************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 37 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 28, 2021
Belgic Confession Article 37 (#11)
"The Final Judgment"
The name "Final Judgment" implies there are multiple judgments by God. In fact, there are three judgments every person goes through. First, there is the judgment every person goes through already on this earth and in this life. Jesus speaks of this judgment in His midnight talk with Nicodemus. He says:
John 3:18 (NIV84) — 18 Whoever believes in [Christ] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.Already now, in other words, there is a divine judgment upon those who refuse to believe in Christ.
Second, there is the judgment every person goes through when they die and appear before the throne of God. The author of Hebrews speaks to this:
Hebrews 9:27 (NIV84) — 27 Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment ...When we die, God either takes us unto Christ or sends us to hell's fire.
Third, there is the Final Judgment, the judgment that takes place at the end of the age after the return of Christ.
The first two judgments have to do with faith and our relationship to Christ. The third judgment is a judgment of works.
To help you understand the Final Judgment I want to ask and answer seven questions.
I The Purpose of the Final Judgment
A One, what is the purpose of the Final Judgment?
"That's easy," you might say. "Its purpose is to decide where we will spend eternity." To say this is to deny the doctrine of election. Don't forget, God knows and foreknows all things -- including our eternal destiny -- well before the time of the Final Judgment:
Ephesians 1:4 (NIV84) — 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world ...The Final Judgment is not to be seen as a trial that includes testimony and a decision about where we spend eternity; rather, it is to be seen as an event in which the all-knowing and all-seeing God reveals all!
B What, then, will be the purpose of the Final Judgment? The outstanding purpose of the Final Judgment is to display the glory and sovereignty of God. It displays the glory and sovereignty of God in revealing the destiny of His elect. The Final Judgment magnifies God's grace in the salvation of His people; what a great and wondrous salvation it is for people who are miserable, undeserving, and unworthy. The Final Judgment also displays the glory and sovereignty of God in revealing the destiny of the reprobate. It is God's justice that is acclaimed in the condemnation of His enemies; how holy and righteous is the God Who forever banishes all sin and evil from His presence. Whether it be salvation or condemnation, it is God -- His grace, His justice, His glory, His praise -- that is the focus in the Final Judgment.
II The Judge of the Final Judgment
A Two, who will be the Judge at the Final Judgment? A number of Bible passages indicate that God the Father will be Judge. Peter speaks of the Father "who judges each man's work impartially" (1 Pt 1:17). The Apostle Paul mentions the judgment seat of God (Rom 14:10).
However, the distinctive and more common teaching of the New Testament is that Christ will be Judge:
John 5:22 (NIV84) — 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son ... (cf Acts 17:31; 2 Cor 5:10)
It is most appropriate, fitting, and just that Christ will be Judge in the Final Judgment. This way those who believe in the Lord are given their inheritance by the Lord they believe in. And, those who have rejected the Lord are forever condemned to hell by the Lord they have rejected. Furthermore, while on earth Christ was condemned by earthly rulers; but in the Final Judgment He will sit in judgment over all earthly authorities.
B The Bible indicates to us that Christ will be assisted in His work of judging by angels:
Matthew 13:41–42 (NIV84) — 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
C The glorified saints will also play a part in the work of judging. I think of the words of Jesus to His disciples:
Luke 22:29–30 (NIV84) — 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
When Paul rebukes the Corinthian Christians for going to earthly judges to settle disputes, he says:
1 Corinthians 6:2–3 (NIV84) — 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!
III Who will be Judged
A Three, who will be judged? The 1 Corinthians 6 passage I just quoted indicates that angels will be judged. This is supported by the words of Peter:
2 Peter 2:4 (NIV84) — 4 ... God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment ... (cf Jude 6)
B The Scriptures further teach that all human beings who have ever lived will appear before the judgment seat. Thus our Scripture reading shows all the dead, great and small, standing before the throne (cf Mt 25:32; Rom 2:5-6). Even believers are included (2 Cor 5:10; Heb 10:30; Rom 14:10).
Those who know Jesus don't have to fear the Final Judgment. Why? Paul says, "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8:1). We saw Jesus lowered to the straw, a human like us. We saw Him walk into Pilate's court. We saw Him, though innocent, executed for crimes that we committed. And when we stand in the Final Judgment and look up toward the judge's seat we see Him again. We have nothing to fear. For Jesus has gone from the defendant's chair to the judge's bench. He has already declared us "not guilty" on every single charge laid against us.
IV What will be Judged
Four, what will be judged? Quite simply: everything! Everything, that is, that we have done, said, or even thought -- whether it be good or bad. We will even be held accountable for everything good that we have failed to do, say, or think (cf 2 Cor 5:10; Mt 25:35ff; Rev 20:12; Mt 12:36; 1 Cor 4:5).
Imagine that a video camera is focused upon you every minute of every day, recording everything about you. Worse, imagine that someday the video of your life will be publicly aired for all to see all your awkward moments, silly mistakes, and secret sins. In our Scripture reading we are told that in the Final Judgment the "books were opened." In these books are recorded your life history, your total life history, your every deed and word and thought. In other words, the eye of God is upon you. God knows everything about you. Nothing ever escapes His notice, and He forgets nothing. Everything about you is recorded in His book. And someday you will stand before Him and God will open the book for everyone else to see everything about you.
Many people don't find this a pleasant thought. It's bad enough when people see the dumb and sinful things I do in public; it is even worse for them to see the dumb and sinful things I do in private (cf Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 37).
On the Judgment Day we won't be judged by a jury of our peers who have no way of knowing who is lying and who is telling the truth. Instead, we will be judged by the God Who knows exactly what we have done and said and thought. It won't be one person's word against another's then; there won't be any need for witnesses or cross examination. God already knows the truth, and on the Judgment Day it will be brought into the open for all to see.
My brothers and sisters, this vision of the Judgment Day in our Scripture reading is not make-believe. When Jesus Christ returns in all His glory, every person who has ever lived will stand before His judgment throne. You'll be there, and so will I. It's a moment none of us can avoid. In that moment we'll find that God has been keeping a complete and accurate record of every moment of our lives. He has stored it all in the books of His perfect memory, and on the Judgment Day these books will be opened, and all the facts will be there. Not one item will be missing.
Does this scare you? Should it scare you? Not if you have been washed in the blood and renewed by the Spirit of Christ. Because if you have been washed and renewed, all of your sins and shortcomings will be revealed in the Final Judgment as forgiven sins and shortcomings. God will read off the list of your sins and my sins -- lies, impure thoughts, gossip, theft, adultery, greed -- and over each and every sin He will write "FORGIVEN, FORGIVEN, FORGIVEN!" Therefore, the Final Judgment is nothing to fear if you are a believer. At the same time, however, the realization that every sin will be displayed and every word accounted for should spur you to fight against sin and live for God.
V The Standard for Judgment
Five, what will be the standard whereby men will be judged? The standard will be the revealed will of God, but this is not the same for all -- because some have received a fuller revelation of the will of God than have others. In other words, those who have received the full revelation of God's will in both the Old and New Testaments will be judged by their response to the entire Bible. Those who have only the Old Testament revelation will be judged by their response to the Old Testament. And those who have only creation revelation will be judged by their response to that revelation. However, it needs to be remembered that Paul tells us creation revelation is enough to leave us without excuse before the judgment throne of God. Men will be judged on the basis of the light they have, and not on the basis of a revelation they did not receive.
Where is this taught in the Bible? I think here of the words of Jesus:
Luke 12:47–48 (NIV84) — 47 “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
More is required of those who have much light than those who have little light. A minister who spends much time with the Word, a covenant youth who grows up in a Christian home and receives Christian schooling, a church member who faithfully attends worship services and Bible studies, has to answer for more than a pagan in Africa or an unbeliever from a non-Christian home here in Visalia.
VI The Reward of the Final Judgment
Six, what is the reward that comes from the Final Judgment? Let me make it perfectly clear that we are not speaking of salvation for salvation is completely and only by grace. Yet, the New Testament indicates there will be rewards received by God's people on the Judgment Day.
I think of what Paul wrote to Corinth (1 Cor 3:10-15). There Paul talks about building upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. Some build with gold, silver, or precious stones; and others build with wood, hay, or straw (vs 13). The passage then goes on to speak about a fire which will test what sort of work each person has built upon Christ's foundation:
1 Corinthians 3:14–15 (NIV84) — 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
Both kinds of builders are saved by grace. But the builder who has built well upon the foundation of Christ will receive a reward. This reward, however, is not earned; like salvation, it too is a gift of grace. On the other hand, the man whose work fails to pass the test of fire will suffer loss; this man will not receive a reward.
VII The When of the Final Judgment
Seven, when and how long is the Final Judgment? It occurs at the end of the present age. It occurs at the time of the Second Coming.
How long is it? The Bible uses the word "day" -- the day of judgment (Mt 11:22), that day (Mt 7:22), and the day of God's wrath (Rom 2:5). But since with the Lord a day is like a thousand years we do not need to assume the Final Judgment will be a day of twenty-four hours.
What should we think about the Final Judgment? Says the Catechism,
In all my distress and persecution
I turn my eyes to the heavens
and confidently await as judge the very One
who has already stood trial in my place before God
Wait with confidence. Is that how you await the Final Judgment?
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