WCF 33: Of the Last Judgment

Dear Church Family,

For many people who come from a background in some of the broader evangelical churches in the United States, their understanding of the end-times or the last days has been greatly influenced by pre-millennial dispensationalism. Part of that system of doctrine, is a particular teaching concerning the future judgment of God – namely, that there are many. According to classic dispensationalism, there are at least three future judgments of God: (1) “The Judgment Seat of Christ” (only for believers), 2 Corinthians 5:10; (2) “The Throne of Glory” (for the nations), Matthew 25:31-32; (3) “The Great White Throne” (for the wicked), Revelation 20:11-12.

However, as the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 33 (“Of the Last Judgment”) teaches, these are all references to the same singular, final judgment of God. We explored what the Bible teaches concerning this “last day of judgment” in our last adult Sunday school class in our series on the Westminster Confession.

WCF 33.1 – The Definition of the Last Judgment

The Apostle Paul preached that God “has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). The simple teaching of Scripture, then, is that there is only one appointed day of final judgment. On that day, God will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ (John 5:22-23, 26-27). And, on that last day, all angels and persons will appear before the tribunal of Christ to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds. They will receive – be recompensed or paid back (2 Corinthians 5:10) according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.

The Bible teaches that people will be judged according to works (Ecclesiastes 12:14; Romans 2:16; 14:10-12; Matthew 12:36-37). For those who die apart from Christ, this is bad new; for those who are in Christ, it ought to be an encouragement:

The thoroughness of this judgment inevitably reflects biblical teaching on sin and righteousness. For those who are apart from Christ, this is a damning verdict, for God hates any and all sin. Indeed, the thought of our every dark reflection, careless word, and loveless action being replayed before God’s throne should make any sane person tremble with a heightened awareness of the solemnity of judgment. And yet Christian believers must take courage in their special standing with Jesus Christ. God, as believers’ good Father, is delighted with the righteous thoughts, words and deeds of his children. Admittedly, they are far too few, and even our best efforts are tarnished in so many ways. What is worse, God will not tolerate our sins. But thankfully, for those found in Christ, our unworthy efforts will be accepted in Christ along with our unworthy persons, and our evil deeds will be covered over by Christ’s spotless righteousness. It is in this righteousness of Christ that we will stand. We will find no real reason to be proud of ourselves before the judgment seat of God. Nor will we find reason to fear. (Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith, 437-438).

 

WCF 33.2 – The Purpose of the Last Judgment

The end, or purpose, of the day of judgment is twofold: (1) to manifest the glory of God’s mercy in eternal salvation of the elect; and (2) to manifest God’s justice in the damnation of the reprobate. As is evidences in Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46), for believers the last judgment will be a display of God’s grace and mercy but for unbelieves the last judgment will be a display of God’s justice (Romans 9:22-23).

In the end, at the last judgment, the righteous will go into everlasting life, and receive the fullness of joy and refreshing from the presence of Christ (Matthew 25:21; Acts 3:19). The wicked, however, will be cast into eternal torment, punished with everlasting destruction away from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power (Romans 2:5-6; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).

WCF 33.3 – The Certainty and Timing of the Last Judgment

That fact that there will be a day of final judgment serves a two-fold purpose for human beings, made in God’s image: (1) to deter all men from sin; (2) to give greater consolation to the godly in their adversity (2 Peter 3:11-14; 2 Corinthians 5:9-10). Likewise, the fact that the timing of the day of judgment is unknown also serves a two-fold purpose for all human beings, made in God’s image: (1) to shake men off of carnal security; (2) to prepare men to pray for Christ’s quick return (Matthew 24:36-44; Mark 13:35-37; Revelation 22:20).

Conclusion

This last chapter of confession doesn’t answer all of our questions about the final judgment. Van Dixhoorn explains:

The focus of this chapter, to the end, is personal, rather than cosmological. What will happen to this planet when the curtain rises on eternity? Will it become a suburb of heaven? A slum of hell? Will it experience a glorious transformation? Will it exist at all? These are among the questions that the confession does not seek to answer – to which could be added theories of millennial rule and the destiny of Jews. Instead of speculation, the final note in this confession of faith is one of persuasion. (Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith, 442)

 

And so, let me also conclude our study of the Westminster Confession of Faith with that apostolic blessing from the last two verses of the Bible: “He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming quickly." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” (Revelation 22:20-21)

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch