What we now know as the Apostles Creed descended from an earlier form of the creed, known as the Old Roman Symbol. The beginning of the creed dates from as early as the second century. We do not have any direct evidence that it was penned by any of the apostles, but it is an admirable summary of the apostolic teaching.
We believe that there was a time when the world was not. God spoke, and all of it came into being out of nothing. We believe that there will be a time when the world (as it is now) will cease to be. That will come about in the same way—God will say the word, and it will be done. But it will not go back to nothing. There will be a transformation, a glorification, a completion. And those who are in Christ will dwell with Him forever.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the virgin, Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hades. On the third day He rose again from the dead, ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Summary of the Text
“Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).
Not only is it appointed to each man once to die (Heb. 9:27), a final day, a last day, is also similarly appointed for the entire world. The world will have a death bed. The world will end on that fixed day, and God the Father Almighty knows when that day will be. Not only will the world end, but just as it is with individual men (“and after this the judgment”), so also it will be with the planet. Jesus will judge the world in righteousness. The world is appointed to end, and Jesus is ordained to judge it.
If any are disposed to challenge this, God has given assurance to all men that this will in fact happen. This assurance (the word in our text is pistis, commonly rendered as faith) was given through the vehicle of Christ’s resurrection. Modern apologetics too often spends its energy trying to prove the resurrection. In Scripture, the resurrection was not the datum to be proved, it was rather the proof of something else. That something else is this phrase in the Creed. Jesus will come again, from the right hand of the Almighty, and He will do so in order to judge the living and the dead.
Partial and Full Preterism
One quick point before turning to the main theme. You have been taught that many passages traditionally thought to be about the end of the world were actually prophecies about the end of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. What you have been taught about this is called partial preterism. Some of the prophecies in the New Testament were fulfilled in the first century (e.g. Matt. 24:29). But there is another school of thought which holds that all of the New Testament prophecies were about the end of Jerusalem, and that we have no prophecies about the end of the world. This view is called full preterism, and because it denies the Second Coming of Christ, it is heretical.
There are many doctrinal views and variations concerning the Second Coming (as I am sure you know), and the Christian church universal has made only one statement in all her history about eschatology. That solitary statement, made here in the Creed, is that full preterism is wrong.
The Fault Line
The Bible teaches that there are two humanities, two races, two ways of being human. One exists in Adam, Adam as he fell into sin. The other is a reestablished humanity, a renewed humanity, created in Christ Jesus, the last Adam. The first humanity was corrupted and turned aside from the way. God could have written the whole thing off as a loss, but in His good pleasure He determined to re-create a new and glorified humanity out of the raw material provided to Him by us—raw material that was hopelessly diseased. Christ was born into this old race (without sin), and lived a perfect and sinless life. He was executed by our rebel leaders in such a way as to pay the debt for our sins, and He was resurrected into new life in such a way as to enable us to participate in Him—to join with Him in that life by faith. If we look away from Adam, and look to the new Adam in faith, we are translated from one race to the other.
Now Scripture speaks of these two ways of being human under many different figures. Here are just a few of them. They are wheat and tares (Matt. 13:30). They are sheep and goats (Matt. 25:33). They are sons of the devil and sons of God (John 8:44; 1:12-13). They are fruitful branches and fruitless branches (John 15:1-2). They are land that bears a harvest and land that grows thistles (Heb. 6:7-8). They are maidens with oil and maidens without (Matt. 25:1-13). They are guests in wedding clothes and guests in sweat pants (Matt. 22:11-14). This basic division is not the same thing as the division between the visible church and the world.
The One Thing Needful
There is another division among men that is irrelevant. Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead both. That is not the fundamental division. Whether you are alive the moment He returns or have been dead for a thousand years will not matter in the slightest. Nor will your position in Christ or out of Christ affect whether your body will be raised. There is a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. Every last man, woman, and child will stand before God in the body.
“And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust” (Acts 24:15).
“Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28–29).
The Bema Seat
We will all appear before the throne of Christ. This judgment seat (bema) means that our lives will be evaluated, whether we are justified or not.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences” (2 Cor. 5:10–11; cf. Rom. 14:10-12).
The Criterion of Ultimate Judgment
It is singular, criterion, not plural. How you will fare in the judgment is not based on criteria. How will we fare? What work must we do to prepare ourselves for that day? There is one work, and only one work that will suffice, and it is to look upon the one who actually did the work.
“Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:29).