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

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on January 31, 2021

Belgic Confession Article 37 (#7)
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
"How Christ Comes Again"

We don't know the when of Christ's return (Mt 24:36, Acts 1:7, 1 Thess 5:1-2) but we do know the how. Paul tells us the how in his first letter to the Thessalonians.

I Two Wrong Views
A There are some Christians who believe that the second coming of Christ is divided into two stages with seven years between the two stages. This view is to be found in the New Scofield Bible, a paraphrase of the Bible that all Reformed Christians should avoid.

According to this paraphrase the rapture is the first stage of Christ's return. In this stage Christ does not come down all the way but only part of the way and is met in the air by all the believers -- the resurrected dead and the transformed living believers. All of them -- Christ and believers -- then ascend to heaven and for seven years celebrate the marriage feast of the Lamb.

During this seven year period -- when the church is in heaven -- the tribulation, the appearance of the Antichrist, and the conversion of many Jews take place on earth. A question we should all be asking: If faith comes by hearing, how do Jews get converted if there are no Christians to proclaim the Gospel?

At the end of the seven years comes the second stage. At that time Christ will fully return, with the church, in all His glory.

Is this what the Bible teaches: a two-stage return of Christ as taught in the New Scofield Bible. Reformed Scholars and Christians are hard-pressed to read and understand their Bibles as teaching a two-stage return of the Lord.

B This past week I came across another wrong view on the nature of Christ's return when I saw headlines from October. According to the headlines, a rabbi in Israel is already holding meetings with the Messiah who shortly will reveal Himself. If we believe this, only a chosen few know of and have seen His return.

Is this what the Bible teaches? As Paul makes clear to the Thessalonian Christians, this cannot possibly be the case for the second coming is not secret but is announced and visible to all. It is not known and witnessed by only a chosen few. Furthermore, we have to listen to what Jesus Himself says:
Matthew 24:23–26 (NIV84) — 23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time. 26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.

II A Personal, Visible Coming
A What does the Bible teach us about the nature, the how, of Christ's second coming? Listen to what our Scripture reading says:
1 Thessalonians 4:16 (NIV84) — 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God ...

This verse tells us four things about the return of Christ.

First, we are told it is a personal return of the Lord Jesus Himself from heaven. He does not send a stand-in. He does not send an angel. The Lord Jesus Himself will personally return from heaven.

Second, we are told about a "loud command." Some other translations can speak here of a "shout" (KJV, RSV). The Greek word that is used here is the same word used to describe the shout of the charioteer to his horses in a race, or the shout of a hunter to his dogs while cornering some beast of prey. It is also the cry to the rowers by the ships's master to go faster and harder, or to soldiers by their commanding officer in the heat of battle to advance. It is a loud, authoritative cry.

What does Jesus say when He shouts? What does He yell out? We don't know, but we can take a couple of guesses.

My first guess: "NO LONGER!" This is based upon the martyred souls under heaven's altar who cry out, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" (Rev 6:10). Jesus' answer, Jesus' shout: "NO LONGER!"

Another guess: "I AM LORD." This is based upon the hymn of Christ in Philippians 2. Paul writes,
Philippians 2:9–11 (NIV84) — 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Still another guess: "I AM." Remember the seven "I AM" statements in John's Gospel by which Jesus claims to be fully God? I AM the bread of life. I AM the light of the world. I AM the door (or gate). I AM the good shepherd. I AM the resurrection and the life. I AM the way, the truth, and the life. I AM the true vine. I AM.

A final guess: "ENOUGH." Enough? Enough what? Enough sin. Enough evil. Enough suffering. Enough starvation. Enough terror. Enough death. Enough indignity. Enough lives trapped in hopelessness. Enough sickness and disease. Enough!

We don't know if Christ will shout any of these, but all of them express what His coming means! That He is glorious and almighty and holy and awesome!

Third, we are told about "the voice of the archangel." A great and booming voice will announce that Christ is coming, that Christ is here. Like a drill sergeant who yells "Attention!" when he sees the general approaching, so the archangel yells when he sees Christ coming.

Fourth, is "the trumpet call of God." Whenever the kings of the ancient world made a dramatic entrance or a major announcement the horns would blow. The blowing of the horns signal something great is about to happen. In the same way the trumpet call of God announces the arrival of the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

B All this noise and pomp and circumstance, do you realize what it means? It means that all will know and hear and see that Christ is returning. There is no secret about His return. It will not be known by only a chosen few. His return will be evident to all and announced to all. We find this teaching throughout the New Testament:
Matthew 24:30 (NIV84) — 30 “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.

Revelation 1:7 (NIV84) — 7 Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.

Acts 1:11 (NIV84) — 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

In Matthew's Gospel the personal, visible return of the Lord is emphasized in two short parables:
Matthew 24:27–28 (NIV84) — 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.
The first parable of Christ's return concerns lightning. Lightning light up the entire sky. You cannot help but notice it. So will be the coming of the Son of Man. The second parable concerns vultures. From a great distance you can see vultures circling over a body. You cannot help but notice them. In the same way, you cannot help but notice the coming of the Lord.

Finally, let me remind you of what the Belgic Confession of Faith says in Article 37:
Finally we believe,
according to God's Word,
that when the time appointed by the Lord is come
(which is unknown to all creatures)
and the number of the elect is complete,
our Lord Jesus Christ will come from heaven,
bodily and visibly,
as he ascended,
with great glory and majesty ...

III The Rapture
A We know the Thessalonian Christians thought Christ would return during their lifetime. As the years went by without Christ's return, believers began to die. The Thessalonian Christians began to wonder and worry about the fate of those who had died. Have those who died missed out on the events of that great and wondrous day of Christ's return? Have they lost their share in the wonderful happenings surrounding the end of time? Paul's answer to these concerns is the rapture.

What is the rapture? Let's start with a wrong view. Imagine a passenger-filled Boeing 787 flying through the air without a pilot at the controls, or a massive oil-tanker plowing through the seas without a captain at the helm, or hundreds of trucks and cars hurtling down Highway 198 at 70 miles-per-hour without drivers at the wheel? That's how some envision the rapture. Think of the "Left Behind" series of books. But is that what the Bible teaches?

B Paul assures the believers of Thessalonica that the believing dead will not miss out on the joys and wonders of the second coming:
1 Thessalonians 4:14 (NIV84) — 14 We believe that ... God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
The believing dead will not miss out. Rather, when Jesus comes again He will have the believing dead with Him. How will He do this? Paul says,
1 Thessalonians 4:16b–17 (NIV84) — 16 ... the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.

This is what will happen. Christ will yell. The archangel will shout. The trumpets will blow. The bodies of the believing dead will be raised and reunited with their souls and as complete persons -- that is, with body and soul -- they will go up to meet Christ in the air. Then the bodies of the living believers will be transformed in the twinkling of an eye (1 Cor 15:51-53) and they will also go up to meet the Lord in the air. Then they all -- Christ and raptured believers -- will come down to the earth.

IV With the Lord Forever
A The passage in front of us also teaches us the benefits of Christ's return. Christ returns, says Paul, so we can "be with the Lord forever." Jesus says,
John 14:2–3 (NIV84) — 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

B "With the Lord forever." What is that like? I think of Enoch. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him into His presence (Gen 5:24). When Jesus comes again we will be like Enoch. We will walk with God and be in His glorious, wondrous presence. With God we will have such sweet fellowship, such close communion, as is impossible on a sin-filled earth and in a sin-filled body.

C "With the Lord forever." What is that like? Jesus tells us to picture a wedding supper (Lk 14:17; Rev 19:9). A wedding supper, of course, is a time filled with joy and laughter and happiness. A wedding supper is a time of festivity. A wedding supper rejoices in the union of the bride and groom.

At the second coming the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, comes to fetch His bride, the church. After this the festivities of the wedding supper can begin.

D "With the Lord forever." What is that like? Try to imagine not only the festivities but also the size of the wedding crowd. Imagine the throngs of people in attendance.
Ruth and I saw a wedding in Chicago with ten or more bridesmaids and an equal number of groomsmen. Think about the size of that head table. Think about the number of people at that wedding.
The Bible tells us about a banquet table far, far bigger than this one: it is the banquet table of the Lord and His church. Around this table will be a great number, greater in number than the sand on the seashore or the stars in heaven.

E "With the Lord forever." What is that like? This means happiness and joy. This means a crowd beyond number. And it means perfection. I think here of what John writes.
Revelation 21:3 (NIV84) — 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
What is the result of this? What happens because God lives with men? John tells us:
Revelation 21:4 (NIV84) — 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
When we live with God and He with us, all things will be made new and perfect.

Jesus Christ is coming again. He is coming with glory. He will be seen and witnessed by all. He is coming with all the saints -- both the dead and the living -- who will meet Him in the air and descend with Him to the earth. Then the marriage feast can begin. Then we will live with the bridegroom forever. Then perfection will be ours.
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