Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Hebrews 9:28
The Christian idea of salvation relates to past, present, and future. The Bible says, “By grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). It says that the gospel is the power of God “to us who are being saved” (1 Corinthians 1:18). And it says, “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11). We have been saved. We are being saved. We will be saved.
At every stage we are saved by the death of Christ. In the past, once for all, our sins were paid for by Christ himself. We were justified by faith alone. In the present, the death of Christ secures the power of God’s Spirit to save us progressively from the domination and contamination of sin. And in the future, it will be the blood of Christ, poured out on the cross, that protects us from the wrath of God and brings us to perfection and joy.
There is a real judgment coming. The Bible describes “a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:27). It calls us to live “with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29).
Jesus warned the people of his day to “flee from the wrath to come” (Matthew 3:7). For Jesus himself will be “revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
Some pictures of this final wrath of God are almost too terri- ble to ponder. Ironically, it is John, the “apostle of love,” who gives us the most graphic glimpses of hell. Those who reject Christ and give their allegiance to another “will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and . . . will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (Revelation 14:10-11).
Until we feel some measure of dread about God’s future wrath, we will probably not grasp the sweetness with which the early church savored the saving work of Christ in the future: “[We] wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Jesus Christ, and he alone, can save us from the wrath to come. Without him, we will be swept away forever.
But when he saves us in the end, it will be on the basis of his blood. “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28). Sin was dealt with once for all. No new sacrifice is needed. Our shield from future wrath is as sure as the sufferings of Christ in our place. For the sake of the cross, then, exult in future grace.
*This is taken from John Piper’s book “The Passion of Jesus Christ,” which was later released under the name “50 Reasons Jesus Came to Die.” Please visit Desiring God’s Website for more gospel-centered resources from John Piper. You can also download a free PDF of “50 Reasons Jesus Came to Die” here.