************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 37 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 18, 2010
Belgic Confession Article 37
"The Last Judgment"
Take a look at the songs that deal with the second coming of Christ. Whether you look at "The Celebration Hymnal" or the "Psalter Hymnal," most of the songs deal with the glory, the excitement, and the awesomeness of seeing Jesus face-to-face.
That is not the approach of the Belgic Confession of Faith or the Heidelberg Catechism or the Apostles' Creed. When these statements of belief look at the second coming, they look at judgment. Isn't that also the approach of Jesus in Matthew 24 & 25? Isn't that the approach of John in the Revelation? When Jesus comes again, He is coming as Judge! It is important that we not forget this.
The faith we profess is expressed in four great acts: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. This faith we profess is also expressed in six great doctrines: the doctrine of God, the doctrine of man, the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of salvation, the doctrine of the church, and the doctrine of the last things. Today, we reach the last of the great acts and the last of the great doctrines: we look at the consummation or the doctrine of the last things.
The doctrine of the last things follows immediately upon the doctrine of the church. We need to realize the connection between these two doctrines. It is the church that awaits the second coming. It is the church as a persecuted people, as a pilgrim people, that awaits the coming of the Lord as Judge.
Many modern-day Christians emphasize the doctrine of the last things as being the most important doctrine. For proof, go to the Christian section of a bookstore and you will see myriads of best-sellers on this topic. The doctrine of the last things is part of what we confess; it is part of our profession to the world. But, it is not the most important part. The Belgic Confession of Faith, for instance, devotes only one article to the last things while devoting multiple articles to every other area of doctrine. This helps us to keep the right perspective as we look at what happens at the end of time.
I Christ will Come Again
A What does the Bible say? And based upon the Bible, what does the Belgic Confession of Faith say? Article 37 begins with a short statement that Christ is coming again, that there will be a second coming.
It seems a bit strange to refer to a second coming – for that makes it sound like our Lord is now absent. But the fact is that Jesus is very much with us right now in divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit. He is present to the close of the age even as He has promised (Mt 28:20).
What Article 37 wants to emphasize is that this new or last or second coming is different. Our Lord is not now with us physically. In the second coming Christ will come "bodily."
B We are also reminded that when Christ comes again He will come "visibly." Right now Christ is not apparent to the senses. But then He will be. His visible coming will be "with great glory and majesty."
Advertisers and TV executives like to talk about audience share. I guess the Winter Olympics were a disappointment for NBC in terms of audience share. But the Super Bowl audience this year met and exceeded all expectations – probably some of you were watching it rather than being in church. However, the event which will have the greatest audience share of all time is the second coming of Jesus Christ. When Jesus comes again, His return will command the attention of all the earth.
C In Article 37 the Belgic Confession of Faith, like the Bible, cuts off all speculation about the time of Christ's return. Christ will return "bodily and visibly ... when the time appointed by the Lord is come ... and the number of the elect is complete." But this time "is unknown to all creatures." Indeed, those who make confident predictions are reminded by Scripture that the precise time of the second coming is none of their business:
(Acts 1:6-8) So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" (7) He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. (8) But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."It is not for us to know the time of the second coming. All that we need to know is that, as Spirit-filled Christians, we must be witnesses to Christ.
When it comes to the time of the second coming the Bible tells us to watch and be alert for no one knows the day or the hour (Mt 24:36). Unlike the five foolish virgins, we must be ready at any time (Mt 25:1-13). We are also told to repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand (Mt 4:17).
To be witnesses to Christ, to watch, to be alert, to repent, is far more important than trying to figure out the exact day and hour.
D This coming has a redemptive result, as our Lord "will burn this old world, in fire and flame, in order to cleanse it." Here, article 37 uses the language of 2 Peter 3. As you know, God created the world good and perfect. But when sin invaded, the created order was ruined and no longer was a clear revelation of God. At the time of the second coming the creation will be cleansed with fire.
As you may know, metal is cleansed or purified when it is put in the fire and the impurities are burned or melted away. At the time of the second coming the impurities present in creation will be burned away. As Scripture puts it, there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Creation will be restored to its original beauty and perfection and will once again become a clear revelation of God. Grace does not replace nature, but grace restores nature.
II The Resurrection of the Body
A The first aspect of the recreation of all things is the resurrection of the body. This is a very distinctly Christian belief. Many pagan religions believe in the existence of the soul after death. But none of them believe in the existence of the body after death through its resurrection.
The Christian confession is that the soul exists after death. But the soul is incomplete without the body. A bodiless existence for believers after death is temporary, provisional, and incomplete. It is not a full existence. For a full existence, we need the body.
I have to say something about the statements I hear at a funeral of after someone dies. I hear things like:
-he is looking down on us from heaven
-she is experiencing her first Christmas in heaven
-he is golfing or fishing every single day
-he no longer gets flat tires on his bike rides
My question: How? How is this possible without a body? When we die and go to heaven, my brothers and sisters, we do so without a body. Our existence is incomplete, it is temporary, it awaits the resurrection of the body.
B But at the time of the second coming the body will be raised:
... all those who died ...The Bible is clear that everyone will receive a resurrection body – the righteous as well as the wicked.
will be raised from the earth,
their spirits being joined and united
with their own bodies
in which they lived.
And as for those who are still alive,
they will not die like the others
but will be changed "in the twinkling of an eye" from "corruptible to incorruptible."
C The Greeks reasoned that this resurrection of the human body was an impossibility. After all, when the body turned to dust, it became soil from which other bodies derived nourishment. In short, the food that we eat is a part of the elements of the bodies of generations long gone. When the body of the founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams, was relocated, it was discovered that the roots of a nearby apple tree had grown through the coffin. To some degree, the people who ate the apples partook of his body. At the resurrection, then, who will claim the various elements?
Paul's reply to this kind of reasoning was very blunt: "How foolish!" (1 Cor 15:36). Then he made the important point that resurrection is not reconstruction. Nowhere does the Bible teach that, at the resurrection, God will "put together the pieces" and return to us our former bodies. There is continuity (it is our body), but there is also discontinuity (it is not the same body).
Paul knew that such miracles cannot be explained, so in 1 Corinthians 15 he used the analogy of the seed to make the doctrine clear (1 Cor 15:35–38, 42–48). When you sow seed, you do not expect that same seed to come up at the harvest. The seed dies, but from that death there comes life (cf John 12:23–28 for our Lord's use of this same analogy). You may sow a few grains of wheat, but you will have many grains when the plant matures. Are they the same grains that were planted? No, but there is still continuity. You do not sow wheat and harvest barley. Furthermore, what comes up at the harvest is usually more beautiful than what was planted. Think of tulips. As a young boy, I had to help my mother plant tulips. I hated those things. Few things are as ugly as a tulip bulb, yet it produces a most beautiful flower. If at the resurrection, all God did was to put us back together again, there would be no improvement. Furthermore, flesh and blood cannot inherit God's kingdom. The only way we can enjoy the glory of the new heaven and new earth is to have a body suited to that environment.
III To Judge the Living and the Dead
Article 37 tells us Christ is coming again to "declare himself the judge of the living and the dead." We know this as the "Last Judgment." It is called the last judgment because there are other judgments. Think of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Israel, Ananias and Sapphira. God is always using ways and means to exercise His judgment. The psalmist can say:
(Ps 75:7) But it is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.All through their lives people are being judged by the Lord. Then when they die they are judged again. And at the end of time there is a final judgment.
What is the purpose of this final judgment? We know it is not to decide the eternal destiny of all peoples – whether they go to heaven or to hell. To think this way is to deny the wondrous doctrine of election which says the saved have been elect from eternity to eternity (Eph 1:4,5,11; Rom 8:28-30).
All the other judgments are confined to individuals or families or nations. But the final judgment involves everyone. It is corporate and public. It is here that we find its reason and purpose. It is corporate and public so that God may be praised and glorified and vindicated. All the dead and the living will be summoned to appear before the throne of God. At that time, either willingly or reluctantly, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:10-11).
At the final judgment, says Article 37, "all people will give account." "The books" (that is, the consciences) will be opened. All secrets and hypocrisies will be revealed and laid open before all to see. This is a most puzzling and fearful prospect. Somehow, billions of people – all those who ever lived on the earth – will individually be examined and exposed in front of all the others. However, for the elect, for those who believe in Jesus, the sins and hypocrisies will be revealed as being forgiven in Christ.
This final judgment is a judgment of works. We are judged according to what we have done in this world, whether it be good or evil, and according to what we have said. We have to give account for every word we have ever spoken. In the final judgment works and words matter. They count. I think here of Matthew 25 which indicates that the goats are not so much those who did what was wrong as those who failed to do what was right. It turns out, then, that the heaviest charge against each of us turns not upon the things we have done but on those we have never done and perhaps never even dreamed of doing. Faith is judged by its fruits; it is judged by works and words.
IV The Life Everlasting
A The final subject covered by Article 37 concerns the punishment of the wicked and the reward of the righteous. What is the difference between the two? The difference is Christ. The wicked do not accept Christ Who died and arose. They laugh at the cross or think it unimportant. As for the righteous, they are just sinful as the wicked. However, they do accept and believe the message of the cross and the grave.
B Let's start off by looking at the punishment of the wicked. Right now, in this life, it appears that the wicked are going free. They seem to prosper while the righteous appear to suffer. Many Christians become frustrated and upset by this. Remember what the psalmist David advised:
(Ps 37:1-2) Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; (2) for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.He went on to say,
(Ps 37:9) For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.
We are reminded that God's terrible anger will be executed upon the wicked. Their bodies too shall be raised and they too shall become immortal. But their existence is really nothing but a constant death. They shall be tormented in the eternal fire which is prepared for them and for the devil and his angels.
Here is perhaps the most terrible doctrine of the true Christian faith: that some will spend eternity dying and suffering with no comfort and no hope. Yet, we cannot deny this doctrine. Strikingly, some of the strongest language about hell and fire is to be heard from the lips of the Lord. The loving Jesus does not mince words here.
C All of us should go to hell. None of us are any better in God's sight than those who are in hell already. Yet, God is merciful and gracious. There are some in this world – hopefully that includes all of us here and our loved ones – who have been plucked from the fires of hell and saved by grace through the blood of the Lamb. For us there is another kind of everlasting life. This life is marked by glory and honor. The faithful are received, welcomed, and acknowledged to be the Lord's. Their names are confessed by Jesus before God. In some final, magnificent way the faithful get inside the presence and splendor of God. It is a glory which no eye has ever seen and no mind can ever imagine.
Jesus is coming again. All will see Him. The world and universe will be renewed. Bodies will be raised. All will be judged. And all will spend eternity either in pain or in joy.
The wicked ought to fear this second coming of the Lord. But the Christian?
... we look forward to that great day with longing in order to enjoy fully the promises of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.So we say and we pray, "Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus. Come quickly. Amen."
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