Today we conclude our 30 part series on the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. I hope and trust that you have benefited from looking at doctrines in Scripture thematically and systematically.
The Confession fittingly ends with the climactic event which will end human history as we know it, the Final Judgement. In doing so, the Confession answers three questions for us.
What is the Final Judgement?
In answering the first question the Confession straight-forwardly asserts: ‘God hath appointed a day wherein He will judge the world in righteousness’ (pg. 122). The Final Judgement is a moment in time (‘a day’) when God will judge everyone, everywhere, for everything. If that sounds a little stark, then consider that this is exactly the point that Paul makes to the Athenians listening to him on Mars Hill (Acts 17:31).
On that day we are told that all of the apostate angels with be judged. After all, as Jude reminds us, ‘the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgement of the great day’ (v. 6). Not only the angels but all people throughout history too. This is one of the closing exhortations that Paul leaves with the church in Rome. He writes ‘we will all stand before the judgement seat of God…each of us will give an account of himself to God’ (Rom. 14:10, 12).
This Final Judgement will be conducted by Jesus, the one to whom all power and judgement has been given to by the Father (Acts 17:31). As we noted last week then, depending on our standing in Christ, this judgement will lead to one of two destinations:
[F]or then shall the righteous go into everlasting life and receive that fullness of joy and glory with everlasting reward, in the presence of the Lord; but the wicked, who know not God and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments and punished with everlasting destruction, from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power. (pg. 122-123)
Why is there a Final Judgement?
The answer to this second question is perhaps beyond the full comprehension of our finite human minds. However, it is not beyond stating in our finite human language. The Confession unashamedly proclaims:
The end of God’s appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the eternal damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient (pg. 122)
There is a Final Judgement for the glory of God’s mercy to the elect, and the glory of God’s justice to the reprobate. Yet, in Romans 9, an equally black and white statement of God’s election and rejection contains the same emphasis. It is all ‘in order to make known the riches of his glory’ (v. 23). There is a Final Judgement for God’s glory.
What difference does the Final Judgement make now?
This is a rare chapter in the Confession that contains some practical application (however, this is justifiable given the aim of the Confession). There are two reasons why it has been revealed to us that there is a Final judgement:
- To deter sin. The knowledge of one day giving an account and being judged for all of our actions is to encourage us to flee from sinful passions. After talking about God’s judgement Paul acknowledges, ‘knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others’ (2 Cor. 5:11). The Final Judgement should deter us from sin, and force us to deter others.
- To console those in adversity. The knowledge of one day God’s perfect justice being executed should be of some consolation to those who are facing adversity in their life. Paul encourages the Thessalonian Christians, who are suffering, that God will repay those who have afflicted them with affliction but only ‘when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven’ (2 Thess. 1:5-7).
However, there are also two reasons why we do not know when this Final Judgement will occur:
- To avoid carnal security. The unknown date of the Final Judgement should discourage individuals from revelling in their carnal security – living how their sinful desires dictate knowing that there is time to repent before judgment. Of course this is antithetical to Biblical teaching, and yet we know that our twisted sinful souls would justify it to us if only we knew the date of the Final Judgment.
- To aid watchfulness. The unknown date of the Final Judgement should provoke us to watchfulness, knowing that it could begin at any given moment. We dare not get caught red-handed.
Jesus taught this to his disciples explicitly:
But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake. (Mark. 13:32-37).
We end this series as the Confession ends: Come Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen.