WHAT WE BELIEVE – LAST THINGS
The moment we believe in Jesus we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God. The kingdom isn’t here in its fullness yet, but we are already citizens of the kingdom that is coming. As a church we are a kingdom outpost, meant to be a preview of the coming kingdom, to live out the values of the kingdom, and share the good news of the kingdom. The kingdom will come when Jesus Christ returns in glory; his rule and reign will be instituted everywhere, and it will be recognized by everyone (1 Cor 15:25-28; Phil 2:9-11).
Our church’s statement of faith says this about what we believe concerning all that is to come: “We believe that God, in his own time and his own way, will bring this present world to the appropriate end and usher in the fullness of his kingdom. We believe that Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly, the dead will be raised, and Christ will judge all humanity. Those who die in their sins without Christ spend eternity in Hell, while those who die with their sins forgiven through Christ spend eternity with him in Heaven.”
The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states this concerning our understanding of the last things: “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.”
We do not know when Jesus will return to set up his kingdom (Mark 13:32-33; Acts 1:7). Therefore, we are encouraged to be ready, to live as if Christ could return at any time, because he will return at a time we do not expect (1 Thess 5:2; James 5:7-9; 2 Pet 3:10; Rev 22:20). We know there are certain things that will precede Christ’s return, including the preaching of the gospel to all nations (Matt 24:14), the Great Tribulation (Mark 13:7-8), false prophets working signs and wonders (Matt 24:23-24), the coming of the Antichrist (2 Thess 2:1-10), and the salvation of Israel (Rom 11:12; 25-26). However, Jesus’ return will be sudden and surprising (Matt 25:1-13; 1 Thess 5:2-3; 2 Pet 3:3-4).
Jesus’ return will also be bodily, visible, and triumphant. He will return in the same way that he ascended (Acts 1:11), with a physical body that will be completely visible to all people (Matt 24:30). He will return to this earth with great power and glory (Matt 24:30; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27; 1 Thess 4:16). His return will result in the resurrection of believers to enter the Millennial Kingdom and then eternal blessedness, as well as the resurrection of unbelievers to eternal punishment (John 5:28-29). Those who are alive when Jesus returns will be raptured, carried away from the earth to heaven to be with him forever (1 Thess 4:13-17).
The resurrection of the dead is our eternal hope, prophesied in the Old Testament (Isa 26:19; Ezek 37:12-14; Dan 12:2), taught by Jesus (Matt 22:29-32; Mark 12:24-27; Luke 20:34-38), and preached by Peter (Acts 2:24-32), Paul (Acts 13:32-37), John (John 5:28-29; Rev 20:1-15), and the author of Hebrews (11:19). Our resurrection in Christ is guaranteed by his resurrection when we turn to him by faith (1 Cor 15:22-23). Our resurrection bodies will never wear out, grow old, or suffer disease or death. They will be completely healthy and strong forever. They will be the pinnacle of God’s creation, physical bodies that are animated by the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:11; 1 Cor 15:42-44).
When Jesus returns and all are resurrected, the final judgments will take place where all will hear the proclamation of their eternal destiny (Matt 25:31-46; Acts 17:30-31; 2 Cor 5:10; Rev 20:11-15). Jesus Christ is the Judge (Matt 25:31-33; John 5:26-27; 2 Cor 5:10). Those in Christ will hear “well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master” (Matt 25:21), while those outside of Christ will hear “I never knew you, depart from me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt 7:23). Those outside of Christ will experience the judgment of Hell, which is eternal separation from God, the experience of being outside of God’s redeeming love forever (Matt 5:22, 29-30; Mark 9:42-48; 16:22-24; 2 Thess 1:9; Jude 7, 13; Rev 20:10, 14-15; 21:8)
Our final destiny is to dwell in a new heavens and a new earth; an entirely renewed creation (Isa 65:17; 66:22; 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1-3) preceded by the millennial kingdom that will usher in 1000 years of renewal, righteousness, and peace (Matt 25:34; 1 Cor 15:24; Rev 20:1-11). After the millennial kingdom, Scripture describes a new Jerusalem coming from heaven to earth (Rev 21:2), and then describes an eternal order that involves civilization, architecture, banquets, ruling, and work – eternal life.
The New Creation will be a place of great beauty, joy, abundance, and blessing in the presence of God and all of his saints (Rev 21-22), where we will enjoy perfect community with God and with each other (Rev 21:3). “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20)