Editor’s Note: This is the sixth installment in a series of articles exploring the Baptist Faith and Message with the aim of showing the relevance of each doctrine for global missions. See part one here. Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures cited below are from the English Standard Version.
When Christians consider the doctrine of last things, their thoughts tend to go in one of two directions: hope or fear. Our hope is firmly based on Scripture, while fear usually stems from personal sin, the unknown, or concern about the eternal destiny of unbelieving loved ones. The Baptist Faith and Message faithfully conveys what Scripture teaches about last things. But how should Christians feel when they think about Christ’s return? And how should that doctrine affect our missions involvement and strategy today?
Here are five truths that the doctrine of last things reminds us of—all of which impact our sense of urgency to cross cultures with the gospel and to faithfully carry out the Great Commission.
1. The end will come according to God’s plan and time.
When Jesus spoke of his return, he stated that no one except the Father knows the time it will take place (Matt. 24:36). In spite of the fact that Jesus himself did not know when he would return, he was certain that it would happen, and that it would happen according to the Father’s plan. In the same way, the book of Revelation shows a sovereign God guiding all the events of human history so that his plans and purposes are fulfilled.
Until the end comes, though, God’s plan for the church is to take the gospel to the ends of the earth (Matt. 24:14; Acts 1:8). With that said, Matthew 24:14 is not a mathematical formula that states if we just proclaim the gospel among all the peoples of the world, Jesus will immediately return. The date of Christ’s return does not depend upon our missiological effectiveness. In God’s sovereignty, the date is predetermined and unchangeable. The end times began at Pentecost (Acts 2:17), and Matthew 24:14 simply points to sharing the gospel among all nations as a sign of the end times. That is, until Christ returns, the church should consistently and strategically labor to take the gospel to every person on the planet.
“The date of Christ’s return does not depend upon our missiological effectiveness. In God’s sovereignty, the date is predetermined and unchangeable.”
2. Christ’s return is certain.
The New Testament is unwavering in pointing forward to the return of the risen Christ. In fact, even many Old Testament passages paint the picture of a “King of glory” who reigns over the nations with strength and power (Ps. 2:4–12; 24; Dan. 7:13–14). The New Testament clarifies and intensifies this image by showing that Christ will fulfill these promises when he returns (Matt. 24:30–31). At that time, he will reconcile all things to himself (Col. 1:20) and will judge all his enemies (2 Thess. 1:7–10).
Such teaching should be a comfort to all believers. In the early church, these words were used to encourage believers who were facing persecution (1 Thess. 4:18; 5:12; 1 Pet. 1:5) and to convict those who were leading complacent lives (Rev. 2–3). Teaching on the return of Christ helps missionaries prepare new believers to face suffering and not lose hope. For example, Paul spent less than a month in the city of Thessalonica, yet we can see in his letters to the Thessalonian church that he didn’t avoid teaching on end times. His aim was to ground their hope in the certainty of Christ’s return.
3. Every person will face judgment.
Since Scripture teaches that everyone will face judgment when Christ returns (Rom. 2:5; 2 Cor. 5:10; Heb. 9:27), Christians must have a sense of urgency in taking the gospel to the nations. In Revelation 14:6–11, we see three angels announcing the coming judgment. The first angel flies overhead with “an eternal gospel” for all nations. He states, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water” (Rev. 14:7). Reflecting on the coming judgment should indeed lead us to worship. It should also lead us to missions. Many of the world’s people have yet to even hear the name of Christ. Thus, those with the knowledge of Christ must pray and strive to see his name proclaimed to every person on the planet. The core message in missions is warning people of the coming judgment and pointing them to Christ, who alone can save them (Acts 2:40; 17:30–31).
4. Those without a personal relationship with Christ will be consigned to hell.
Eternal life is a gift that only comes through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (John 5:24; Rom. 6:23). Thus, the eternal destiny of those who don’t know Christ is just, eternal punishment. Scripture refers to hell as the “outer darkness” (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30), “eternal fire” (Matt 18:8; 25:41; Jude 7), “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46), and “lake of fire” (Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 14). Scripture also speaks of the torment and anguish of those in that place (Luke 16:28; Rev. 14:11).
The doctrine of hell should cause us to weep for the lost in the world. More than that, it should motivate us to pray more fervently and to work more diligently to see that people have an opportunity to hear the gospel in their heart language.
“The doctrine of hell should cause us to weep for the lost in the world. More than that, it should motivate us to pray more fervently and to work more diligently to see that people have an opportunity to hear the gospel in their heart language.”
5. Believers will enter their reward.
More positively, the BF&M reminds us that when Christ returns, believers will enter their reward. In this sense, Scripture’s teaching about the end times was not written to answer all our possible questions but to encourage us to persevere and to point us forward to the glory that is to come. Such teaching reminds us that when it comes to missions, Christ’s calling is that we would be faithful in the task until he returns. In that sense, regardless of whether someone serves in a harvest field or in a field of rocky soil, that person can look forward to his or her future reward. As Paul’s words remind us, “My beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).
The certainty of Christ’s return and the future punishment for those who are separated from him should remind us of the critical nature of missions. Without the intentional crossing of cultures for the sake of the gospel, the eternal destiny of many people around the world will not change. At the same time, the uncertainty of the timing of Christ’s return reminds us that while there is an urgency to get the gospel to the ends of the earth, we must balance that urgency with the need to do the work well.