What Every Christian Must Know about the Future

Volume 30, Issue 3, March 2024

by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor/Teacher Southern View Chapel

The Ligonier/Lifeway survey on the State of Theology 2022 did not even ask people’s views about the future or end times. Most people care little about the future because they are fixated on today. They live by the motto #YOLO (you only live once). Alisa Childers gives a good example of this motto in her book Live Your Truth and Other Lies:

I was smacked in the face with this idea one night when a television commercial came on during my favorite primetime show. It began with a confusingly happy song playing underneath a funeral procession in which a sad-looking young man marched through the snow as another man looked at his watch. (Because funerals are so boring?) The scene cut to a car skidding away from the graveside as the young man with the watch drove to a trendy exclusive club filled with live music, liquor, and beautiful women. A song blaring above the dancing, drinking, laughing, and flirting urged the revelers to have fun; “it’s later than you think.” Then the slogan, “You have a single life” flashed on the screen as the product, a single-malt whiskey, came into focus. The clear message of the ad was that nothing will remind you of your mortality more clearly than a funeral, and at some point, every one of us will be in that casket. One day you’ll be six feet underground, so live it up. Because #YOLO.[1]

Thirty years ago, those connected to the seeker-sensitive church growth movement, such as Lee Strobel from Willow Creek at the time, suggested that when we evangelize, we should no longer ask people about where they think they will spend eternity after they die, which had been a common question in the past. You might recall James Kennedy’s Evangelism Explosion from the 1970s, which taught Christians to open evangelistic conversations with these words: “If you were to die tonight and the Lord asked you why should I let you into heaven, what would you say?”

However, this approach became ineffective, we have been told because people no longer care about such issues; they are concerned about their happiness, purpose, success, health, etc. Sadly, banking off such ideas, many began to reshape the gospel into Christ’s offer to give us our every want if we would only turn to Him. In the process, the gospel message was mutilated (and few seemed to notice) from the good news of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God through the cross-work of Christ, to the false message that Jesus came to fulfill our every felt need and keep us happy, prosperous, and successful to boot.

In addition, churches, and many Christians, have relegated eschatology (the doctrine about the end times) to a second or third-order doctrine, which they have decided is not important and only divides Christians. It has become easier to ignore the subject than to debate it. Few churches’ or missions’ doctrinal statements now include a position on views about the end times, although most agree that Jesus is coming back, and Christians will spend eternity with Him.

One more thing has undermined the doctrine of end times, and that was the overemphasis on the return of Christ, especially by the date-setters. Popular authors and preachers began promising the Lord would return by such-and-such date, and after a while, people simply burned out on the whole subject and lost interest. Chuck Smith predicted Christ’s return by 1981; Hal Lindsay, Edgar Whisenant, John Hagee, and numerous others set similar dates.

But regardless of the abuse, the Bible spends a great deal of time talking about the future, and for us to simply ignore what the Bible teaches about any subject is not an option God’s people can take. The future, if the Bible has anything to say about it, does matter.  What does every person, including every Christian, need to know about the future? The answer to this question is especially relevant in an age of great turmoil and uncertainty. We will pinpoint several things about the future that God would have us know.

Christ is Coming Back

Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus (Titus 2:13)

Christians of all stripes, backgrounds, denominations, and traditions uniformly agree that Christ is returning to earth someday to set up His kingdom. Paul terms this event as our blessed hope, for it is the joyful hope of all believers that the world will not continue indefinitely in sin but will be radically transformed. Romans 8:18-25 fleshes out what will happen when the blessed hope arrives:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

In this text, we learn that because of the corrupting nature of sin, the whole physical universe, and everything and everyone in it, has been polluted by sin.

By becoming a Christian, we do not escape the effects of sin, but we are given resources to handle life God’s way amidst sin’s scandalous influence. One of these resources is having an eternal perspective. If we are to live, in a godly manner, as God intends in this world, with all of its struggles and sufferings, we will need to develop an eternal perspective. If we fixate on the troubles that surround us, and frankly are within us, we will live in fear and anxiety. How do we then develop an eternal perspective? Paul gives us two instructions:

Consider (Romans 8:18) This word literally speaks of numerical calculations. As used here, it refers to reaching a settled conclusion by careful study and reasoning. Now, what is it that we are to consider?  That the sufferings we are going to endure while on this earth (and he does not minimize the sufferings) are not worthy to be compared with our future glory (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:17 “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison”). We must consider this truth in light of our sojourn on earth and our future “weight of glory.”

Live out the truth (Romans 8:19-25) It is one thing to know the truth Paul has just revealed; it is quite another to live it. You could question almost any dried-up ol’ Christian, and he would tell you that he knows that heaven will be far superior to life on this earth, and he hopes to go there when he dies; after all, the alternative of hell is not too appealing. But does he live as if he truly believes what he professes? One of the themes Paul develops in Romans is that as Christians we have already been given great riches—but these are only a foretaste of better things to come.

My wife and I recently took two teenage grandsons on a vacation to the canyons in southern Utah. Prior to our trip, I did substantial research, watching videos, reading travel manuals, exploring sites and opportunities that awaited us. But nothing prepared me for the real beauty and splendor that we experienced when we actually arrived. My research had given me a preview, but boots on the ground took everything to a different level.

Similarly, we are already God’s children, but we do not yet see Him face to face. We are already heirs but have not yet received our full inheritance. We are already glorified but have not yet been accorded our final glory.

Today, we groan (vv. 22-23), but we live in hope (vv. 20, 24, 25) and long for what the Lord has planned for us. And what is God’s plan for the future? We are eagerly waiting for the Lord to right all wrongs (8:25). If you are presently eagerly waiting for anything such as marriage, kids, graduation, retirement, or vacation; you know that you are excited, anticipating, the reality of the future. If you are eagerly waiting for the Lord’s future plans to unfold, what is the process? What exactly are we waiting for?

The Rapture

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

The rapture describes the event whereby Christ comes to catch up the New Testament believers to be with Him forever. When Christ comes for His church, the souls of dead believers will come with Him to be rejoined with their resurrected and glorified bodies. In verses 16-17, concerning the rapture of the church, we are told 8 things that will happen at this event:

  1. Christ Himself will descend from heaven to the clouds but not to the earth.
  2. He will come with a shout. The word shout here means an order or command.  It is the command for the church to be gathered, much as Jesus called Lazarus to “come forth” in John 11:43.
  3. The voice of the archangel will accompany Him. The word archangel is used only here and in Jude 9, where Michael is called the archangel.
  4. With the trumpet of God. Under the Old Testament Law, when God “came down,” as it were, to meet with His people, this meeting was announced by a trumpet blast (Exodus 19:16 reads, “So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled”).
  5. The dead in Christ shall rise first.
  6. Living Christians will be changed (1 Corinthians 15:52) and caught up. “Caught-up” means “to seize by a sudden irresistible power, snatched up into the air.” It is from this word that we get our word “rapture,” which is the Latin translation.
  7. We will meet the Lord in the air. 
  8. We shall always be with the Lord.

The Second Coming

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS (Revelation 19:11-16).

At the Second Coming, in contrast to the rapture, rather than calling His people to Himself in the air, Christ comes to the earth with the saints and defeats all His enemies. Living saints are then ushered into the kingdom without transformation (Revelation 20:3). Christ’s kingdom will at that point be set up on the earth, in which He will rule for 1000 years (Revelation 20:4b-6). Following is one final great battle with Satan and the forces of evil, in which Satan is totally defeated (Revelation 20:7-10), which is followed by the final judgment of all those who have rejected Christ as Savior (Revelation 20:11-15), after which the eternal kingdom is set up (Revelation 21:1-5).

The Eternal Destiny of the Lost (Revelation 20:11-15)

Hell is a subject that no one wants to talk about. Liberal theologian Martin Marty once exclaimed that hell disappeared at some point around 1960, and no one noticed:[2] “No one could say for certain when this happened.  First, it was there, then it wasn’t.”[3]  One Harvard Divinity School professor claimed that hell has been in decline for 400 years and is now so diminished that the process is irreversible: “I don’t think there can be a future for hell.”[4] But before we dismiss hell, we had better take a look at what God has to say about it. Popular views and sensitivities about hell matter not; what does matter is God’s revelation. God says hell is a place that is itself cast into the lake of fire just before Christ sets up the eternal kingdom.

It would appear that hell is the place of spiritual punishment for the lost (see Luke 16:19-31), while the lake of fire is the place of physical judgment. The eternal destiny of the unbeliever is spiritual and physical condemnation. While we cannot know with certainty the nature of hell, we do know that it is a place of destruction, ruin, and eternal separation from the presence of God (2 Thessalonians 1:9). It is a place of darkness, fear, and judgment. And we know that our destinies are set at the moment of death (“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27)). There is no reprieve from hell. It is a fearful thing to consider, yet few do, and fewer take it seriously. Several years ago, a study revealed that while 70% of Americans believed in heaven and think they have a good chance of getting there, only about 50% believed in hell, and only .005% thought they would go there.[5] Talk about spiritual blindness.

Dante in his classic poem, The Divine Comedy, placed a sign over the entryway to hell which read, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Dante had it right. Hell, ultimately, is a place devoid of hope and full of despair.

The Eternal Destiny of the Redeemed

We have to distinguish the destiny of the believer at death from our eternity home:

The Intermediate State

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore, we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him (2 Corinthians 5:1-9).

At the moment of death, the believer’s spirit goes into the presence of the Lord, while their bodies remain on the earth. Our spirits will go to a place described by Paul as our home, in which we are conscious and aware, but where we do not possess a physical body. Our abode will be heaven.

The Eternal State

There is much that we don’t know about our life in eternity, perhaps because we could not comprehend much about its glory. Here are a few things we do know, however:

  • We will be at home with the Lord (“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3)). Dorothy said, “There is no place like home,” and most of us would agree. The longer we live, and the further we roam, the more we long to go home. Older saints will often talk about being homesick for a place they have never been.
  • We will be at rest (“So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:9-11); “And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, ‘Write, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!”’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them’” (Revelation 14:13)). This does not mean we will do nothing, but there will no longer be the anxiety and uncertainty that often attends what we do on earth.
  • We will live in comfort (“But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony’” (Luke 16:25)). In this life, we will have trouble; the Lord promised as much (John 16:33), but the next life will be characterized by comfort, not trouble, peace, not anxiety, joy not sorrow.
  • We will be holy and sinless (“and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27)). Eternal life in the presence of God would not be possible if we were still sinners or if sin could infiltrate us or our eternal home.
  • We will retain our identity (“‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (Matthew 22:32)). In our eternal state, we will not lose our personalities or identities. We will be ourselves, minus our sin nature and our sinful ways.
  • We will have expanded knowledge (“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12)). We will not be omniscient, but the blinders will be removed, and we will see clearly. All the barriers that now obstruct our view of God and truth will be gone.
  • In some sense, we will be like Christ (“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2)).

Finally, we want to address where we live eternally and what our new home will be like. Revelation 21-22 is the key text on this subject. It should be noted that while the Lord will create a new heaven and a new earth, we will actually be living in the New Jerusalem, which will reside on the new earth. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband” (21:1-2). This means that our home in eternity will be in a new city, on a new earth, free from the curse that is on it now. We will live on earth, but it will be on a renewed, regenerated earth, far superior to the earth today. God Himself will dwell among us. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them’” (21:3). This is in fulfillment of Jesus’s promise in John 14:3 in which He said, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am there you may be also.” In addition, we will be free from the curse that now is on every created thing or person on the planet (21:4).

Our lives with the Lord will be so wonderful, that it can only be described by negatives: no longer any death, mourning, crying, or pain; the first things have passed away (21:5).

Conclusion

The last page of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series gives a beautiful conclusion of what awaited the main characters in the books. It seems to be a fitting description of what lies in store for the child of God.

And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.


[1] Alisa Childers, Live Your Truth and Other Lies: Exposing Popular Deceptions That Make Us Anxious, Exhausted, and Self-Obsessed (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2022), p. 93.

[2] Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 149 #595, July 1992, p. 325, “Gehenna in the Synoptics.”

[3] Whatever Happened to Hell? by John Blanchard, p. 15.

[4] Ibid., p. 16.

[5] Brian McLaren, The Last Word and the Word After That (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2005), p. 104.

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