Posted on Aug 28, 2002 | by William F. Cook
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--People have an intense interest in the future. Psychic hotlines have become big business as hurting people seek a glimpse of potential hope in their coming destiny.
Evangelical Christianity is not immune to this desire to know the future. Hal Lindsey's book, "The Late Great Planet Earth," made him one of the '70s' most popular authors. Even today Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye's fictional series, "Left Behind," hovers near the top of the New York Times best sellers' list.
A "feeling" pervades many evangelicals that we indeed are the "terminal generation." The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statement on "Last Things" is a judiciously written statement that provides insight into some of the most significant events in the future and at the same time can be embraced by believers from various millennial perspectives.
The initial sentence affirms God's sovereign control of history. Christians are confident in the final outcome of history because we believe that God is sovereignly directing history toward its God-ordained conclusion.
The next sentence affirms Jesus Christ's return. Significant areas of agreement exist among evangelicals in regards to Christ's Second Coming. First, evangelicals believe that Jesus Christ's return will be sudden, personal, visible and bodily. Second, believers should anxiously await Christ's return (Titus 2:12; Philippians 3:20).
Unfortunately, many Western Christians are so consumed with the things of this world that they seldom contemplate the glorious return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
A third area of agreement is that we cannot know the time of his return; however, Jesus encouraged his followers to be vigilant as we await his coming.
Finally, evangelicals agree that believers will live with Jesus Christ in a new heaven and a new earth.
While Christians differ in their understanding of the nature and chronology of Christ's Second Coming, there is much agreement on the events following his return. All agree that his return will be followed by the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment and the eternal state.
The Bible teaches that at Christ's return the dead will be raised (Daniel 12.2; John 11:24-25; 1 Corinthians 15). Both the righteous and the wicked will be raised; however, the chronology of this event is set forth differently by various millennial perspectives.
The statement on the resurrection of the dead is followed by the theme of final judgment. Jesus Christ will judge the living and the dead (John 12:47ff; Acts 17:31). We must be careful, as believers, not to misunderstand the nature of this judgment or fear the possibility that a true believer could be eternally condemned. The judgment of believers is for the purpose of bestowing degrees of reward (1 Cor 3:12-15).
The last judgment involves also the eternal state of unbelievers. Those who do not know God through his Son will enter into eternal punishment. Hell is a place where the unsaved will experience eternal conscious punishment.
In recent years some evangelical theologians have denied that there will be eternal conscious punishment of unbelievers; however, the scriptural evidence for eternal punishment is overwhelming. The doctrine of hell is a "tough" doctrine that should fill our hearts with pain and compassion for the multitudes that do not know our Lord. The contemplation of eternal punishment should be an incentive to aggressive evangelism and world missions.
The confession concludes with a pronouncement of the glories of heaven. Believers will live eternally with God in a new heaven and a new earth. John put it this way -- "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away" (Revelation 21:1).
We believe that Jesus Christ will return because he promised that he would. At the time of his return, every sacrifice we may have made for his kingdom will melt into insignificance as we enter into eternity with our Savior. Every longing that we as believers have had to see our Lord's face will be realized.
When we see him, we shall be like him (1 John 3:2), and we will fall on our faces to worship the one "who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood" (Rev 1:5b). At that time arguments over the millennium will be irrelevant as we cry out "to him be glory and power forever and ever" (Rev 1:6b).
Cook is an associate professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
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Full text of Article 10: 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.
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