Welcome back to the podcast on this Friday. Pastor John is back with us in the studio. No theme runs through your writing and speaking more consistently than the truth that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. It’s the watchword of Christian Hedonism. And now you have written this new book, Come, Lord Jesus: Meditations on the Second Coming of Christ (Crossway, 2023). I have it in hand. And today I want to hear what you learned.
You’ve said many times that you make discoveries as you write. Way back in APJ 3, the third episode we ever did, you said, “Writing, for me, has become a way of seeing.” And then later, in APJ 613, another episode on writing, you said, “Writing is a way the mind can start seeing clearly what was before a fuzzy tangle of thoughts.” And then in APJ 1196, on book-writing, you said that, for yourself, writing a book is to watch a book slowly come to life, as “the writing itself becomes a way of seeing.”
As you write more, you see more. So as you wrote this new book on the second coming of Christ, what did you see more clearly? What discoveries stand out? And particularly, did you make any new key discoveries about how Christian Hedonism echoes in the second coming?
Well, the discovery, the key discovery of the connection between Christian Hedonism and the second coming, happened a long time ago, not while I was writing the book. It happened way back when I was first trying to understand the relationship between God’s God-centeredness and God’s love for us. As soon as I read in seminary Jonathan Edwards’s book The End for Which God Created the World, I began to see everywhere in Scripture statements to the effect that God does everything for his name’s sake or for his glory.
That’s what I mean by “God’s God-centeredness”: doing things for his own name’s sake. He predestined salvation for his glory (Ephesians 1:5–6). He created the world for his glory (Isaiah 43:7). He guided the history of Israel for his glory (Jeremiah 13:11). He sent Christ into the world for his glory (Romans 15:8–9). He forgives sin now for his glory (1 John 2:12). He sanctifies his people for his glory (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12).
Glory at Christ’s Return
Then I asked, “Is that true for the second coming?” I asked that a long time ago. And the answer Paul gives in 2 Thessalonians 1:7–10 is simply amazing, because it not only shows that Jesus is coming back for his own glory, but it does so in a way that is an answer to the question, “Well, how is Christ’s self-exaltation at the second coming really an act of love for his people?” We usually think self-exaltation and love are opposites. How does that work at the second coming? Let me read Paul’s answer:
[He will] grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is 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 [and here comes the key phrase] when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints . . .
So pause here before I finish the sentence. Jesus is coming back “to be glorified in his saints.” That’s what I mean when I say that he is self-exalting. There is the self-exaltation of Christ. He’s coming back to be exalted. He’s coming back to be glorified. His aim in coming is that he be exalted, glorified. That is his purpose in coming, according to that verse. And it would be easy to show that this is of course the same as God’s aim to be glorified in all that he does, because God is sending Christ back so that as the Son is glorified, the Father would be glorified in him.
Christ Glorified by Our Marveling
Then comes the essentially Christian Hedonist twist in verse 10: “. . . when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed.” So he’s coming to be glorified in the saints and to be marveled at among the saints. And I ask, Are those distinct, like ham and eggs — like the ham of being glorified and the eggs of being marveled at — or are they not distinct but like jewel and diamond or like celebrating and clapping? A diamond is a jewel. Clapping is a way we celebrate something. And when he comes on that day to be glorified and to be marveled at, my understanding is that these two acts (to be glorified, to be marveled at) of the believers at the coming of Christ are not distinct, like ham and eggs. Being marveled at is the way Christ will be glorified when he comes. He’s glorified by being marveled at.
“Christ is not Christ-exalting at our expense; he’s Christ-exalting through our joy.”
Now, let’s think about that, because this is right at the heart of Christian Hedonism. What is marveling? Another word for marveling is being amazed. Amazement and marveling are not thoughts; they’re emotions. If you see something marvelous and you feel nothing, you’re not marveling — I don’t care what you think. If you see something amazing and you don’t feel any amazement, you’re not amazed. Marveling is a feeling. Being amazed is a feeling, not a mere thought. Well, what kind of feeling is it? It’s a good feeling. People pursue amazement; they pursue marveling. That’s why we go to the mountains and the canyons. That’s why we get out of the city lights so that we can see the stars. People pay money to be amazed, to marvel. It’s a good feeling; it’s a desirable feeling. It’s a species of pleasure, joy, gladness, satisfaction.
And you see where that leaves us. “He comes on that day to be glorified and to be marveled at” — that is, he’s coming to be glorified in us by our marveling at him. He will be glorified in us when we experience the satisfaction of marveling at him in his coming. It’s pure Christian Hedonism. It’s the way God designed the universe. He will get glory. That’s why he made everything. He will get glory, and we will get the joy. And by our getting the joy in his glory, he will get the glory from our joy, which is the answer to the question, “Now, how is it loving for God to be so God-centered? How is it loving for Christ to be so Christ-exalting?” And the answer is, Christ is not Christ-exalting at our expense. He’s Christ-exalting through our joy.
Love His Appearing
The way he maximizes his glory is by maximizing our joy in that glory. He magnifies the radiance of his glory by multiplying the marveling of people in that glory. The more we marvel, the more he shines; the more we marvel, the happier we are. It’s a form of happiness. This is love. Right at the heart of the design of the universe is love. So yes, I did see a relationship between the second coming and Christian Hedonism, and it goes to the very heart of God’s purposes and ways in creation and redemption and consummation in the world.
“The more we marvel, the more he shines; the more we marvel, the happier we are.”
Christ is coming “on that day to be glorified in his saints and to be marveled at among all who have believed,” which takes us back to the verse from which the whole book sprang — namely, 2 Timothy 4:8, which says, “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” And that love is a desiring love. It’s a cherishing love, a treasuring love, a longing love. It’s the kind of love that wants the beloved.
And what the discovery of Christian Hedonism at the second coming does is simply add another reason, an amazing reason, for us to love the Lord’s appearing. And that’s my prayer for myself and why I wrote the book.