“Coming in Judgment”: The Second Side of Advent

Behold, the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple; even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in; behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming, and who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire …

Arm of the Lord, awake, awake!
Thine own immortal strength put on!
With terror clothed, hell’s kingdom shake,
And cast Thy foes with fury down!

Last week I talked about the first, and most widely observed, side of the Advent season, the preparation for Christmas and a reflection on the preparation of the world for “the first Christmas.” Today I’d like to draw your attention to a second, more sobering side.

Advent is the season “about” the “advent” or coming of God—first and foremost about his “advent” into the world in the flesh, yes, and also about Christ’s future final coming in glory (I plan to write about that next week). But there’s also the part of the story that many Christians don’t like to talk about: his coming in judgment (which includes condemnation and its reverse) on his people and the nations, both finally on the Last Day and throughout history.

There are many passages scattered throughout the Prophets (and elsewhere in the Bible) that, on a cursory and naive reading, I took at first glance to be referring to the Last Day from the evocative imagery used to predict God’s coming in judgment on this nation or that people, language I was more accustomed to hearing in Revelation and similar places. But a closer reading shows that several, if not most, of these passages primarily refer to a far more imminent judgment; in some cases, if the commentaries I’ve (briefly) read are correct, we even have extra-Biblical confirmation that they were fulfilled. (Cities no longer exist, once-prosperous regions are now deserts, etc.) The clearest example, once my eyes were opened to it, is the destruction of Jerusalem—and, more importantly, the temple—by the Romans, which Jesus predicted mere decades earlier.

And it would be foolish to presume that God’s judgment, held in measured but watchful restraint since the time of Noah and indeed since Adam, has merely slept since then, to awaken on the Last Day. While it is both dangerous and the height of arrogance to declare, as some Christian leaders often do, that this tragedy or that disaster is God’s judgment for some particular and identified sin, it is equally foolish, arrogant, and dangerous to presume that no event is God’s instrument of justice, for were he to treat us as our deeds deserve we should have perished in tumult long ago.

Therefore, Advent is a time in which we, both individually and as a society, ought to consider God’s judgment soberly, and (even—or especially—we who have a certain hope that he will not on the Last Day deal with us as we deserve) in light of his wrath turn away from the wicked and abominable ways in which we are walking, no matter that some of our “sins and wickednesses” of which we ought to repent are, as in every age, considered fashionable, admirable, or even essential.

“Come, Lord Jesus, come!” May God’s fire purify and refine us, that we “may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness,” rather than destroying us as our sins deserve. But in any case, “Come, Lord Jesus, come!”

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