The Last Things
What would you do if you knew the future?
This is a deeply stirring question, and one that most people have pondered at some point. I have often spent time wondering – and I’m sorry to say, worrying – about what will happen in the future. Next month, next week, tomorrow, later today….there’s so much uncertainty to predicting what will happen in the next five minutes of life, much less in the coming years. And yet, we make decisions everyday based on assumptions concerning what will happen and what we will experience in the future.
Most of us would love to know the future, but we understand that we are barred from much of that knowledge. However, what if I were to tell you that while the events of every “mile” of the journey to the end of time are not given to us, there is a road map available of the major stops?
The Bible does not provide us with exhaustive knowledge concerning what the near or distant future holds, but it does provide us with a powerful “road map” of the major things which God assures us will take place in the future. It is in light of these things that each of us are called to live and lead our lives. As I preached to my sweet congregation this morning as part of a sermon series surveying the beliefs and convictions which Southern Baptists have historically held, I presented a summary of what the Bible teaches us will happen as part of the “last days.” Admittedly, there is a great deal of variance in the opinions of people regarding the exact interpretation of these events. But they are clearly described in Scripture as happening, and they are causes for celebration, as well as deep and meaningful reflection.
First, there will be the return of Christ. The Lord Jesus will one day return to the earth to claim His followers, and He will do so personally, visibly, and gloriously. This event is often called the “second coming” of Christ. When Jesus came physically to the earth in His first advent, He came humbly in the form of the helpless young child found in the manger. Christmas, just around the corner in a few weeks, celebrates this “first coming” of our Lord in this humble state. But His second coming will be far different, for He will come in great glory and power. Luke 21:27 speaks this truth clearly in saying, “They will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (HCSB). Jesus will come again, and when He does, He will claim His church (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
Second, the Bible tells us that the “last things” includes the resurrection of the dead. When Christ returns, the dead will be raised. The promise of resurrection is sure and certain. First Thessalonians 4:16 states “the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (HCSB). The Apostle Paul assures Christians that they will be resurrected because of Christ’s resurrection. “Since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22 HCSB). This truth is a reminder of the tremendous hope that comes by faith in Christ. When we stand at the grave of loved ones who have passed from this life, we stand in the full assurance that the grave is not the end. I am reminded at this point of the sage words of Winston Churchill: “this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” For those who have placed their faith in Christ, the grave is only a beginning – it is not, in fact, an end. This truth is made certain by the resurrection of the Savior we place our faith in.
Third, there is an eternal destiny for every person. Throughout the years, many individuals have exerted great efforts to achieve immortality. Fantasies, such as the fountain of youth, and great efforts to achieve monumental statures leading to idolization by the masses have been the passionate pursuits of many desperate human beings. The truth is all human beings will live forever. If you want immortality, you’ve got it! But that immortal state will be experienced in one of two places. For those who have placed their faith in Christ and made Him the Lord of their life, their eternal destiny will be spent in heaven. In this state, they will serve, praise and honor God forever, enjoying the infinite pleasure of being in the presence of Almighty God (Rev. 4:8,11). However, for those who reject Jesus Christ, the appointed destiny is in a place called hell – a place of eternal judgment, punishment, and torment. The Bible’s presentation of hell is straightforward and very honest. It is a real place, and it is a terrible place. It is not a place for bad people, evil people, or people who have committed especially heinous crimes and sins. It is a place for unforgiven sinners who have rejected Christ as their Lord. The eternal states the Bible describes are not based upon a “good person/bad person” point of reference. Instead, they are assigned on the basis of whether or not one is forgiven person. All human beings are sinners and have fallen short of God’s glorious standards (Romans 3:23). But hope is found by faith in Christ! And for those who place their faith in Christ, there is an eternal destiny found in heaven.
Fourthly and finally, there is a final judgment. This final judgment described in Scripture provides an important and essential frame of reference for the Christian life. God’s judgment will one day be fully realized, and His ultimate justice will be exacted upon a fallen world. The future judgment of God is a reminder also to us that all attempts at justice in this life, admirable and desirable as they may be, are limited and fallible compared to the perfect judgment of God. No judge, jury, or appellate court has complete knowledge of any given situation. These legal institutions attempt to provide justice, as best as possible, in light of the established laws of the land and the determined facts of a given situation. But no human being has perfect knowledge. This limitation doesn’t apply to God. He knows all, sees all, understands all – and He judges perfectly in light of these higher attributes. As alluded to above in my discussion of the third element of the last things (eternal destinies), this judgment will be based only upon one’s faith in Christ. Because all human beings have sinned, all are found guilty on the basis of their own merits. The only hope is found by faith in Christ, who paid the penalty exacted for sin (death) on our behalf. Paul explains this in Romans 5:1, where he writes, “Since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (HCSB). Faith in Christ is the only way to peace with God, and it is the determining basis of the judgment that will one day come to humanity.
While these thoughts in no way exhaust all that is contained in the Bible’s teachings on the last things, they are my effort to very concisely summarize and survey the major components in the “road map” that it contains. My prayer is that these thoughts will stir your own and lead you to explore and reflect upon the great and magnificent plan of God, His grace and mercy, and the love and redemption found by faith in Jesus Christ.