What We Believe- Article X, Last Things

March 25, 2009

Finally we have reached the place in the Baptist Faith & Message where we discuss the end times.  Here is what it has to say:

X. Last Things

God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end. According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will be raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness. The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment. The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord.

Isaiah 2:4; 11:9; Matthew 16:27; 18:8-9; 19:28; 24:27,30,36,44; 25:31-46; 26:64; Mark 8:38; 9:43-48; Luke 12:40,48; 16:19-26; 17:22-37; 21:27-28; John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11; 17:31; Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 15:24-28,35-58; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Philippians 3:20-21; Colossians 1:5; 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18; 5:1ff.; 2 Thessalonians 1:7ff.; 2; 1 Timothy 6:14; 2 Timothy 4:1,8; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 9:27-28; James 5:8; 2 Peter 3:7ff.; 1 John 2:28; 3:2; Jude 14; Revelation 1:18; 3:11; 20:1-22:13.

I will be honest right out the gate.  There is an extent to which I like studying eschatology, and then there is a level at which I have almost absolutely no interest in going (at least at this point in my life).  I don’t know if this is a personal reaction to the madness in our lifetimes surrounding the Left Behind series, or if it is more deeply theological in that most people who obsess over the end times seem to accompany it with a biblical interpretation of God’s plan that I mostly reject (i.e. Dispensationalism), but whatever it is, if the discussion gets too far into specifics of time, place, seals, and signs, I usually bow out.

That said, I am pretty happy with where the BF&M goes here.  It presents the level of biblical surety which I embrace, and actually enjoy for what it reveals of God, while avoiding the speculative sign-watching that I see many Christians using to perpetuate their pessimism about the depravity of the world.  (As a side note, I think it’s funny that most people who watch for signs of the end times get so fixated on the depravity that they see as foretelling it, and yet soteriologically they often reject the fact that mankind is totally depraved.)

Let’s look at what is said:

  • “God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end.” 

I completely agree.  I think the Old and the New Testaments are clear that there looms a great day of either judgment or salvation (cf. Joel 2.1-11, 1 Thessalonians 5.1-11, 2 Peter 3.10), a day that the New Testament reveals will be the consumation of all things, the end of the natural order (cf. Matthew 24.3-14, Romans 8.18-25, Revelation 21.1-2).

  • “According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will be raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness.”

Christ is fairly adamant that at the end he will return himself to reign over mankind, either as judge or saviour-king (cf. Matthew 24-25, John 5.25-29), and the New Testament authors speak frequently of the resurrection and judgment (cf. 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18, 2 Thessalonians 1.5-12, 2 Peter 3.10, Revelation 20).  Their is great controversy over when exactly in history the rapture and resurrection of the dead will take place, and yet mostly I think this debate is for naught.  What is important is that it will occur and, as Mark Driscoll says, if people are going early then I’ll go, if not then I won’t.  Whether the rapture is prior to a tribulation, after a tribulation, or whatever, that doesn’t change how we’re supposed to respond in the here and now, and what has become many people’s inordinate fixation on “leaving this world” is most certainly not the focus of the New Testament teachings here.

  • “The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment.”

Let’s not overlook this.  So many today want to pretend like this isn’t the case, but as long as 2 Thessalonians 1.9 is in the Bible, it will be hard to make that reasoning stick: “[Those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of Jesus Christ] will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”  Whether we try to minimalize it with nihilist theories, or go all out and claim that God is secretly planning universal salvation, these can only hope to fall flat as “comforts” in light of genuine New Testament Scripture.

  • “The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord.”

This is the only place I jump off a little from the BF&M.  I fully believe that the righteous (i.e. believers) will receive glorified bodies in the end and will dwell forever with the Lord, but the language of “reward” and our dwelling in “Heaven” are places where I think we sometimes fudge what is actually said.  

To begin with, I think there is way too much emphasis on “reward” and “treasure,” when I believe it is har to read the New Testament and see that we are fully indebted to God’s mercy for salvation and that the point of this salvation is that we may live to glorify for him and not to build up treasure for ourselves.  Yet most Baptist churches have a much more developed theology of reward and what I’m earning for myself than they do a theology of grace and mercy.

Secondly, the evangelical, pie-in-the-sky, ethereal realm of Heaven is a constant frustration to me.  We must define what “Heaven” is and take an honest look at where it says we’ll be.  I mean, the BF&M even states that we will have “resurrected and glorified bodies,” but why would we need those to go float around on the fluffy clouds of heaven with our wings and harps and such?  The answer is, we don’t.  But, if we realize that we are not going to some heavenly place in the sky, but that some heavenly place is coming down to us on earth, then the need for bodies there makes perfect sense (cf. Revelation 21.1-4).  We will be made to live in the New Jerusalem, a place on the new earth, an city prepared in heaven (Hebrews 11.13-16, 13.14), in which God shall dwell with us forever.

In closing, I do think it is important to look towards the closing bell.  In fact, one of my favorite rabbits to chase in Scripture is the preparation of God’s people and their unending pursuit of the Promised Land, a pursuit which started in Genesis 15 and is not completely fulfilled until the coming of the new heaven and new earth in Revelation 21.  However, to go further than this and spend undue time in mapping out specific events through speculation and Christian mythology misses the point of what we are to be doing, which is glorifying God and fulfilling the Great Commission.  Amen.