Essentials #9 – Study Questions
Essentials – What We Believe – Week #9
The Return of Christ: Matt. 25:31-46
Human beings ordinarily experience the world in three dimensions. With two eyes operating simultaneously and through the subtle effects of light and shadow and our knowledge of the relative sizes of objects, we can distinguish between near and far. Our sense of depth perception enriches our experience of life, much as a hologram enhances a two-dimensional photograph. Our lives are impoverished without this fullness of perception.
The three dimensions we experience in space remind us of the three dimensions we experience in time. We live, of course, only in the immediacy of the present, but we also remember the past and anticipate the future. The failure to learn from the past and the inability to prepare for the future are decided deficiencies that hinder healthy living. This temporal depth perception is an essential quality that must be developed if we are to live as God intended in this world, for a holistic understanding of the gospel requires an appreciation of its three temporal dimensions.
God’s gospel has been accomplished in the past. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has acted to save us. Through that sacrificial death of Christ on the cross our sins have been taken away. We have been justified by God’s grace, we have been saved, and we are no longer subject to the penalty of sin.
Now, in the present, that gospel is applied to our lives by the work of the Holy Spirit. Through the new birth, the Spirit unites us to Christ and to the new community called the church, and he empowers us to live in a new way. We are being sanctified by God’s Spirit; we are being saved, as we are progressively set free from the power of sin.
But God’s gospel also has a future dimension, for God’s saving purpose is not yet complete. Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, and his resurrection is but the first fruits of what is to come. Christ has been seated at the right hand of the Father, but his authority is not yet recognized by all. We still live in a fallen world, and sin and evil abound. We are still plagued by the weakness of our mortal bodies, and we have not yet been glorified with Christ in the new heaven and the new earth. But the gospel declares that in the future we will be saved by God’s power when we are delivered from even the presence of sin.
The Bible promises us that God’s gospel—his gracious purpose to redeem a people for himself in Jesus Christ—will be brought to fulfillment by the Lord himself at the end of the age when Jesus Christ returns to this earth in glory.
Matt. 25:31-46 follows two parables about being ready. In order to read Jesus’ words in verses 31-46 faithfully, we need to do so with the lens of the two preceding parables. So what are they about? Simply, being ready and being active. The theme of ‘being ready’, which dominated the last section, is still at the center of this parable, which again portrays a ‘coming’ and its consequences for those who should have been preparing for it. But this parable takes up the question which that of the bridesmaids left unanswered: what is ‘readiness’? It is not a matter of passively ‘waiting’, but of responsible activity, producing results which the coming ‘master’ can see and approve. For the period of waiting was not intended to be an empty, meaningless ‘delay’, but a period of opportunity to put to good use the ‘talents’ entrusted to his ‘servants.
Article #9 – “We believe in the personal, bodily and glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ. The coming of Christ, at a time known only to God, demands constant expectancy and, as our blessed hope, motivates the believer to godly living, sacrificial service and energetic mission.”
GETTING STARTED – As you begin your group time, take time to answer this question together, what is a time in your life when anticipation of something to come changed the way you lived or behaved?
IN THE WORD – Let’s dig back into the passage. It is important to strengthen our muscles in reading God’s Word. On Sunday, we walked through the passage in the sermon. Hopefully, that helped you to see the landmarks of the passage with fresh eyes. Now, with your group, go back through it and see what God is saying to you specifically.
First, before you read the passage, take a moment to ask God’s Spirit to quiet your mind and heart and to illuminate the text to you. Second, read the passage aloud to the group. Then, follow the simple method below. (O.P.A)
Observe: Make 8-10 observations from the passage. Pay close attention to observe and note repeated words and phrases, names, places, and themes.
Principles: From your list of observations, what patterns or big ideas do you see emerging? Can you distill it down into 2-4 big idea truths?
Apply: Moving from your list of principles, it is time to apply God’s Word. Remember, we believe that God’s Word is living and active and that it can change the way we live Monday- Friday. What is one tangible way to apply a truth from your list above?
Note: Another way to approach your time together is to talk through the following questions about the article of faith we are studying that week.
- What is core to this article of faith? That is, what is something that, if you took it away or changed it, it would significantly alter the article of faith about the return of Christ?
- What is clarified for you in this article of faith about the return of Christ?
- What is confusing for you in this article of faith? Take time as a group to chat through and offer perspectives on the things that are confusing. The beauty of a group is that often, when we study together, we help sharpen and clarify what is confusing for one another.
- How does this statement of faith encourage and give me hope?
- How does this article on the return of Christ apply to my everyday life? That is, how does it change my outlook and approach to my Monday-Saturday life?
 EFCA. Evangelical Convictions, 2nd Edition (pp. 266-267). Free Church Publications. Kindle Edition.
 R. T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 1, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 355.