September 5, 2013
iii. As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin; and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity: (2 Pet. 3:11, 14, 2 Cor. 5:10-11, 2 Thess. 1:5-7, Luke 21:27-28, Rom. 8:23-25) so will He have that day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour the Lord will come; and may be ever prepared to say, Come Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen. (Matt. 24:36, 42-44, Mark 13:35-37, Luke 12:35-36, Rev. 22:20).
We can be brief as we finish our focus on the final judgment of Christ that will surely come to every person.
The first thing we should not pass over too quickly is the Confession's assertion that "Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment." There is a large body of literature, unfortunately including some Christian literature, that attempts to set forth the notion that certainty, for us, is an unattainable, perhaps even a prideful, goal. The notion of "certainty" has fallen on hard times of late. The reasons for this are primarily two: (1) Modernism's prideful attempt to show that universal knowledge was "the norm" was shown, like every other "-ism" (except Christian theism) to be bankrupt. Anyone claiming to be certain has too much confidence in his own intellectual powers and is, in a word, naïve.Thus, the conclusion has been that knowledge is only and always a matter of individual "contexts." (2) Related to this, skepticism has exerted enormous influence, philosophically and culturally, such that one dare not say he is "certain" of anything. The alternative, we are told, is a humble, chastised attitude that confesses that certainty is a modernist myth that has rightly made its way to the intellectual graveyard.
But this is not the biblical view. It is a wolf in sheep's clothing. It masks itself in pious jargon, like "humility" and "chastened," but it has its roots in that subtle and subversive question from Satan, "Has God said?" And that question points us to the true root and foundation of any certainty we might have. When we are certain about some things, as we must be, we are certain, not because we take particular pride in our intellectual abilities, or because we are able to understand things in a way other people are not; quite the opposite. We are certain only when and where God has spoken. And when God speaks, we are obligated, as His servants, to be certain that what He has said is the actual truth of the matter. So it is with the final judgment. We are to be certain about it. We are to harbor no doubts that Christ is coming back, and that He will come to judge the living and the dead.
But there are things concerning the final judgment of which we are not to be certain. The Confession mentions the primary one: "...so will He have that day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour the Lord will come..." One of the sins, among many, unfortunately, that has caused a watching world to scoff at Christianity is the sin of certainty with respect to the day that the Lord will return. Such certainty can be nothing other than utter deception and spiritual pride, in that there is no warrant for it from the Word of God. Not only so, but there is clear and unequivocal teaching that we are not meant to know "the day or hour" (see, for example, Matt. 24:36, 42-44).
This certainty/uncertainty mix of truths is meant to provoke us to be ready, to pursue holiness, to patiently wait and pray. Especially, in this regard, note Revelation 6:10. Speaking of the martyrs who were in heaven, awaiting their final destiny, John writes:"They cried out with a loud voice, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?"
This helps us to recognize two central, Christian truths concerning the final judgment. First, those who have died in Christ have not reached their final goal. To live is indeed Christ, and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21), but to die is not to reach our final destiny. It is, as Paul reminds us, to "depart and be with Christ, for that is far better" (Phil. 1:23). But "far better" is not best, from a biblical perspective. As saints in heaven, there is a better place to be, and that place is in the new heaven and the new earth (see Is. 65:17, 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1-5). Second, the souls who cry out to God in heaven are not complaining about God's timing. They are, instead, praying for the full and climactic manifestation of His holy character in His second coming. They are, in effect, praying the prayer that we pray when we say, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." When we pray that prayer, we are praying that justice will come to those who steadfastly oppose the Lord, but we are also praying that mercy will be manifest, finally and completely, as the Lord draws all of His people to Himself, for eternity.
Finally, the reason the Lord tarries, according to Scripture, is because of His patient mercy (2 Peter 3:9). Many of us have perhaps come to Christ at a definite point in our lives. We can think of this in terms of a (admittedly impossible) "what if" scenario. Suppose you came to Christ in 2012. What would have happened if Christ had come in 2011? If that had happened, the Lord's mercy would not have been extended to you; you would have perished in your sins. His patience is a merciful patience.
Given what Scripture and the Confession teach us, however, we know that such things could not happen. We know (and are certain) that the Lord will gather all of those given to Christ by the Father, and for whom Christ died to Himself, and will keep them for eternity (see John 17). In the meantime, the Lord is patient, mercifully patient, and we wait. We wait for more of His mercy to be extended to more of His own.
In waiting, as Scripture and the Confession remind us, we pray, "Even so, come Lord Jesus, come quickly." We do not pray that, in the first place, in hopes that our suffering will be alleviated, or that we might get out of difficult circumstances. We pray that, in the first place, because we long for the full manifestation of the mercy and the justice of the Lord over all the earth, and in heaven itself. In other words, as goes our Christian lives, so also go our prayers for Christ's return. We pray that the Lord will come quickly because we long for the full, glorious and climactic manifestation of Christ Himself, in whom is the fullness of God's justice and God's mercy.
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!
Dr. Scott Oliphint is Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. His latest book is Covenantal Apologetics (Crossway, 2013).