in the final ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do you remember that almost the last thing
our Lord Jesus is recorded as saying to His Father in the Gospel of John, is this in the
great prayer in chapter 17:24, “Father,” He says, “This is My last will and testament
that those who have been with me, whom You have given to Me in your love for Me, who
in these next hours will see me in the most terrible shame, and humiliation, becoming
a worm and no man, coming under Your judgment curse, as though I were rejected not only
by man, but by God. My desire is, oh Heavenly Father grant Me this, that they may see Me
in the glory that you gave Me, in your love for Me from before the foundation of the world.” I think the first person to do this at the
Wimbledon tennis championships was the Australian tennis player, Pat Cash. It broke every rule
of Wimbledon English etiquette. When he had won the championship, he clambered up over
the seats in order to embrace that little group of people who had seen him in the sweat,
and the labor, and the failures, and the defeats. Why? Because at a human level, at a human
level, he wanted to share the moment of glory with those who had seen him at his lowest
point. Now you see, that is what our Lord Jesus is praying. That is His heart towards
us. That is why there is the promise of His coming. That one day we will see this, one
day we who, by and large, still see the Lord Jesus Christ rejected and demeaned in the
world, one day we will see Him with every knee bowing before Him and every voice willingly
or unwillingly saying in a cosmic chorus, “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God
the Father.” If we take our eye off that promise, then our Christian lives are deflated and
our understanding of the last things diverted from their essence and center. That is the reason why, the second thing I
want us to notice, not only the promise of His coming, but “The Manner of His Coming.”
You are familiar with the fact that by and large, there are three terms used in the New
Testament in relationship to our Lord’s coming. It is an apocalypse, it will be an unveiling,
we do not now see Him, although we love Him and rejoice with joy unspeakable, that is
in some ways already full of glory, but one day the heavens will part and our Lord Jesus
Christ will be unveiled in majesty and triumph. There will be an “epiphaneia,” an epiphany
of the Lord Jesus Christ. He will be manifested to us. There will be a “parousia” of the Lord
Jesus Christ. He will come, as in a royal visit to His people, to be received by them.
They will as it were, go out to meet Him, as you remember the early Christians went
out to meet the apostle Paul in the apostle Paul’s parousia in Rome, in Acts chapter 28. When the New Testament stresses where our
gaze will be, what our wonder will be on that occasion, there are a variety of things to
say about it of course, some of them very mysterious. Perhaps the most important is
this, He will come personally. It must surely be one of the sweetest things in the opening
words of the Acts of the Apostles that as the apostles are staring into heaven, remember
Spurgeon’s statement about this. I should leave all Spurgeon’s statements to my friend
Steve Lawson, but this is a Spurgeon statement that I find particularly attractive as a Presbyterian.
He was speaking about certain Christians in the nineteenth century, and he sees the angels
of heaven bringing them a message, “You men of Plymouth,” he says, “Why do you stand there,
gazing into heaven? This same Jesus will come again, in like manner to the manner in which
you have seen Him go.” These must surely be almost the most precious words about the return
of the Lord Jesus in all of the Bible. He is not for changing, this same Jesus. Really?
The same Jesus who showed such sympathy for sinners, such wonderful power to restore life,
the same Jesus who was so patient with His disciples, the same Jesus who was so angry
with religious Pharisees. Yes, this same Jesus and no other. He will not be different from the Jesus about
whom we read in the Gospels. That is why when we read about Jesus in the Gospels, we can
really get to know Jesus because the Jesus who shows His presence in the Gospels is the
real Jesus, and it is the same Jesus that will come again personally. He will come again
visibly says the book of Revelation. Every eye will see Him. But that is made even clearer,
is it not, in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 when we are told that He will come with the holy angels.
This boggles the imagination. This, in a sense, underscores for us that the new heavens and
the new earth in which righteousness dwell, which our Lord Jesus Christ will bring in
by His appearing and His coming will have dimensions and possibilities that are as yet
unfathomable for us. He will come wonderfully visibly, but not
only personally and visibly, he will come audibly. He will come, says the Scriptures,
with the sound of a trumpet. Presumably the reference here is to the Old Testament celebration
of the year of jubilee that was brought in by the sound of a trumpet. A trumpet announcement
that the great day of liberation has come when debts are cancelled, when land returns
to its original owners, and that is the picture. It is the Lord Jesus returning this land to
its original owner by His coming and His appearing, subduing everything to Himself. The trumpet
sound, and yes also audibly the cry of command in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, which is not further
exegeted there but presumably is the command of the resurrection when He will come and
say, as He once said, this same Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, “Lazarus come forth.” You
remember how some of the earlier Christians used to underscore the absolute necessity
of Him using Lazarus’ name because, as they said, the Savior has such power that if He
had simply said “Come forth,” all the dead would have come forth. But on this occasion,
simply the words “Come forth,” and the dead arising some to life and some to be thrown
into outer darkness when He will consummate the work of resurrection that He began in
our regeneration. You probably know this very peculiar statistic
actually that although so many of us become Reformed because we come to understand the
absolute sovereignty of God in regeneration, the term “regeneration” is used with astonishing
infrequency in the New Testament and appears actually in the Gospels only on one occasion,
and it is referring not to personal regeneration but to the regeneration of the entire cosmos
at the return of Jesus Christ. Now that may seem strange to us, but it is a tremendous
clue to help us understand what our personal regeneration is. It is not actually an individualistic
regeneration that has no relationship to anything else. It is the seed planted within our heart,
as the Apostle John says does he not, in 1 John “the seed planted within our hearts”
that is the seed of the final harvest of the regeneration of all things. It is our present
taste of that glorious renewal that is yet to come. It is our entry into the new creation
that is not yet consummated. So that in some sense is the glory of the resurrection. You
know, people sometimes ask questions about what will we be like in the resurrection,
and in a sense what we learn here about that glorious resurrection that will take place
when Jesus calls to all the earth, “Rise and come forth” is that our resurrected persons
will be but the inner regenerate man becoming the outward resurrected man. I do not know whether this is Scottish or
not, but Scottish people sometimes say about a photograph, “You were very like yourself
in that photograph,” but I think where the New Testament is heading is that when we see
one another in the resurrection, we will be in such awe of what our Lord has done that
we will have a tendency to say one another, “I never really knew that who you were in
Christ,” when everything that is inner becomes outer and everything that is hidden will be
revealed. You know that notion that everything that is hidden will be revealed and the things
that have been whispered in secret will be shouted from the housetops is often used like
a rod to beat Christians but however solemnizing that may be, it has kernel within it that
on that day nothing will be hidden. Your wrestlings with your sin, the wounds that you carry. You know many of us here, perhaps the majority
of us here, are pastors and we announce bereavements. I announce bereavements almost every single
Sunday in our church and every time I do it, my heart sinks because I think every single
time, I make a reference to this individual who is bereaved it rubs on the wounds of all
others, and some of them have been bereaved for many years and time helps in God’s providence,
but time never heals that wound. There is no recompense in this world, and some of you
know that. Some of you have those experiences when after many, many years even decades of
handling the inner pain of loss, a word or perhaps a dream makes you realize how deep
the sore is. One of the things that can make it sore is that nobody knows, nobody feels,
and sometimes nobody cares. That is why we will be able to last forever,
incidentally. Those of who have been married many years, remember the day you were married
you thought there has never been a man in history, let me use the masculine illustration
because I have been inside the feminine illustration. You have thought it is not possible that man
has ever loved woman the way I love this woman, and now you have been married five years.
Actually it just takes five days, and you think, “I must have been off my head thinking
that,” and why is it, maybe this is just Scottish but people always say to me, “What do you
and your wife like to do?” and I will say, “We do not like to do anything.” Actually,
this is a sign that we become a doing society rather than a being society. I say, “We just
like to be together.” “But, what do you together?” I say, “We do not do anything together. We
just like being together.” “But what do you do?” I say, “I like looking at my wife. I
like listening to my wife.” “What do you talk about?” “Anything, anything that discloses
the almost infinite mystery that my wife is to me is of interest to me,” and after 38
years it has not lost its fascination. Thank God, and I still do not begin to know her.
I still have days when I think, “I have known you all these years. We have known each other
44 years and 17 days, and I often think I am still only beginning to get to know you.” Now what when it is all visible and readable,
and you have millions of others even the own church to which that might have just 70 others,
there is an eternity of fascination in the assembly to which you belong, and on that
day you see. Now what is the purpose of this? The purpose of this is not that we should
spend eternity fascinated with one another, although that is one of the layers. The purpose
of this is so that we can investigate, analyze, discuss, and marvel at what our Lord Jesus
Christ has done. Because at the end of the day, it will take all the ransomed church
of God to put on display the undiluted glory of the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. That
is why it is important for us, as I try to underline here that when Jesus comes personally,
visibly, audibly to transform us, not only will we delight in Him, but we will delight
in Him precisely because we delight in one another absolutely without sin. My son sent me a photograph, or one of my
three sons and a daughter, one of my boys sent me a photograph the other week that he
had taken in a graveyard in Edinburgh. He is particularly interested in and studying
a great 19th century Scottish theologian by the name of Hugh Martin. He sent me this photograph
of the grave of Hugh Martin, but there are two other graves beside it. One is the grave
of George Smeaton, and another is the grave of William Cunningham. Now these three names
may not mean very much to some of you, but these are three of the greatest names of the
Christian church in the Western world in the middle and later part of 19th century Scotland.
These are the B. B. Warfield and Charles Hodge and the James Henley Thornwell of the Scottish
Church, and in one photograph their three headstones stand together. That made me wonder
if there was a space nearby. What will that be on the day of resurrection? I cannot help
thinking about my son who has spent now two and half years, more than that, studying the
theology of Hugh Martin being able to go to Hugh Martin and say, “Is this is what you
really meant to say?” and Hugh Martin saying, “I think we had better talk to Jesus about
that.” He will come. He will come visibly, He will
come audibly. The third thing I want to say just a word about because that is all I know
about is the time of His coming. The time of His coming, Matthew 24:36 and 42 is unknown,
and you remember how in those verses our Lord Jesus is responding essentially to a great
question, “What is the time of your coming?” and He says, “No one knows that day or hour,”
and “day or hour” is not a phrase that means at what particular day of the week and what
particular hour. That means the time, no one knows the time of My coming because that knowledge
belongs only to the Father. There is one statement, did you know this, in the Gospels, that every
single, the most liberal of scholars have always assumed Jesus must have made and this
is the statement, “I do not know when I am returning.” Now, why do even liberal scholars
think that for the simple reason no Gospel writer in his right mind, wanting to extol
and exalt the Lord Jesus Christ as very God of very God would ever put that statement
in the Gospel if he had invented it himself, because it is a plain confession of ignorance
on the part of Jesus. Nobody knows, not even the Son knows. Now two things, number one, He is clearly
speaking there in terms of His humanity. His humanity, Jesus as to His humanity does not
know. The humanity of Jesus does not slide over to the deity of Jesus and say, “Just
slip me the answer here.” He does not know. What is He saying? He is saying, “That is
a secret of deity. It is not known even to My humanity because it is not an appropriate
part of knowledge for humanity to know.” Let me just add another thing is that if my Christology
does not have room for a Jesus who A, grew in favor with God, and B, did not know the
day or the hour when the Son of Man would return, by definition my understanding of
Jesus is not the New Testament’s understanding of Jesus. The New Testament can say both of these things
with a frank and full and joyful acknowledgement that our Lord Jesus Christ is himself very
God of very God, but the Christian church throughout the ages has always understood
that the humanity and deity of the Lord Jesus are not mixed together so that the humanity
shares in any of the properties of deity. Such a Jesus would be incapable of qualifying
to be the Savior of real men and women, because He would have ceased to have been a real man
like us, sin apart. The humanity and the deity of Jesus, as the church has throughout the
ages confessed, are united in the divine person of the Son of God, and that is the explanation
for this staggering confession that not even the Son knows when the Son of Man will return
again in majesty and glory. If that is true, that is where you and I rest very simply,
do not even ask the question or say, “I need to know exactly when He is coming,” because
He did not need to know exactly when He was coming. Any fascination with that question
is by definition a diversion from the true Lord Jesus Christ. That said, we do know certain things about
the time of his coming. First, that it is unknown and second, that it will be unexpected.
He will come when men think not. He will come as in various parts of the Scriptures we are
taught, as a thief in the night. Now, why does the New Testament tell us we do not know
the day or hour of his coming, and that day and hour will be unexpected? For a very simple
reason, but one of the most basic lessons we need to learn in the Christian life is
always to expect the unexpected. That is actually true of the whole Christian life. That is
actually one of the most basic principles of pastoral ministry, is it not? If you do
not expect the unexpected, you will sink in the ministry because the ministry is absolutely
full of the unexpected. And so those parables of Jesus, when He speaks about His return,
emphasize to us that we must therefore always be ready for His return. So it is unknown, it is unexpected, and the
third thing I want to point out is that certainly from my perspective and your perspective,
the return of the Lord Jesus Christ is a delayed return. Remember how the New Testament Christians
themselves had to face this because people were saying to Him, “You know, you are saying
He is going to return and look, everything has remained the same. Nothing has changed,”
just as people do today. You remember how Peter explains why the return of the Lord
is delayed. You think of the things that happened in the 20th century, the world, the shame
of the world, the rejection of God in this world, why did the Lord Jesus Christ not return
20 years ago? I will tell you how you will need to learn to think about that. The way
Peter does. Some of you would be in hell this morning if Jesus had returned 20 years ago.
Some of you would be in hell because you were alive then, but you were dead in your trespasses
and sins, you were without hope and without help, and your salvation has required the
apparent delay in the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now that brings us to the question that is
raised in Matthew 24, is it not, by the disciples. What are the signs going to be of Your coming?
And it looks to me in Matthew 24 that the disciples are asking one question, and they
do not realize they are actually asking two questions. “Tell us when will these things
be?” the destruction of the Jerusalem temple about what Jesus has spoken in Matthew 24:2,
“When will these things be and what will be the sign of Your coming and the close of the
age?” They cannot but think that these two things are one and the same thing, but Jesus
explains in Matthew 24 that these two things are different things. That the destruction
of the temple that actually took place in AD 70 was, as it were, simply the external
manifestation of the desecration, the de-consecration of the temple that took place on the afternoon
of his atoning sacrifice when God deconsecrated the temple by ripping in two, from top to
bottom, the curtain into the holy place. The persistent rejection of Him led to the externalizing
of that, and Jesus weaves together a whole series of principles there that are adumbrated
in the days of the destruction of the Jerusalem but are pervasive in a sense of the whole
era until He returns, and I suppose when you put all the biblical teaching together we
find that wars and rumors of war, the experience of tribulation, the revelation of the man
of sin, the gospel going to the world, the conversion of the Jews, all filter into the
whole question of what are the signs of His coming. But you know, there is a sense in which every
single one of these signs might already be fulfilled, or there may be a sense in which
the final fulfillment of each of these signs awaits its consummation. Do you know one of
the great things about being a Reformed Christian is it sets you free to say, “I do not what
the answer to that question is. I think if I did know the answer to the question, I probably
would be God Himself.” As Geerhardus Vos says, “Characteristic of these words about these
so called signs of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ is that their meaning by definition
will only be fully clear when they have been fully consummated, and this much we know that
since He has not yet come, they are not fully consummated.” That brings me to point number four, “The
Purpose of His Coming.” He comes, does He not, to judge the world, to raise the dead,
and consummate our salvation and to judge the world, to condemn the wicked. Said Thomas
Boston, the great Scottish minister in the 18th century, “To be damned by Him who came
to save sinners is to be doubly damned when He comes to vindicate His people to give to
his disciples the crown of righteousness, to transform these bodies of lowliness into
His likeness in a body of glory that we may be like Him because we see Him face to face,
to renew the cosmos that groans along with groaning Christians waiting for the day when
the sons of God will come into their own. And He comes at the end of the day to bring
to a consummation what He did because Adam failed to do it.” Perhaps we can draw near to a close by just
turning to 1 Corinthians chapter 15 and thinking about how the Apostle Paul sees eschatology
as the consummation of protology, as he sees the work of Jesus Christ as the work of the
second man and the last Adam who not only undoes what Adam had so badly done, and pays
the penalty for Adam’s sin in doing it, but does the very thing that Adam was created
to do, as the image of God to exercise dominion over all the earth being given as it were
a little start as a father would give the son who was in his image. He is given a little
garden, and He is told to exercise such dominion that the whole world will at the end under
His dominion become a most glorious garden. That He will be able to go back to His Father
and say, “Father, I have done it. It is finished, receive it as my love gift to You because
You have been such a faithful Father.” Now look at this verse 22, “For as in Adam
all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order.” First of
all, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Secondly, the resurrection of those who belong to Jesus
Christ, and then thirdly, verse 25, the putting of all His enemies under his feet because
He must reign, and then stage four when verse 24, “after destroying every rule and every
authority and power,” He the second man, the last Adam delivers the dominion over to the
Father and then verse 28, “When all things are subjected to him,” that is the Father,
“then,” now think of this statement in relationship to our Lord’s statement that He does not know
the day or the hour of his coming. He is speaking there as the second man and
the last Adam, and here as the second man and the last Adam, having consummated the
work that Adam failed to do and exercised his final dominion with everything under His
feet, when all things are subjected to Him, and Genesis 1:26-28 has come to this glorious
consummation, “then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in
subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” You see, this is not the subordination
of the deity of the Son to the deity of the Father. This is the consummation of the ministry of
the Son in our humanity, taking the place of Adam and exercising dominion over all things
where Adam had failed, going back to his Father as Adam originally was intended to go back
to him, just like a little child who had satisfactorily completed everything his Father intended him
to do and saying with joy rather than in agony, “It is finished, Father. Into your hands I
commit my work that I have done for You,” and then says Paul, in His capacity in our
humanity as our representative as our Savior, He will bow the knee before His Father and
say, “You gave this to them, they lost it, but Father here am I and the children you
have given Me,” and the gates of the new order will be flung open, and He will say to all
who belong to Jesus Christ, “Come, come, come to the marriage supper of the Lamb, to the
blessed exaltation of My Son.” What is our response? Number one, let us make use of the delay.
Let us make use of the delay. Number two, it is not yet and therefore learn that meanwhile
we grown inwardly as we wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies, our adoption as
sons. Number three, live in a godly fashion. That is the use characteristically that the
New Testament makes of this doctrine, is it not? What manner of men should we be in the
light of this? Live a godly life. Number four, live joyfully.
You see, so long as my eyes or diverted in eschatology to the puzzles, I will live in
puzzlement. But when my eyes are focused on the blessed appearance of My Lord Jesus Christ,
I will live in expectation and in joy for this reason. This is what Colossians 3:1-4
teaches us. He will not appear unless those who belong to Him can appear with Him in glory.
Who would want to be anything else but Christ’s if He loves us like that? Even so, come Lord
Jesus. Heavenly Father fill us, we pray, as a people
with expectation of your coming glory and as we find written into Your Word teaching
that challenges our understanding, that stretches not only our minds but our imagination, grant
that we may never lose sight of Jesus Christ Himself clothed in his gospel, finishing the
work that His Father gave him to do, and like the Son of Man sharing His kingdom with the
saints of the Most High. Enable us, we pray, to live in that joyful expectation. We pray
in Jesus’ name, Amen.

8 Replies to “Sinclair Ferguson: The Last Things”

  1. Christ Centred Eschatological expositions are always the most powerful. Wonderful message, such a breath of fresh air over the headaches of modern interpretations of scripture. The Lord Bless Dr Ferguson, and may the Lord keep him strong in his faith, and most importantly of all May Christ be continually lifted up by faithful ministers of His Word in such a manner as this.

  2. See the Judge, our nature wearing,
    Clothed in majesty divine!
    You who long for His appearing
    Then shall say, “This God is mine!”
    Gracious Savior, own me in that day for Thine!

  3. I can listen to Dr. Ferguson always. In my time I have had great preachers to hear/see…M. Lloyd-Jones, Albert Martin, Iain Murray, Eric Alexander…I have been blessed!

  4. Oh thank you so much, Dr. Ferguson, for proclaiming a last things message that is about our King Jesus and not about us. You put forth a picture of His Coming with such beauty and power and glory. I don't know about the other hearers of this profound message but it certainly rekindled my hope in seeing our Lord and Savior in His full majesty and glory and power.

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