************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 37 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on October 25, 2020

Belgic Confession Article 37
Revelation 20:11-21:4
"The End"

I Christ will Come Again
A What does the Bible say about the end times? And based upon the Bible, what does the Belgic Confession of Faith say? Simply this: that Christ is coming again. There will be a second coming. This "we believe" even as we believe in God, the Trinity, creation, angels, the deity of Christ, the deity of the Spirit, justification, sanctification, the importance of the church, the place of the sacraments, and so on.

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 The Belgic Confession, based upon Scripture, reminds us that when Christ comes again He will also 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." The Bible talks about the blowing of horns and trumpets, a bright light, and a host of angels and saints.
Did you know that the typeface most newspapers use for astounding events is called "second coming" type? These are large, heavy, black letters reserved for only the most stupendous, amazing, front page news -- such as the return of Jesus Christ.
This typeface was used to announce the surrenders of Germany and Japan, marking the end of World War II. It also told the news of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the shooting of President Reagan. This bold heading style has proclaimed successful flights into space, presidential election winners, and other dramatic events of universal importance.
One day mankind will witness the great event for which the "second coming" typeface was named -- the return of Jesus Christ.

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.

I went through my second coming file this past week. I saw an article on Edgar Whisenant, a retired NASA engineer. Two times he predicted the date of the rapture. The date of his first prediction was September 1, 1988. When this date came and went without a rapture he went over his figures, found an error, and predicted the rapture would take place September 1, 1989. As you know, he was wrong again.

I found an article on my old friend, Harold Camping, a former member of Alameda Christian Reformed Church and the operator of one of the largest Christian radio networks. He first predicted that the Judgment Day would occur on or about September 6, 1994. When it failed to occur, he revised the date to September 29 and then to October 2. In 2005, Camping predicted the Second Coming of Christ to be May 21, 2011. Wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong again.

Don't think that predictions of Christ's second coming are only new and recent. The JWs have done it a bunch of times: 1874, 1914, 1925. Wrong, wrong, and wrong again.

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). It also tells us to repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand (Mt 4:17). And, the passage from Acts tells us that, as Spirit-filled Christians, we must be witnesses to Christ. All of this is far more important than trying to figure out the exact day and hour.

II To Judge the Living and the Dead
A Article 37 tells us two reasons why Christ is coming again. First of all, "He will burn this old world, in fire and flame, in order to cleanse it." I want you to notice this means that the second coming has significance for more than the human race. Article 37 reminds us that the second coming has significance for all of the universe. 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. 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 be a clear revelation of God.

B Second, Christ will come again to also judge the living and the dead. We know this as the "Last Judgment." It is called the last judgment because there are other judgments. 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 the 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 individual and private. But the final judgment 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. At the time of the final judgment God reveals that He has been rating us all of our life.

III The Resurrection of the Body
A Central to the Bible's and Article 37's teachings on the second coming 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. There is no total fulfilment for believers after death without the body. For fulfilment we need the body.

B At the time of the second coming billions of decomposed bodies will be resurrected:
... all those who died ...
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."
The Bible is clear that everyone will receive a resurrection body -- the righteous as well as the wicked.

The resurrection is difficult for us humans to believe. For us it seems impossible for every soul to be united with its very own body. After all, many of the bodies have decomposed, crumbled into dust, and have been scattered by the winds or men to the four corners of the earth; some, through atoms and electrons and protons, have even been recycled into other bodies. But we have to remember that our God is omnipotent. With Him nothing is impossible. He can rearrange His creation in such a way that we all get our own body back.

C What will our resurrection body look like? The Bible tells us that our body will be like Christ's glorious resurrection body. Christ had the same body He had before. It bore the marks of the wounds He had received upon the cross and people were able to recognize His body as being His. Yet, this body also had some new and amazing properties: it could appear and disappear at will, go through doors and walls. The Bible tells us that our body will be like Christ's: meaning it is the same body as before but without any of the taint of sin.

IV The Life Everlasting
A The final subject covered by Article 37 concerns the punishment of the wicked and the reward of the righteous. First of all, the punishment of the wicked. Realize, as Peter told us this morning, there is coming a day of judgment for the wicked and unbelieving.

Sometimes even dedicated Christians are tempted to complain because of what they see in the world around them. Perplexed by the success and prosperity of the wicked, oftentimes at the expense of the righteous, they ask, why doesn't the Lord do something about it? Why doesn't He reward those who fear Him, and judge those who disregard Him? Be patient. He will!

So if you're trying to do the will of God and you become discouraged because unjust people are getting ahead, don't be shortsighted. 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.

B 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 Christians
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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