“Finally we believe, according to the Word of God, when the time appointed by the Lord (which is unknown to all creatures) is come, and the number of the elect complete, that our Lord Jesus Christ will come from heaven, corporally and visibly, as he ascended, with great glory and majesty to declare himself judge of the quick and the dead; burning this old world with fire and flame, to cleanse it. And then all men will personally appear before this great judge, both men and women and children, that have been from the beginning of the world to the end thereof, being summoned by the voice of the archangel, and by the sound of the trumpet of God. For all the dead shall be raised out of the earth, and their souls joined and united with their proper bodies, in which they formerly lived. As for those who shall then be living, they shall not die as the others, but be changed in the twinkling of an eye, and from corruptible become incorruptible. Then the books (that is to say the consciences) shall be opened, and the dead judged according to what they shall have done in this world, whether it be good or evil. Nay, all men shall give an account of every idle word which they have spoken, which the world only counts amusement and jest: and then the secrets and hypocrisy of men shall be disclosed and laid open before all. And therefore the consideration of this judgment is justly terrible and dreadful to the wicked and ungodly, but most desirable and comfortable to the righteous and elect: because then their full deliverance shall be perfected, and there they shall receive the fruits of their labors and trouble which they have borne. Their innocence shall be known to all, and they shall see the terrible vengeance which God shall execute on the wicked, who most cruelly persecuted, oppressed and tormented them in this world; and who shall be convicted by the testimony of their own consciences, and being immortal, shall be tormented in that everlasting fire, which is prepared for the devil and his angels. But on the contrary, the faithful and elect shall be crowned with glory and honor; and the Son of God will confess their names before God his father, and his elect angels; all tears shall be wiped from their eyes; and their cause which is now condemned by many judges and magistrates, as heretical and impious, will then be known to be the cause of the Son of God. And for a gracious reward, the Lord will cause them to possess such a glory as never entered into the heart of man to conceive. Therefore we expect that great day with a most ardent desire to the end that we may fully enjoy the promises of God in Christ Jesus Our Lord. AMEN.
‘Even so come, Lord Jesus.'”
The Belgic Confession, Article XXXVII
It is striking, from the perspective of the contemporary scene, that the Confession devotes just one article to the all-important subject of the last things. On account of all that is being said and written on this subject these days, and also on account of all of the erroneous views expressed, if the Confession were written today more attention might be given this aspect of the truth. However, the more one ponders this last article of our Confession the more one is impressed with the fact that this is both an adequate and eloquent expression of the truth as it concerns the last judgment. Every aspect of this doctrine is covered, and the article is strictly Biblical in what it says. In fact the article is one of the most beautiful of the entire Confession. This is due, no doubt, in large part to the fact that it was written during a time of severe persecution.
The article speaks first of all concerning the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. There are several elements mentioned in this connection. The time of Christ’s return is appointed of the Father and known of the Father, but remains unknown to the creature. Jesus spoke of that to His disciples when He said: “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels in heaven, but my Father only.” (Matthew 24:36) Because no man knows the day or the hour when the Son of Man returns, our Lord exhorted the disciples and us: “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.” (Matthew 24:42) What we do know is that when the number of the elect is complete and the entire church has been born and gathered out of the nations, Christ will come. He will come, moreover, visibly and corporally, just as He ascended and was received out of the sight of His disciples. This is exactly what the angels told the wondering disciples when Jesus had ascended: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11) The Apostle Paul comforts the Thessalonian Christians with this same truth when he writes: “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” (I Thessalonians 4:16) Still more, that coming of Christ will be one of great glory and majesty. His first coming was in humiliation and poverty, for He came to lay down His life at the cross for the sins of His people. His return will be in glory. Having entered our death and atoned for our sins, Christ will come as the exalted Lord of lords and King of kings. Of this Jesus spoke not long before the cross: “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth. mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30) Finally the Scriptures teach and we confess that Jesus will come as Judge. Of this too Jesus spoke plainly: “When the Son of Man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats. . . .” (Matthew 25:31-46) Thus the inspired Apostle charges Timothy: “. . . before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead .at his appearing and his kingdom.” (II Timothy 4:1) Near the end of his life the same apostle makes the beautiful confession: “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them that love his appearing.” (II Timothy 4:8)
This return in power and great glory of the Lord Jesus is the object of the hope of God’s people in this world. As the redeemed of the Lord whose citizenship is in heaven they walk as strangers and pilgrims in the earth. They seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and love not the world; neither the things that are in the world. They live in expectation of the coming of their Lord and Savior. In that hope they shall not be ashamed!
The Confession goes on to speak of the judgment. The return of Christ is accompanied by the destruction of the present creation. This old world is going to burn with fire and flame in order to be cleansed. Nowhere in the Scriptures is this spoken of with greater clarity than in II Peter 3:10-13: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” At His coming there shall also be the resurrection of the bodies of all who died. At this moment the souls of men shall be joined and united with their proper bodies. For the people of God this will be a change to glory. The Scripture declares: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body: . . .” (I Corinthians 15:42-44) Those who are living at that time will also be changed. This change will be effected not through death. It will take place in a moment, “in the twinkling of an eye.” It will be a change from corruption to incorruption, from mortality to immortality. (Cf. I Corinthians 15:51-54)
Speaking of the judgment itself the Confessionstates that all men shall be judged according to their works, “according to what they have done in the world, whether it be good or evil. Nay, all men shall give an account of every idle, word they have spoken, which the world only counts amusement and jest: and then the secrets and hypocrisy of men shall be disclosed and laid open before all.” Concerning this Jesus said: “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which they that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” (John 5:28, 29) Rather strikingly in this connection the Confession speaks of men’s consciences as books that shall be opened. Evidently the meaning is that all men shall be judged in their consciences. All men shall be subjectively convinced in their own consciences of the absolute justice of God’s judgment. The righteous shall be judged as they stand in Jesus Christ. Their cause, for which they were mocked and scorned on the earth, shall be revealed as the cause of Christ. In the judgment they shall be perfectly vindicated. Glory is their portion. Therefore they look forward in hope to that judgment.
Finally the article speaks of the rewards and punishments. The wicked in harmony with their base godlessness shall be burned in everlasting fire in the sight of the righteous and the angels. Their judgment shall be most dreadful and terrible. The inspired Apostle speaks of this to the persecuted in Thessalonica: “And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” (II Thessalonians 1:7-9) The reward of the righteous shall be exceedingly glorious. They shall be crowned with glory and honor. Christ will confess their names before His Father. All tears shall be wiped from their eyes. Their cause shall be made known as the cause of the Son of God and they shall possess glory such as never entered into the heart of many to conceive. (cf. I Corinthians 2:9) They, therefore, look forward with eager anticipation to the day of judgment, for in that day they shall enjoy the fulfillment of all the promises of God. Then they shall enter into the joy of their Lord. John the Apostle saw all this in vision: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)
Powerfully the Confession concludes with the prayer which is in the hearts and on the lips of all those who live in hope of that glory: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20)