This post continues a running series in which I’m attempting to explicate The Apostles’ Creed and The Nicene Creed. Today, I”m finishing my comments on the section about Jesus Christ.
First, The Apostles’ Creed:
“he ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead.”
And from The Nicene Creed:
“he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.”
The words “he ascended into heaven” reference the Biblical witness to the resurrected Christ’s ascension after spending 40 days in which the disciples and many others were able to witness that he was indeed risen from the grave. The assertion that he is seated at the right hand of the Father is a way of saying he is with the Father in the fullness of God’s glory. The Nicene Creed goes beyond the Apostle’s in noting that when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead he will return in glory. That is, though he still bears the scars of the crucifixion (indeed these wounds of love are part of his glory) he will come in the full majesty of his divine nature. There will be no birth in a humble manger the second time around.
In addition to stating the nature of Jesus’ return, the Nicene Creed adds that “his kingdom will have no end.” When Jesus comes again, the full reign of God in all it’s fullness will be unleashed. The realms of heaven and earth will become one and God’s will will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Both creeds affirm that he will judge the living and the dead.* This may sound like a threat, but it need not be. In Jesus Christ we find the forgiveness of all our sins and with Christ interceding for us we need not fear judgment. I think the best way to interpret the phrase is as a promise. The world is rife with injustice (and always has been). The mighty are often let go with nothing but a slap on the wrist (if that) and few take time to plead the case of “the least of these.” This clause promises that a time will come when all will be set right and justice will be done. In this way it is part and parcel of of the coming kingdom of God.
*I know that some of you would prefer to return to the traditional language of “the quick and the dead,” but to many people have no idea that in this context “quick” means alive and I don’t think you want to take the time for me to explain it every Sunday.