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The Hope of Judgment Day?

27 November, 2007

b and lilyIt seems most of the time we treat the doctrine of the last things (eschatology) as only having to do with the very end of history, at least as we know it. It’s perfectly understandable; that will be then, but this is now, and so let’s concentrate on what’s important now. But is that what the Bible calls us to? How does Scripture treat the last things? Well, Scripture is actually shot through with the continual importance of the ‘last things’–even from the ‘first things!’

We must understand the Bible’s teaching on last things–eschatology–not as totally future, isolated events, but as God’s purpose and goal for all things in heaven and on earth, and the fulfillment of the hope we have in Christ.

Even Adam and Eve in paradise had a God-given purpose and goal: to bring themselves along with the entire would-be human race into an everlasting fellowship with God that could not be broken; but they didn’t have it yet–they were looking forward to it. In other words, they had an ‘eschatology’ too. And look what happened when they started looking to themselves, to the here and now apart from God’s purposes and goals.

After sin, corruption, and death, we who are redeemed by Christ–the Second Adam who didn’t fail–not only look forward to the salvation of all the elect, but to the redemption of our bodies at the resurrection, and finally to God’s consummation of all things:

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Rom 8:22-25).”

It’s important that Paul here begins with the anticipation that the whole creation (together with believers) feels for the coming of that great Day; and then he moves to hope. Hope is a great description of our response to the ‘last things,’ and our comfort in them. In the Bible, ‘I hope’ doesn’t mean ‘I wish’ or ‘I’d like’–it means ‘I eagerly desire the fulfillment of the mercy and justice of my faithful God for the sake of Jesus Christ.’ This is the biblical hope that corresponds to biblical eschatology. This is what the Heidelberg Catechism is getting at when it answers the question,

What comfort is it to you that Christ “shall come to judge the living and the dead”?
That in all my sorrows and persecutions, I, with uplifted head, look for the very One, who offered himself for me to the judgment of God, and removed all curse from me, to come as Judge from heaven, who shall cast all his enemies and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but shall take me with all his chosen ones to himself into heavenly joy and glory (HC 52).

HC 52 is the final and highest ‘step’ of four dealing with Christ’s glorification in the Apostles’ Creed. But does it seem like Christ’s coming again in judgment is the highest level of his glorification? Doesn’t this part of the Creed just describe ‘end times’ stuff? Well, yes and no.

‘The fulfillment of mercy and justice’ may be a good, simple way of thinking about the Final Judgment. Again, it’s not something unrelated to anything that comes before, but is the culmination of all God’s dealings with sin and redemption. God will forever deal with sin by punishing Satan and all who stand with him, and will forever redeem by bringing all who stand with Christ into glory. This is why HC 52 describes our hope in such beautiful and all-encompassing terms: in our struggles and trials on this pilgrimage of faith, we, ‘with uplifted head,’ look longingly for our faithful Savior to return for us and complete the work which he began in us, and to make all things new.

That Day will be terrific, in all the senses of the word. So why do we–should we–look forward to it? Why should it be the “warp and woof” of the Bible’s story of God’s purposes in and for history?

Well, let me put it this way: Do you want Satan to be punished, as he is already judged? Do you want never to sin again? Do you want your body to be glorious and ever-living? Do you want God to be vindicated from all of the blasphemies that are spoken against him? Do you want his righteousness, goodness, justice, wisdom, and merciful grace to be displayed in all creation? Do you want ‘his will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven’? Do you want every knee to bow before Christ the King? Because these are the things that our Triune God is working toward, and will one day bring to completion.

I hope this gives us a reminder or helps us to think about how the doctrine of the last things isn’t just for the ‘end times’ as they are understood in popular culture–these are the last days; Christ has come, and he is coming again. ‘Eschatology’ is all throughout the Bible and the Christian faith.

Our hope is that the one sitting on the terrible throne of judgment in that Day is the “very one who offered himself for me to the judgment of God.” So instead of the curse we deserve, we will receive glory for his sake and all to the glory of God–which is, of course, the ultimate goal of all things in heaven and earth.

One Comment
  1. 27 November, 2007 10:33 pm

    I know this is pretty random but…this reminded me of an all-night prayer vigil that I participated in on Halloween with the Calvary Chapel then in Ocean Beach. I remember sitting and holding hands in this circle of people praying (all night) and one teen-age girl prayed for God to save Satan…I hope her eschatology has improved a little since that Halloween night.

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