What We Believe- Article X, Last Things

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.

2 Responses to “What We Believe- Article X, Last Things”

  1. John Says:

    As a non-Southern Baptist who has been attending an SBC church for almost two years now, I’ve really enjoyed this series. That being said, I do have to disagree with you, and the SBC, on this one.

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

    2 Thessalonians 1.9 “[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.” does not refer to everlasting punishment in Hell.

    In Revelation 20:14-15 it states: “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. ”

    As I read it, death and hell are tossed into the lake of fire. Then those who are lost are judged and thrown into the lake of fire. Two separate actions. Hell is thrown into the lake and those not in the book of life are cast into the lake.

    It bothers me that as a group, the SBC seems to ignore the clear words of scripture on this subject.

    Thank you again for a very thought provoking series that has helped me to better understand the BF&M.

    • Todd Burus Says:

      John,
      Thank you for your comments. I’m glad to hear that you have enjoyed my discussion on this so far.

      As for your concerns about the language on hell, I think it is important that we are careful with what definitions we use and how much we load our words with. Similar to my reservations about what we mean when we say “heaven,” I also have concern with us talking about “hell.” The word translated ‘hell’ in Revelation 20.13-15 is actually the word ‘Hades,’ whereas ‘hell’ itself is the word ‘geenna’ (see the translation differences in the ESV versus the KJV on this point). The importance of this being that Hades is rightly understood to be the realm of the dead/wicked in this present age, a land of spirits, whereas Hell (Gehenna) is the future physical place of punishment for those who are condemned. Note, this physical portion is what is spoken to in Revelation 20.13 where it says “Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them”; it points towards a resurrection of the unrighteous dead to judgment in physical, eternal Hell (Compare this with Christ’s reference in John 5.29 as well). Thus, the phrase “Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire” can either refer to the spiritual places as they existed before that time, or the previous contents of them, which are now the resurrected wicked, but either way there is no contradiction between the statements in question since Hell is synonymous with the lake of fire, not Hades.

      Therefore, in saying “The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment,” I believe that the BF&M is referring to this final judgment where everything wicked is cast into the lake of fire, and not to the spiritual holding place of Hades, and so it would both agree with 2 Thessalonians 1.9 and with the teaching of Revelation 20. Hope this helps clarify where I stand.

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