The Christian Understanding of the Last Things
This is the twelfth and final installment of a series of articles exploring Calvary Grace's Congregational Confession of Faith.
XII. The Last Things
We believe in the personal and visible return of the Lord Jesus Christ to earth and the establishment of His Kingdom. We believe in the resurrection of the body, the final judgment, the eternal joy of the righteous and the endless suffering of the wicked.
Few things have been more divisive in the evangelical church as the doctrine of last things, or eschatology. While the elders do have convictions on these matters and do teach in accordance with them, we recognize that even within our own theological tradition many wise and learned theologians have come to different convictions on questions such as the millennium and the sequence of events surrounding the end. We do not believe it is wise to require a particular position on the “end times” of prospective members, but like in all other theological matters, we do believe that genuine Christians will share certain convictions about the resurrection, Jesus’ return, heaven, and hell. Eschatology is, in fact, a crucial element of the Christian faith, and that is why the twelfth and final article of our Congregational Confession of Faith deals with this doctrine.
In our day, it’s vital to emphasize a couple of these points. First, we believe, and require of members to believe, that Jesus will return at some point in the future. There are some who believe he’s already returned, or that his return is merely “in heaven” or spiritual; these are wrong and heretical views. Jesus’ return is as yet future.
Moreover, not only will his return be future, it will be physical. Jesus rose from the dead in the same body that died, as the wounds of the nails and spear on his resurrected body demonstrated. He rose in a physical human body with normal bodily functions, as Jesus eating repeatedly with his disciples was intended to prove (e.g., Luke 24:41-43). The angels who stood by the disciples when Jesus ascended told them that he would “come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11)—that is, in his physical body. This bodily resurrection is so important for the Christian faith because, first, it shows that the material and physical world is something God values—“spiritual” is not better than “physical” inherently—and second, because it guarantees that those of us who believe in Jesus will one day be raised in our physical bodies just as he was. This means that Jesus is living and breathing, his heart beating, just like you and I, right now, somewhere in God’s universe. What a thought!
Second, we teach, and require belief in, the literal truth of both heaven and hell. These places are very real. “Heaven” here in the Confession is not merely the spiritual realm where God dwells, but in terms of the believer’s hope is basically shorthand for the promise of eternal life in a new heavens and earth in the presence of God. Again, we await a bodily and physical resurrection, and so “Heaven” in this sense means a perfected physical existence as well as direct access to God himself.
Heaven is such more popular than hell, obviously. Yet the two places, and the promises surrounding each, are inextricably linked in Scripture. The Bible often describes this promise of heaven in contrast with hell. Hell is a real and literal place of endless punishment and suffering being prepared for Satan, his angels, and those who persist in their rebellion against God. There are some who believe that God will save everyone, but the Bible is plain that he won’t—narrow is the gate and few will find it (Matt. 7:14). There are others who accept that not all will be saved, but believe that God will simply annihilate the lost instead of leaving them in conscious suffering. However, the eternality of heavenly joy is paralleled with the eternality of hellish torment. Sin is a horrific thing—it is the defacement of God’s own image in oneself, an assault on something of infinite value, and this calls for nothing less than infinite punishment.
If you don’t believe in hell, you have no biblical basis for believing in heaven either. And so we believe that to deny hell is extremely dangerous, and we cannot in good conscience commend to membership someone who does.
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