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(Note: This was presented to the Shanghai International Church as Michael's part of a series on the Apostles' Creed, one of the oldest and best known statements about what Christians believe.)


Ascension and Judgment

When Jesus Rose and the Coming Reward

(by Michael Krigline, Shanghai, May 2002)


            Before I begin, I want to mention that this week we finished recording 14 of “my” songs onto a CD. Although it will probably be a while before copies are available, I wanted to take this chance to publicly say “thank you” to all the people who helped with the recording (almost all of them are members of this church), and to all who prayed for God’s blessing and help along the way. We really appreciate the support!

            For the past few weeks, those of us charged with speaking to this congregation have been trying to lay a foundation that outlines the fundamental truths of Christianity. To do this, the leaders of this church chose the historic Apostle’s Creed, and then divided it up into six parts, assigning a different speaker to each part. This week’s installment says: “I believe that Jesus ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.” [1]

            Last week, Todd touched on the ascension so I will spend most of today’s time on the “judgment,” but I have one or two comments about the ascension as well.[2]


            First, one might ask: “why did Jesus have to leave at all?” I mean, wouldn’t it have been better if He had stayed here? As His followers spread the truth about Jesus' life/death/resurrection, other religions would have faded away (and new religions or cults would have never started), for after all, who can compete with Someone who clearly died and then came back from the dead? And even in His church we could avoided so many problems. Instead of 2000 years of fighting over whether He wanted us to serve Communion with grape juice or real wine, instead of all the debate over baptism, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, or the roles women ought to play in the Church, or even who Jerusalem REALLY belongs to, we could have just picked up the phone and asked for clarification—IF the risen Jesus had never ascended to heaven.

            So again I ask: “why did Jesus have to leave at all?” If you are like me, wouldn’t you just love to fall on your face in the physical presence of a physical Jesus, or give him a tear-filled hug, or just stand there and gaze into His eyes for a few hours?  Wouldn’t it have been better if He could have stayed right here with us?

            Obviously, Jesus felt that the answer was “no.”


            For one thing, Jesus wanted to go “home.” We can all relate to this! Jesus had sacrificed far more than we can imagine to visit earth for 33 years, but after He rose from the dead, it was time to return to His Father’s side—time to go Home. In John 14:28, Jesus put it this way: “…If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I.”

            Secondly, Jesus had work to do in Heaven, and at least part of that would be a great benefit for us. John 14:2 says: “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” Perhaps your company sent someone ahead of you to Shanghai to prepare a place for you. They bought a house and filled it with good things, took care of Visas and other legal arrangements, and even started to organize the work you would be doing once you got here. If so (and maybe especially if you had to do these things yourself!), you can appreciate the necessity of Jesus’ return to “prepare a place for us” in Heaven.

            We also know that His Heavenly work includes praying for us. According to Romans 8:34:  “It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” Likewise, Hebrews 7:25 says that praying for us is part of Jesus’ heavenly ministry as our risen “High Priest.” When we feel alone or abandoned, this truth should be a tremendous comfort: Christ Himself has ascended and lives in heaven to pray for us!  

            Finally, the ascension was necessary because God wanted to send us the Holy Spirit. You’ll hear more about the Holy Spirit next week, but for now let’s just note that both on the night before He died, and just before He ascended to Heaven, Jesus linked His departure with the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). I especially like what Jesus said in John 14:12, soon after saying that He was leaving to prepare a place for us: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.” When Jesus was limited to an earthly body, He could only be in one place at one time. If He did have a throne room on earth, imagine how long the line would be to get in to see Him! But through the Holy Spirit Jesus can now be everywhere at once, and thus can accomplish things through Spirit-empowered people like us all over the globe! Jesus put it this way in Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Again, this should be a tremendous comfort to us!


            But let’s move on to the other part of today’s segment of the Apostle’s Creed. What does it mean that Jesus is responsible for judging the living and the dead?              

            First we must realize that, according to the Bible, there are only two kinds of people: the spiritually alive and the spiritually dead. As far back as Genesis 3 we see that God intended that humans live forever in a personal relationship with Himself, but when we sin we “kill” that relationship. Sin separates us from God and renders us hopelessly lost and cut off from the “life” God intended. (Isa 59:2)

            Ephesians 2:1-9 puts it as clearly as any single segment of the Bible:

1And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. 4But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5even when we were DEAD in trespasses, made us ALIVE together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works [i.e., good or righteous deeds], lest anyone should boast.


            So again, there are two kinds of people: the living and the dead. And thus the Bible talks about two kinds of Judgment. The first Judgment is the judgment of “the spiritually dead.” Many people are very confused about this Judgment. They have carried over into Christianity the thinking of other religions. Once I asked a Muslim leader how someone gets into Heaven. He said that Allah (or “God”) puts all of your deeds on a balance scale, and if the “good deeds” outweigh the “bad deeds,” then you get to go to Heaven.

            Friends, this is NOT the teaching of the Bible, though many Christians seem to think it is. According to the Bible, your sin will ALWAYS outweigh your “good deeds,” no matter how good you are. Being “good” will never save you! Looking spiritual will not save you. Jesus said:  “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matt 7:22,23)  Going to church won’t save you. Maybe you’ve heard this before, but going to church won’t make you a Christian anymore than going to McDonalds will make you a hamburger!

            Our only hope is a pardon, and the good news is that a pardon is exactly what the cross of Jesus Christ is all about! If there were any other way to erase our sin, Jesus would not have needed to die on the cross. But because Jesus “who knew no sin” became sin for us, shedding His blood to buy our pardon, we have been given (yes GIVEN) the incredible gift of “righteousness”—and this alone makes it possible to have a relationship with God and thus live forever with Him in His perfect home: Heaven. (2 Cor 5:21; see also Gal 2:15-21)

11Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. 12And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books... 15And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. (Rev 20:11,12,15)


            So, what will the Judgment of the spiritually “dead” look like if it is not a “balance” that weighs our good works against our sin? According to Revelation 20:11-15, all spiritually DEAD people will stand before God’s “great white throne” and “books will be opened.” Yes, the text says that they will be judged “according to their works” but this will not determine who “gets into heaven”—it only determines the “wages” their sins have earned (and I believe this refers to something similar to the “sentence” an earthly judge makes, based on the nature of the crime). One of the basic principles of Scripture is that we “reap what we sow”—that is, sinning is like planting seeds, and the size of the harvest is related to what we have done.

(continued in the other column)

            Rev 20:12 says that another book is opened: “the Book of Life.” What Book is this?  The moment you stop trusting in your own “good deeds” as the measure of your worth, and instead turn like a beggar to Jesus and receive the GIFT of HIS forgiveness and righteousness, THEN your name is written in the “Lamb’s Book of Life.” Is this book important? To call it "important" would be putting it mildly, because Rev. 20:15 says: “anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” Some decisions are "a matter of life or death" but getting your name into this book is "a matter or heaven or hell."

            So when we stand before Jesus on the Day of Judgment, and He asks “why should I let you into My Heaven?”—how should we answer? 

            “Lord, I haven’t been a bad person. I never killed anyone. I didn’t lie or cuss...very often. And I’m certainly not as bad as so-and-so. Like everyone else, I've had impure sexual thoughts, dishonored my parents from time to time, wanted things that didn't belong to me, and used your Name in vain, but more often than not I've kept the Ten Commandments--though I can't really say I remember them all at the moment. Please let me into Heaven.” Now remember, God knows everything, and He is standing there with a record of everything you have done--good and bad. Do you think any earthly judge would be moved by such a plea? Not likely. And nor will this perfect Judge.

            The Bible puts it even more simply: if your name is not in the Book of Life, Jesus will answer: “depart from Me, for I never knew you.” (Matt 7:23)

            The only acceptable answer is—as the hymn-writer put it: “nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.” That is: “Lord, you know that in life I placed my trust in Your blood and not my own good works. Have mercy on me;” to which He will answer: “enter into the joy of your Lord!” (Matt 25:21ff)

            And this brings me to the other Judgment: the Judgment of the Living. The Christian whose name IS written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will also stand before Jesus, who will pass judgment on our works to determine our Heavenly reward. This is expressed in a number of different ways. Jesus said that we would be judged based on the standard of judgment we apply to others (Matt 7:2). In Matt 12:37, Jesus says “by your words you will be justified” in the day of judgment. Paul says Jesus will judge “the secrets of men” using God’s Law as the standard (Rom 2:11-16), and James 2:24 says, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.”

            One thing is clear: Jesus will distribute a reward to those who have served Him, and this reward is linked to what we have done. Again, this is expressed in different ways (let me read a few of them to you): Matt 16:27 says: “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.” Luke 6:23 (& Matt 5:12) says we earn a heavenly reward when we are persecuted for our faith. In Matt 6, Jesus says the Father will reward us for charitable acts, fasting, and prayer. In 1 Cor 3:8-15 Paul agrees, saying that on the Day (of Judgment) our works will be tested as with fire; much will get ‘burned away’ but the good we have done to serve Christ will endure and “each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.” 2 John 8 says: “Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.” Rev 2:23: “And I will give to each one of you according to your works.” [3]

            Indeed, the final recorded words of Jesus (in Rev 22:12) say: “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work."

            I’d say that the Bible is trying to make a point! A Christian is not supposed to be someone so “heavenly minded” that he or she is “no earthly good”! While our works can clearly never save us, to be a Christian is to live in a way that makes a positive impact on our world, and this earthly impact will also result in a reward in Heaven.

            What a deal! Even though our own choices separated us from God, and this rebellion deserves to be punished in hell, GOD SAVED us by His grace, GOD CHANGES us from walking “dead men” to “living souls,” GOD EMPOWERS us with His Spirit to make a difference in our world, and in the process WE EARN A REWARD for the world to come! Why would anyone NOT want to be a Christian!


            Before I close, I must pause to address those present who, to this moment, have never made the decision to turn from your sin and turn to Jesus (especially the sin of depending on your own good deeds to save you!). What are you waiting for? Whether you have heard this truth hundreds of times or if you have never heard this before in your life, Jesus is here and He wants to take away your sin and replace it with forgiveness, pardon, peace, purpose, and all of salvation’s rewards. God inspired Psalm 50:22,23 about 3000 years ago, but it’s words are just as true today:

“Now consider this, you who forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver:

Whoever offers praise glorifies Me;

And to him who orders his conduct aright I will show the salvation of God.”

            God offers only two choices: forget God and reap the consequences of sin; or praise God and reap the blessings of salvation. Maybe that doesn’t sound “fair”—maybe you think a loving God could never send anyone to hell. But friends, a loving God saw that you were heading for hell by your own choices, even if your choice has simply been to drift with the currents of this self-centered sinful world. This loving God then sent His own Son to die on a cross to deliver you from the hell you have chosen! If you go to hell, don’t blame God, for He has done everything possible to KEEP you out of hell! Jesus put it this way: 

16“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:16-18)

            While you have breath, it is not too late—no matter what you have done. God knows your sin and is not shocked by it. The blood of Jesus is powerful enough to cleanse “the good,” “the bad,” and everyone in between. But you have to ask. If you don’t know how, come ask me or one of the leaders of this church. You cannot afford to face God’s Throne of Judgment on your own merits—and you don’t have to! Let today be your day of salvation.


            In closing, let me go back to the ascension for a moment. We humans often attach special meaning to a person’s “last words.” So what did the Son of God say, just before he left our sin-infested time-bound realm to return to His Father’s side? The answer to that question ties together both parts of today’s portion of the Apostle’s Creed. You can find it in Acts chapter one.

            Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus told His followers to wait in Jerusalem for the “Promise of the Father”—namely the gift of the Holy Spirit. They wanted to know “when”—WHEN God’s Kingdom would be established on earth. Jesus’ final words record His answer:

Acts1:7And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.”


            Do you see His answer to their question? “When” was the wrong question, related to the establishing God’s Kingdom on earth. The right questions were “who” and “how.” “Who” is you and me, empowered by the Holy Spirit Jesus would send after His ascension; and “how” is by simply being His witnesses, starting in “Jerusalem”—right where they lived—and eventually letting that witness expand to the surrounding region, and ultimately to the ends of the earth.

            As you have seen on TV countless times, a “witness” is simply someone who tells the truth about what he or she has seen or knows. Who hears—who sees—your witness? Where is your Jerusalem? It may be closer than you realize. If you are saved, whether you like it or not, you are a “light” to the people around you. Shanghai is your Jerusalem. And what you do in this place—at work, at school, at home—will affect you and those you know “forever.” It affects them because you may be the only person they know who understands that we will not be judged before God’s throne based on our works. Only the blood of Jesus can save them and fit them for heaven. And it affects YOU because it is in your God-empowered service to those around you, that you will find your own eternal reward.


(We closed the meeting with my song: Where is Your Jerusalem?)


[1] The entire creed, accepted universally as the basic statement of authentic Christian faith, says: "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic/Universal Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting."

[2] I projected a slide listing ascension scriptures: Jesus is “taken up” into Heaven: Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, John 20:17, Acts 1:9

[3] Rev 14:13 “Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ”  “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.”

© 2001 Michael Krigline. As far as I am concerned, people are allowed to print or copy this article, or link to it, for personal or classroom use.

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Scriptures quoted are primarily from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.


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