Today’s message is the 15th in our series “What Do Baptists Believe?”. This morning we will do a brief overview of our denominational beliefs regarding the end times. Some people (both believers and nonbelievers alike) are fascinated with “end of the world” prophecies, while others don’t care to know anything about it. We should not take either extreme - that is we should not be so concerned about the coming apocalypse that we miss or neglect the weightier parts of the Bible, yet we should know enough about it to draw out hope for ourselves and motivation to tell others about Jesus. The Baptist Faith and Message includes the following statement -
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.
This position is quite general, leaving a wide range of latitude for various viewpoints regarding the end times. And, as you know, there are many different theories as to how the last days will play out. Baptists are not dogmatic about the exact details or sequence of end time events. But we do agree as a denomination that Christ will return to earth personally and visibly, the dead will be resurrected, and Christ will judge mankind. These will be the 3 points of today’s message - the return, the resurrection, and the judgment.
The return of Christ will likely consist of two separate events, the "rapture of the church" and the "second coming". These two occurrences are separated by a 7-year span of time known as the tribulation. The rapture will take place first, and Scripture is clear that it could happen at any moment. Jesus will appear in the air, and all born again Christians - both living and dead - will rise to meet Him there. This catching up of all believers will take place in the twinkling of an eye. Jesus will come in the air, for His church, as a bridegroom for his bride.
The second coming will occur at the conclusion of the tribulation period. The Bible describes it somewhat differently than the rapture. Jesus will return to the earth, actually setting foot on Mt. Zion. He will come as a conquering king, leading the army of the Lord - which includes the believers who had been raptured previously (that's us). He will defeat Satan and his cohorts, bind them for 1000 years, and set up His kingdom on earth. Jesus will come to the earth, with His church, as a conquering king.
The physical resurrection of men will also take place as two differing events. The first resurrection will be of the righteous or the redeemed. This includes all people who have been born again by placing their faith in Jesus Christ. This resurrection will likely take place in phases, the first being Christ's bodily resurrection from the grave. The church-age believers will be resurrected at the rapture, and the Old Testament saints and tribulation martyrs at the Lord's second coming.
The second resurrection will be for those who have rejected Christ - the unrighteous. It will take place following a period of 1,000 years known as the millennium. During the millennium, those who have be redeemed and raised during the first resurrection will reign with Christ over the earth. During the millennial kingdom, nonbelievers will remain in Hades, awaiting the second resurrection which follows.
The judgment will also consist of two parts. The first will be the judgment of the righteous, which is known as the "judgment seat of Christ" or the "bema seat judgment". The phrase bema seat refers to the ancient Olympic games, where a judge would sit on an elevated platform in the bema seat at the finish line of a race. He would watch to determine what place the runners finished in as they crossed the finish line. He would then distribute their awards accordingly. Likewise, the bema seat judgment of the redeemed will not be to determine whether one goes to Heaven or Hell - this will have already been settled by the blood of Christ shed at Calvary. Rather, the purpose of this judgment is to determine what rewards believers will receive based upon their good works. I believe it will take place prior to the millennium. Following the millennium, believers will dwell with Christ forever in the new heavens and new earth.
The second judgment will be for the unrighteous - the lost. It is known as the "Great White Throne Judgment" and it takes place after the millennium in conjunction which the second resurrection. All non-believers will be judged solely on the basis of their sinful works, because they have rejected the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This judgment will not be to determine rewards, but rather will be the final condemnation of all who've refused to accept Christ. These people, along with the devil and his demons, will be cast into eternal hell.
Again, there a hundreds of interpretations regarding the particulars surrounding the end times. I have presented an incomplete snapshot of mine, but you are certainly free to believe differently. Where we agree as Baptists are on these three main points - Christ will return, all will be resurrected, and He will judge humanity. We will spend all of eternity either in Heaven with Him or in Hell separated from Him. Are you ready if He comes today?