Q 50. Why the next words: “and is seated at the right hand of God”?
A 50. Because Christ ascended to heaven to show there that he is head of his church, the one through whom the Father rules all things.
Q 51. How does this glory of Christ our head benefit us?
A 51. First, through his Holy Spirit he pours out gifts from heaven upon us his members.
Second, by his power he defends us and keeps us safe from all enemies.
Q 52. How does Christ’s return “to judge the living and the dead” comfort you?
A 52. In all distress and persecution, with uplifted head I confidently await the very judge who has already offered himself to the judgment of God in my place and removed the whole curse from me. Christ will cast all his enemies and mine into everlasting condemnation, but will take me and all his chosen ones to himself into the joy and glory of heaven.
It is a rare day indeed when the prospect of being judged, especially when it’s something as seemingly final as the last judgment, is actually comforting. I can’t say that I ever found any of my final exams, tests, or even quizzes in school to be even the least be comforting; even when I knew I would do well. However, the Catechism here seems to take a different approach to this judgment.
To really have a true understanding about this, though, we have to draw on all that we have talked about for the past couple of weeks regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ. After His resurrection and ascension, we read in Scripture that Jesus “sits down” at the right hand of the Father. This “being seated,” as Paul writes at the beginning of the book of Ephesians, is a symbol of Christ’s work being finished.
Imagine, if you will, a lawyer making his closing arguments in a trial. He eloquently defends the accused person that he represents and then says “your honor, I rest my case,” sitting down next to the defendant. There’s nothing else to do, there’s nothing else to say; it is in the hands of the judge now. The same is true here with Christ; He sits down at the right hand of the Father because the work is finished. He doesn’t have to do more, He did it all when He died on the cross and rose from the dead.
Adding to this image, what would it look like if the lawyer defending the accused, which in this case is you and me, was also the judge? He rests His case and then sits down in the judge’s place, rendering the verdict that He Himself has fought for. The accuser has no say in anything because our defender is also our judge and He has paid the price for us.
Now that, my friends, is comforting.
It goes far beyond that as well. There is a day coming when Jesus Christ will return and a final judgment of all people will come to pass. For those who are in Christ, there is nothing to worry about because the one who will judge the world is also the one who paid our debt. But for those who do not know Christ, whose sins are not forgiven, this may be cause for considerable angst. Without Christ, the verdict is guilty… no matter how good a life we have lived… and the punishment is eternal.
Enter the idea of hell: eternal punishment and separation from God. How is this comforting? For many, especially in the insulated western world is the United States, the notion of Hell is repulsive and horrifying, something we are very quick to shy away from. We don’t understand what it means to have real enemies. Our greatest enemies are more likely our in-laws, or the guy that cut of off on the road the other day. They certainly annoy us, but we would not wish eternal punishment on them… the definitely aren’t the enemies of God.
In other parts of the world, however, there is a different feel. The enemies of God, those who actively oppose the Gospel and all who follow Christ, are real, dangerous, and deadly. They behead Christians with swords, burn them alive in cages, and even sell Christian women and children into slavery and forced sexual servitude in the name of their god (who is not the same as the Christian God, mind you). These are the enemies of God and they are ruthless; justice in these situations looks a lot different.
Now, I’m not saying that we should wish Hell on anyone. We are called to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us. However, we cannot argue that there is a comfort associated with knowing that, no matter how bad the world gets, Christ wins in the end and the enemies of God will be brought to true justice as well. It is hard for us to fathom here in the U.S. We experience only a micro-fraction of what Christians in other parts of the world live with daily… but for them and for us one thing is very clear: the battle has been won, the work has been finished, and judgment has been rendered, and as Job so eloquently states:
I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! Job 19:25-27