In His final public appeal, Jesus said “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). The Jewish nation among whom He lived was generally comprised of unbelieving and hard-hearted people (John 13:37-41). Some in their innermost thoughts recognized the truth of who Jesus was, but were too afraid of the religious rulers to commit to Jesus (John 12:42-43). But a few did believe in Jesus, recognizing that Him as the mirror image of the Father in heaven, God’s mouthpiece that declared His glory to the world (John 12:44-45, 49; cf. 1:14). Notice two important truths Jesus highlights in regard to the consequences of rejecting Him and His word:
- There is a judge — Many in our world today will say that no one should judge another. There are some who do not believe in God and thus imply that there is no ultimate standard or meaning behind any act. Many others say they believe in God, but reject or suppress any notion of God judging. However, all of us act as if there is an ultimate standard of judgment. We argue that we should be good people, treat others fairly, show love, reduce suffering, et cetera. Why? If there is no one sitting at the bench of the great tribunal of the universe, or if the one occupying the bench is so unconcerned with justice that he even rewards the disobedient, then why are we so concerned about people living the right kind of life? If all moral values and ethical practices are subjective, then why would anyone have the right to tell anyone else that they ought to do anything? But deep down we act like there is a standard because in reality there is a judge. We cannot live as if our affections, beliefs and actions have no meaning. The reality is they do matter and we will be judged concerning them.
- There is a last day — In John 12:48, Jesus declares final judgment is coming. There will be a “last day” in which the physical world will cease to exist and all souls will enter into spiritual, timeless destinies (1 Corinthians 15:52-53). Time is linear. Jesus shows that it is in his statement here, and the apostle Paul argued against the Greek notion that time is circular by preaching that the world is drawing to a close and the time to repent is now (Acts 17:31). The universe had a beginning when a mind, greater and beyond the universe, a personal agent, created the universe in time. This personal agent is God who is timeless (Psalm 90:2). The Father and the Son were already there in the beginning when God spoke the universe into existence and time started (John 1:1-3; Genesis 1). God is the beginning and the end (Revelation 1:8; 22:13). The last day is coming (Romans 13:11-14). All things will not continue as they have since creation; the physical world will be dissolved (2 Peter 3:4, 10-12).
With these two truths clearly affirmed by Jesus Christ, the ultimate question is whether or not one is receiving His word. The only way to stand in the judgment is to receive Jesus and His word; no amount of talent or achievements will suffice in the last day (Rom. 14:4). Receiving in John 12:48 is more than intellectual acknowledging of the truth. It is a reception of the truth that becomes the dynamic of our lives. Jesus is the Son of God and the rightful Lord of our lives. His word is received when it is believed and obeyed. When we engraft Jesus’ word into our lives, it is able to save our souls (James 1:21). Will you stand in the judgment of the last day?
“Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13)
As Christians we look forward to a new habitation of righteousness that will come after this life (Revelation 21:1-27). The prophet Isaiah spoke about “new heavens and a new earth” in forecasting the glorious spiritual order that would come when Jesus, the Messiah, would —in the fullness of time — set up the kingdom of heaven on earth (Isaiah 65:17-25; 66:22-24; cf. Ephesians 1:10). But what Peter was mentioning in his second epistle, was not another order in the physical world, but the spiritual habitation of heaven where the righteous will live forever.
Unlike passages in the prophets that were full of figurative imagery, the third chapter of Peter’s second epistle is a literal, straightforward message about how the physical creation will come to an end. Just as the physical word was inundated with water in the judgment of Noah’s day (2 Peter 3:6), the physical world now awaits the day when it will be burned up, “But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:7). “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). All the physical world will be “dissolved” (2 Peter 3:11); thus, we should place our affections on the spiritual realities of heaven (Colossians 3:2; 2 Corinthians 4:18; Matthew 6:19-21).
John says those who love this world, the order which is against God, will perish just as this physical world will pass away, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:15-17). Jesus mentioned the passing away of heaven and earth (Matthew 24:35), and told us to be ready at all times for it (Matthew 24:36-25:46).
The new heavens and new earth will not be a realm in which we have physical bodies. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:50). When Christ comes and raises all from the dead, we will be raised with spiritual bodies, glorious bodies like Christ’s (John 5:28-28; 1 Corinthians 15:44; Philippians 3:20-21).
While there are many questions we may have about what exactly the new heavens and earth will be like, the most important focus is to be ready for it. That’s Peter’s point. The expiration date of this world and the eternal glories of the world to come ought to motivate us to live for the Lord. “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?” (2 Peter 3:11-12). Are you basing your life on the world around that can be seen but will perish, or are you exercising faith in the unseen spiritual realities that will abide forever?