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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:End-times encouragement for the elect
Text:BC 37 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:End Times
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-12-18
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 144:1,2

Psalm 87

Hymn 67:1-4

Hymn 1

Hymn 67:5-7

Scripture readings: Matthew 24:36-25:13, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11

Catechism lesson: Belgic Confession article 37

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

When you’re reading a book or watching a film eventually you get to those two words:  The End.  And unless the author or filmmaker creates a sequel, that’s it.  The story is over.  ‘The End’ is final.

That’s the way many people view life.  Your life here on earth is all that there is.  When you die, it’s “The End.”  It’s final.  There’s no sequel.  The only way you live on is in the memories of those who knew you and loved you.  And after they reach their own “The End,” even that disappears.  According to many people today, death is really a total dead end. 

But the reality is different.  The truth is that the Author of our lives has written a sequel.  Death is real, but so is the hereafter.  Life here is Part 1, after you die comes Part 2 -- that part lasts forever.  That’s what we’re learning about this afternoon. 

We’re in the area of doctrine known as eschatology.  Eschatology means the doctrine of the last things.  It has to do with the end times.  But when we say “the last things” or “the end times,” we don’t mean it’s “The End,” full stop.  We mean it’s the end of life as we know it on this earth, in this age.  There’s a sense in which the things we’re talking about here are a beginning.  It’s the beginning of life in the age to come.  And all of this is a huge encouragement for God’s people.  As we learn about these things, we’re offered comfort and hope for this life and the life to come.  Both for Part 1 and Part 2.  So with the help of article 37 of our Belgic Confession, let’s look at how the Bible gives end-times encouragement for the elect.  We’ll learn how:

  1. When our Lord Jesus returns,
  2. The dead will be raised,
  3. He will judge, and
  4. We will rejoice

Between 1995 and 2007, a series of novels was published about the end times.  The Left Behind series featured 16 novels.  That was possible partly because the authors held to a doctrine of the last things that’s rather complicated and intricate.  Traditionally, to help people understand what we call premillennial dispensationalism, they’d make elaborate charts and diagrams.  But these days it’s 16 novels and several movies.  You could never make 16 novels from article 37 of the Belgic Confession.  You certainly don’t need a chart to understand it.  It’s simple, straight-forward, and above all, biblical.

It begins with the return of our Saviour.  Scripture says in Matthew 24 and 1 Thessalonians 5 that his return will be like the coming of a thief in the night.  In other words, we don’t know when he’s coming back.  Jesus said in Matthew 25:13 at the end of the parable of the ten virgins, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”  No one knows except God the Father.  Sadly enough, that’s never stopped people from guessing.  Countless people have made predictions about the Lord’s return, even though he told us not to.  They’ve all been wrong.  God doesn’t want us to guess at the time of our Lord’s return – he just calls us to be ready for it always.  Are you ready?  Are you looking forward to it? 

It’s going to happen when “the number of the elect is complete.”  Who are the elect?  These are the people God has chosen to salvation from before the beginning of the world.  The elect are true Christians who find all their hope and comfort in Jesus Christ.  They’re elect, not because of their faith or their obedience, but because of God’s grace.  They haven’t earned it.  God gathers these elect into his church in the unfolding of time – Psalm 87 speaks of that in a prophetic way, of God gathering in the nations into his church.  We don’t know who is elect and who isn’t, and we certainly don’t know when the number will be complete.  Only God knows.  That’s why only God knows the time of the return of Christ – these two things are directly connected – these two things, the number of the elect and the time of the return of Christ are known only by God.  Let’s leave them with him and not claim to have access to knowledge only he has. 

So Christ will come unexpectedly.  He will also come bodily and visibly, with great glory and majesty.  Revelation 1:7 says, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him…”  Now that might raise a question in your mind.  If Christ is coming with his physical human body, how will it be possible for everyone on earth to see him at the same time?  I don’t have an answer for that.  The Bible doesn’t give us an answer to that.  Perhaps it’ll involve some new technology, perhaps it’ll involve some radical reshaping of creation.  We don’t know for sure about how, but we do know for sure what the Bible teaches.  He will come and every eye will see him. 

When he comes, he will announce himself to be the judge of the living and the dead.  Then, according to Scripture, this old world will be purged with fire.  What does that mean exactly?  Does it mean that this earth we live on now is going to be completely destroyed?  The Bible speaks about a new heavens and a new earth.  Does “new earth” mean a new planet will be created out of nothing?  Or is it a renovated and cleansed earth?  When God created the earth, he declared it to be good.  The goodness of the earth hasn’t changed, even though it’s been impacted by sin.  The earth is still good.  As a result, it seems that this purging of the earth with fire means that God is going to cleanse this world of all its sinful impacts, evidences, and inhabitants.  We’re going to live on this same planet in the age to come, but it’ll be different.  It will be sinless and perfect.  The earth will be completely renovated to remove any evidence that there had ever been sin.

When Christ returns, the dead will be raised.  When we die, our souls and bodies are separated.  If we’re Christians, our souls go to be with the Lord.  Our bodies are laid to rest in the earth.  When Christ returns, souls and bodies are reunited.  Our Confession says, “Those who will have died before that time will arise out of the earth, as their spirits are once again united with their own bodies in which they lived.”  Having the souls and bodies united in the resurrection means that prior to this they’ve been separated.  That happens at death and it’s reversed in the resurrection.

One of the important things to realize about the resurrection is that it’s universal.  By that, I mean that it involves absolutely everyone.  Sometimes Christians get the idea that the resurrection at the end is something that only involves believers.  If you were a Christian in your time on earth, then you’ll be raised from the dead.  But if you weren’t a Christian, your soul just stays separated from your body forever.  That’s not what the Bible teaches. 

In John 5, Christ said that the Father has given the Son authority to execute judgment.  Then listen to these words from John 5:28-29 [read].  Absolutely everyone will be raised from the dead.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian or not.  The soul of every person who has ever lived is going to be reunited with their bodies. 

Now someone might say, “How can that happen when so many bodies have decomposed and decayed?”  Or someone might say, “What about those people whose bodies have disappeared because of the way they died?”  You could think of what happened on 9/11 when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers.  Many of the people who died at the World Trade Center that day were vaporized.  No human remains could be found.  What about them on the day of resurrection?  Here’s something important to remember:  billions of people have lived on this earth since creation.  With the vast majority of those who have died, their bodies have decomposed and decayed and no longer exist.  The scale of the problem is far greater than you might think.  But the power of God is even greater.  Remember that God created the whole entire universe out of nothing.  He called into being the things that were not.  If he has the power to do that at creation, he certainly has the power to reconstitute every human body at the resurrection.  Nothing is impossible with God.

What follows the resurrection is judgment.  Christ will judge the living and the dead, as we confess in the Apostles’ Creed.  The books will be opened and the dead will be judged.  Everything done in this world will have to be accounted for.  Every deed, every word, every thought.  Those who’d been living secret lives will be exposed.  Hypocrites will be unmasked.  The truth will come out.  Justice will be done. 

That ought to be terrifying if you’re not resting and trusting in Christ alone.  If you’ve been living in sin, this prospect ought to be “horrible and dreadful” as our Confession says.  Anyone like that is going to be publicly shamed and humiliated and then sent to an eternal punishment of body and soul.  Such a person may be able to hide what they’ve been doing here on earth, but it’ll all come out in the end.  No one can avoid it.  Christ will judge.  He will condemn every unrepentant and unbelieving evildoer.

Someone might ask, “What’s the difference between that and what happens after an unbeliever dies?  Doesn’t an unbeliever get judged and go to hell right after they die?”  And yes, they do.  But there are two things to remember.  One is that the last judgment is public – that means it’s in front of all humanity.  The embarrassment and shame of that in itself is an additional form of punishment.  Second, after the last judgment, the unbeliever goes to experience God’s wrath not only with his or her soul, but now also with the body.  They experience hell now as a complete human being, body and soul.  That will be their experience of hell into eternity.  Just when they thought hell couldn’t get any worse, they begin to experience it with their bodies as well as their souls.  That’s what awaits everyone who doesn’t turn to Christ from their sins, who doesn’t repent and believe.

However, the situation is reversed for those who have turned to Christ from their sins.  When we place our trust in Jesus, when we rest in him and believe that he has lived a perfect life in our place and that he died on the cross to pay for our sins, we’ve been justified.  That means that God as judge has declared us righteous.  We’re right in his eyes.  That’s the verdict and it can never be overturned.  Now God is our Father, and we’re his dearly loved children.  There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, as Romans 8:1 says.  We’ll never be condemned by God.  The last judgment can never overturn your justification.  Because God is faithful and just, that’s simply impossible.    

So when we die, the verdict that God made about us in this world follows us into the next.  Declared righteous on earth means we’re fit for heaven.  Our souls go to be with the Lord.  There they will wait for the day of the resurrection, the day of judgment.  That’s where all our believing loved ones are right now.  That’s where we’ll be too, unless Christ returns before the day of our death.

So then what about the Day of Judgment?  Why do we still have to experience that if we’ve already been declared righteous in our justification?  Why do our “books” have to be opened?  There are a couple of important things to remember about this. 

First, when that moment comes, we’ll already be perfect and sinless.  We’ll be glorified as we stand before Christ as he judges.  We won’t think about that day as we might be thinking about it now.  We might be thinking about it now in terms of how it affects us and our reputation.  We might be thinking about it now in terms of our sinful pride.  But then, then we’ll be thinking about it in terms of how it brings glory to God, how it displays his grace, how it all brings worship for Christ into eternity.  We’ll have a sinless perspective on it, a God-centered perspective.  We ought to try to have that perspective even now as we contemplate it.

Second, it’s not going to be about us and our shame.  It’s going to be about Christ and his vindication of us.  Right now, the world casts shame and contempt on Christians.  Paul quotes from Psalm 44 in Romans 8, “…we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”  Or as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:13, “We have become, and are still, the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.”  But in that day there will be vindication.  The world says we’re wicked and heretical because we uphold God’s standards on things like sexuality.  At the end, Christ will show publically who was right and who was wrong.    

Yes, all our deeds will be laid open and made public.  But if we’re in Christ, that’s nothing to be afraid of.  He’ll make it clear that all our evil deeds have been paid for by his precious blood shed on the cross.  When I hear that being said about you, I’ll praise Christ for his loving sacrifice, I’ll praise God for his love and mercy.  When you hear that being said about me, you’ll do the same.  Christ will announce for everyone to hear that we are righteous in him, and he’ll also make clear that through his Holy Spirit’s power there was evidence of that in our lives here.  Through the Holy Spirit, there were good things that we did; there were good works pleasing in God’s eyes.  There was what we call evangelical obedience -- obedience that came because of the gospel, obedience that was empowered by the gospel. 

So, loved ones, the Day of Judgment isn’t a day for us to be afraid of if we’ve placed our trust in Christ.  It’ll be a day for his glory and for our vindication before the world.  As our Confession says about believers, “Their innocence will be known to all and they will see the terrible vengeance God will bring upon the wicked who persecuted, oppressed, and tormented them in this world.”

But believers will be “crowned with glory and honour.”  We’ll rejoice into eternity.  We’ll have the kind of glory and joy that no one has ever been able to imagine.

Why will we rejoice?  Let’s briefly consider three reasons. 

First, we’ll rejoice because God’s glory will have been magnified.  Everyone will see that he is just and righteous.  Because we’ll be sinless and glorified, that will be to our great joy too.  The God whom we love is receiving praise into eternity and that satisfies our souls, that gives us a deep gladness.

Second, we’ll rejoice because there’ll be the knowledge that justice has been carried out.  Here in this world, we get frustrated because sometimes people get away with horrible things.  There aren’t only unsolved crimes, there are also situations where people are just so powerful that they think they can do whatever they want and no one will touch them.  That’s often what happens.  But there is ultimate justice.  Here we may have mixed motives for wanting it.  But in the hereafter, we’ll have perfect motives and we’ll rejoice that God has delivered justice perfectly and wisely.

Finally, we’ll rejoice because of the communion that we’ll have with our Lord Jesus into eternity.  Let’s always remember that this is the best thing about heaven, the best thing about the new heavens and new earth.  The best thing is that we get to spend it with Christ, in close fellowship with him.  We’ll have a relationship with him that we can’t even fathom right now.  He’ll make our joy complete.  Being with him will be everything to us.

Loved ones, right now we’re still in part 1 of our story.  But part 2 is coming.  I’m sure you know how sometimes sequels can disappoint.  The first book or the first movie is really good and then the sequel just doesn’t measure up.  But not in this instance.  God promises all who believe in Christ that part 2 is going to be infinitely better than part 1.  That’s so encouraging to know, isn’t it?  It’s why we sing and pray, “Come Lord Jesus, Maranatha!  Come quickly, Lord.  Come quickly.”  AMEN. 

PRAYER

Merciful God and Father,

Thank you for revealing to us what we can expect in the end times.  We pray to you earnestly for the return of our Lord Jesus.  We really want to see him on the clouds of heaven, returning for our full redemption.  We pray, “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.”  When he returns, if he returns in our lifetime, let him find all of us eager and waiting.  We look forward to his great Day, the day when the dead will be raised.  We look forward to our vindication and your glorification.  We look forward to seeing every wrong righted, every injustice corrected.  Father, we look forward to rejoicing in your presence forever and ever.  So we pray, continue to keep us in our faith.  Help us to continue turning from sin and turning to Christ.  With your Holy Spirit, help each one of us to always keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the only Saviour.                                    




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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