At the beginning of a new year, the church is reminded of the second coming of Jesus Christ and the end of all things. The reminder is especially forceful when the beginning of a new year is also the beginning of a new millennium. Jesus Christ is coming the second time. He is coming quickly. He is coming for the salvation of all who look for Him. He is coming to raise our bodies from the dead. He is coming to conduct the final judgment in which we will be publicly vindicated and in which His and our enemies will be publicly condemned. He is coming to renew the creation as our inheritance.
Since we believe these truths concerning the last things and since we eagerly expect the coming Lord and Savior, how then will we live?
How are we called to live?
And because this calling in the gospel is the sovereign call of us whom God has loved from eternity, for whom Christ died, and in whom the Spirit of Christ has worked belief of the truth of the last things, how will we live? How will we certainly live? How will we certainly live, regardless of the hopelessness and depravity of a world that now fills the cup of its wickedness to the brim? How will we certainly live, regardless of the mockery by churches and theologians who have fallen so far as to scoff at the hope of the true church that the coming of Christ is near?
We will live in hope, as the previous editorial showed.
The Holiness of the Church
This hope takes form as holiness.
What is the practical significance of the Reformed, biblical, amillennial doctrine of the end? What difference does knowledge of the truth of the last things make in the lives of those who know the truth?
The gospel of hope—hope as the living, ardent, day-in and day-out longing for the bodily coming of Christ, which is near—calls church and believer to keep themselves from the wicked world and its corrupt way of life and to devote themselves to the holy God in a life of obedience to His law.
This is the calling, first, of the church, the instituted congregation of believers and their children.
For the church, holiness is faithful, zealous preaching of the Word both within the congregation and outside in missions. The main reason why the end has not yet come, the explanation why the Lord “tarries,” is that all of us elect have not yet come to repentance. But the Lord is not willing that any of us should perish (II Pet. 3:9). Included among the elect who may not perish and who, therefore, must come to repentance are the covenant children of believers. As the church desires the coming of the Lord, she will preach the gospel by which Christ brings His own to repentance.
In addition to this gracious, saving purpose of God with the church’s preaching of the gospel, by the hearing of the Word the whole world of the ungodly must be rendered inexcusable, so that God may be just when He judges in the final judgment.
In His great address on the last things in Matthew 24, Jesus taught, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come” (v. 14). Thus did He call the church to her chief activity, her most glorious holiness, in light of His coming again.
Closely related is the church’s task of defending the faith and, thus, holding on to all the doctrines of Holy Scripture, including the doctrine that Scripture is the God-breathed Word. An uncompromising, vigorous defense of the faith is a brilliant facet of the church’s holiness. Again and again in Revelation 2and 3, by positive exhortation and praise as well as by negative rebuke, Christ calls the churches to hold fast “my name,” “my faith,” sound “doctrine,” “my word.” This is the calling of the churches in their circumstances of end-time persecution: “Thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth” (Rev. 2:13). And this calling rests squarely on the churches’ hope of the coming of Christ: “But that which ye have already hold fast till I come” (Rev. 2:25).
Lending a keen edge to the urgency of the church’s calling to defend the faith is the apostasy of churches and nominal Christians in the last days. II Thessalonians 2:3ff. prophesies a great falling away, which has its source in this, that churches, officebearers, and members do not have “the love of the truth” (v. 10). In this context of departure from the truth and belief of the lie by much of professing Christianity, what is the charge to the true church ? “Stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” (v. 15).
This counts for absolutely nothing in the estimation of many professing Christians today. What matters to them is that a church has a “progressive” style of worship, or a lively youth program, or an aggressive missions and evangelism “outreach” (never mind what is taught in this “outreach”), or opportunities for “ministry” for every member, or a friendly face. That such a church is swept away with every wind of doctrine that blows through Christendom and even with every politically correct notion that gains ascendancy in the world, so that it surrenders every tradition, does not concern them.
But the church’s standing fast and resolutely holding the traditions counts with God. It is the very holiness of His church.
An essential aspect of this defense of the faith is the church’s refutation of false doctrines and errors “that multiply exceedingly,” to use the phrase of Article 55 of the Church Order of Dordt. These damnable and highly dangerous teachings are found in other churches, in books and other writings, and on the radio and television. The churches carry out this aspect of their defense of the faith mainly through the preaching of their ministers, the admonitions of their elders, and the teachings and writings of their professors of theology.
Strong pressures are put on the church today to tone down this refutation, if not to silence it altogether. Ominously, the state warns against “hate crimes.” A favorite is “gay bashing.” Note the carefully chosen pejorative! The state and the media do not speak of “opposition to homosexuality,” but of “gay bashing.” Within the church herself voices are heard that decry pointed, strong condemnation of false doctrines as unloving criticism of other churches. The impression is left that a church that criticizes other churches and their theologians for their false doctrines manifests a “holier-than-thou” attitude.
Fact is, a church that refuses or neglects to refute false doctrines and to sound the judgment of the gospel upon those who maintain them is unholy. Her unholiness is that she does not love the truth.Before long, she too will be carried away in the great apostasy. God will send her members a strong delusion that they should believe the lie which that church did not hate sufficiently to condemn.
There is yet another activity of the church that is an outstanding aspect of the holiness that is hers by virtue of her hope in the coming of Christ. It figures prominently in Scripture’s description of the life of the church in the last days. Both of the main millennial errors deny it, thus proving their utter falsity. Reformed amillennialism, on the other hand, does justice to it, thus showing itself true. This is the activity of suffering persecution patiently for Christ’s sake.
The true church is always hated, always reproached, always persecuted. “As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter” (Rom. 8:36). This will intensify as the end approaches, until the beast “make(s) war with the saints and overcome(s) them” (Rev. 13:7). Playing a leading role in this persecution, whether of reproach or physical harm, are the apostate churches and their agents in the bosom of the true church.
Suffering for the sake of the truth—Christ’s name!—is a calling. The church does not merely put up with this suffering as even a dog may submit to an unavoidable beating. The church is active in her suffering. She bears it patiently. She perseveres in confessing Christ faithfully, refusing to compromise the least of His doctrines or commandments. She rejoices in this suffering as a distinct blessedness. So Christ effectually calls her: “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad” (Matt. 5:11, 12).
Suffering for Christ’s sake is a privilege, as is every aspect of the church’s holiness. “Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ … to suffer for his sake,” the apostle assures the church in Philippians 1:29.
Premillennial dispensationalism robs the church of this privilege by rapturing the church out of history before the great tribulation under antichrist. Postmillennial Christian Reconstruction is guilty of the same robbery when it thrusts all the New Testament prophecy of end-time persecution, of the great tribulation, and of antichrist into the distant past. Christ graciously gives us the privilege to suffer for His sake. Millennialism ungraciously takes the privilege away.
Foreign to the millennial errors is the attitude toward suffering for Christ’s sake that is evident in Herman Hoeksema’s profound description of those who stand on the sea of glass and sing the song of Moses and the Lamb in Revelation 15:2-4.
Truly, they have been in the thickest of the battle. It was for them to live at the time of Antichrist in all his power and fullness. The honor and privilege to live at that time was in store for them. For thus it is in reality: it will be a time of special privilege for the people of God to live at the time of Antichrist. It is much rather a cause of longing and yearning, than of fear and trembling, for the people of God to live at that time. Is not a soldier in the battle honored by being in the thickest of the battle? And shall not the soldier of the kingdom of Christ by faith deem it an honor to be in the thickest of the fight against the power of Antichrist and to show that he fears nothing even though he be hated of all men and of all nations? And therefore, it is a special honor to be deemed worthy to live at that time. God shall have His strongest children, His best forces, in the world at that last period. And therefore, to belong to those picked forces of Christ in the world at the time of Antichrist shall be the greatest honor conceivable. For that same reason I have no doubt but that there shall be a special place in store for them in the new heaven and the new earth,—a place which they alone can occupy. I have no doubt but that they are the leaders in the chorus which is here singing at the sea of glass (Behold, He Cometh! An Exposition of the Book of Revelation, RFPA, p. 522).
It is enough to make one regret that he is unworthy to be alive during the reign of the beast. It is also a healthy corrective to the unspiritual wish that Christians sometimes express when they study Scripture’s prophecy of antichrist, that they may die before those days.
But the point is not simply that the church must, and may, suffer in the last days. Nor is it the point that the suffering of the church is part of her holiness. The point, rather, is that this suffering, which is the holiness of the church, stems from and is borne by the church’s hope.
The body of Christ is filling up that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ its head (Col. 1:24). This explains the strange, even startling, response of heaven to the plea of the souls of the martyrs for justice on their murderers. “It was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled” (Rev. 6:11). And each member embraces his or her persecution in hope of Jesus’ promise in Matthew 5:12: “for great is your reward in heaven.”
This is the active, fruitful, splendid holiness of the church as she waits for God’s Son from heaven.
How then, we must also ask, will the individual child of God live?