We hear so many differing viewpoints today regarding our hope of forever. Some reject the notion that anything physical can be spiritual or godly and on that basis deny our hope of reigning with Christ in a physical kingdom. The Bible, however, flatly rejects such thinking.
As believers seeking God’s wisdom, what does the Bible say about our future? What are the basics that can place us on firm footing amidst the myriad of false teaching that surrounds us today?
Below I list five items that I believe are the rock bottom basics of our biblical hope. For each, I start with the words of Jesus and then provide support from what He also revealed about our future from other places in Scripture.
1. Jesus’ Appearing
If I were to sum up our eternal hope in one word, it would be “Jesus.”
In Matthew 24:44 Jesus said this about His appearing, “Therefore you must be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Moments later, He spoke these words, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (25:13). Jesus instructed us, those who believe in Him, to not only be ready for His return, but to “watch” for it as well. Since He has not yet appeared, these commands remain in effect, do they not?
We see this same expectation of Jesus’ imminent appearing all through the New Testament. Paul repeatedly referred to believers as eagerly waiting for it (1 Cor. 1:7; Gal. 5:5; Phil. 3:20; Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 1:9; Titus 2:11-13). It’s clear that Paul took the Lord’s instruction to heart as he taught his new converts to wait and continually watch for the Lord’s appearing. His new converts eagerly awaited the Lord’s return to take them home.
I believe this imminent hope of Jesus’ appearing indicates that the rapture will happen before the tribulation. Others disagree. Regardless, I believe it’s safe to say that the early saints fixed their ultimate hope on Jesus’ appearing and nothing else, exactly as the apostle Peter instructed them to do (1 Pet. 1:13).
We also see this imminent hope of Jesus’ return in an early writing of the church called The Didache, a document from the early centuries of the church. It quotes Jesus’ words to watch and be ready.
2. An Immortal Body
The New Testament promises that all those in Christ will someday receive an immortal body. Jesus repeatedly promised eternal life to all who would believe in Him (see John 3:16). It’s clear from the Lord’s conversation with Martha in John 11:20-27 that His promise of eternal life consists of a bodily resurrection.
Paul leaves no doubt regarding this hope in 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”
The apostle added this in Philippians 3:20-21, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Someday the Lord will transform our current “lowly” bodies into glorious ones resembling that of our Savior.
Those who deny our future bodily resurrection (or our glorious transformation if we are alive at Jesus’ appearing) are false teachers. The Lord promises us immortal and imperishable bodies at His appearing. Do not anyone steal this hope from you through a blatant distortion of the Gospel.
3. Judgment of the Ungodly
God judges the ungodly. We see this all through the Old Testament and no one in the Bible warns us more about the existence of hell than Christ Himself. Jesus plainly tells us that hell will be a place of “outer darkness” where there “will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 25:30). The Lord further described hell in Matthew 25:46 as a place of “eternal punishment.”
Revelation 20:11-15 describes the final judgment of God where all those who reject Christ on earth are “thrown into the lake of fire.” I know it’s increasingly popular to deny the existence of hell, but those who do so contradict the clear teaching of our Lord as well as of the Word of God. Revelation 6-16 shows how the Lord will pour out His wrath on sinful humanity even before this final judgment.
Why is God’s judgment of the ungodly a key aspect of our hope? It assures us that the Lord will deal with the wickedness we see growing exponentially around us and bring about His reign of righteousness upon the earth. Would heaven really be such a wondrous place with evil people spreading their wickedness, violence, and murder as they do today? Absolutely not! Jesus will forever vanquish them, along with Satan and his demons, before the eternal state begins.
Jesus will forever reign in righteousness. Is this not essential to our hope? Oh yes!
4. A Physical Reign with Christ in His Kingdom
Our future reign with Christ in His kingdom is not a fringe belief as many claim today, but a basic biblical hope for our future.
In his book Heaven, Randy Alcorn said this about our future reign with Christ in His kingdom, “Nothing demonstrates how far we’ve distanced ourselves from our biblical calling like our lack of knowledge about our destiny to rule the earth.”
In Luke 22:29-30 Jesus said this, “And I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in the kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (see also Matt. 19:28). The eating and drinking depicts this as a physical kingdom where we will reign with Jesus.
In Jesus’ parable recorded in Luke 19:11-27, what was the result of faithful service? The Lord rewarded the faithful with authority over cities, something both tangible and physical.
In 1 Corinthians 6:1 Paul asks, “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” In ancient times, they did not have the separation of powers that exists today in many governments. Kings also performed the task of judging their subjects. In this context, Paul is saying that someday we as saints will have kingly responsibilities over the world.
In Revelation 5:9-10, the elders seated before God’s throne also refer to the rule of the redeemed on the earth, “. . . for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
I believe our reign with Christ includes the one thousand year reign of Christ that begins after His return to earth and extends throughout all eternity (Rev. 21-22). Jesus will bind Satan during the millennium before vanquishing him for all eternity before the eternal state begins.
5. Life in the Eternal State, Our Future Heaven
Revelation chapters 21-22 speak of a new earth, recreated after the pattern of the one we know, and a new heaven (where the stars reside). This is the time of which Jesus says, “Behold, I am making all things new” (21:5). In this eternal state, our future heaven or paradise, a huge city referred to as the “New Jerusalem” will descend all the way down to earth (21:9-27). God Himself will reside in this glorious city and I believe the saints of all the ages will also have a home there.
Revelation 21:4 sums up our hope of this time, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” This is what the prophet Isaiah looked forward to when he described a great feast that the Lord will someday make for us (25:6-10).
What will the servants of the Lamb do in this eternal state? The angel that showed John the New Jerusalem said this about their future, “. . . and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:5).
I believe that along with having a residence in the New Jerusalem, we will also exercise authority in some way on the new earth.
As believers, we have a spectacular future that begins with Jesus’ appearing and his transformation of our lowly bodies to be just like His. We will rule with Christ forever and ever in our imperishable bodies enjoying all the wonders of eternity, including a beautifully restored earth.
Can it get any better than this? No, it absolutely cannot get better than what is ahead for us!