WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
by the Revd Dr Rohintan Mody
Lecturer in New Testament
Evangelical Theological College of Asia
All human beings are created by God in his image to have an interest in the future, to have goals in mind, to have expectations of the future, whether optimistic or pessimistic, and to plan for the future. So, at the moment, many in the country are expecting that this Christmas will be better and freer than last Christmas. Non-Christians, in particular are fearful about the future: about climate change and the world becoming unliveable. Hollywood trades on fears about the future, making one disaster movie after another of what might happen (climate catastrophe, evil aliens invading the world, nuclear war, etc.)
Yet, as Christians, we live in hope – not a hope like unbelievers who “hope” for a better 2022: but an absolute, certain assurance that God’s Kingdom in Christ will triumph in the future. Traditionally, Christian theology has called this doctrine of the future “eschatology” – meaning what the Bible expects shall happen about the future and the End of our present fallen universe. This doctrine, for the sake of clarity has been divided in the “four last things”: Death, the Last judgement, Hell, and Heaven. I will deal with them in that order.
The BCP well summarises the Bible’s view in the famous words from the funeral service:
Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.
In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased?
The bible teaches that we will all die, just a flower than grows up and lives a brief time withers and then dies (only Enoch, Elijah, and the generation of the last day will escape it.) Therefore, as Christians we must meditate and prepare ourselves for our own future deaths (if the Lord tarries). Moses puts it best in Ps 90:
O teach us to number our days: that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
Death is God’s judgement on our sin (Gen 3), so as Christians we must ponder the sentence of Death against us, but even more rejoice that Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins, in our place, on the cross (Rom 3:21-26.)
The Last Judgement:
Yet the thing that should really terrify us about the future is not such things like climate change or the pandemic or even physical death, but facing God in Christ on Judgement Day. Advent is about the church looking forward to Christ’s second coming, joining the first coming at Christmas with his second coming. The Bible tells us that after our deaths, we will face judgement from God when Jesus Christ returns physically from heaven in great glory (1 Thess 4; 2 Thess 2). That will be the great Day of God’s Wrath (Zeph 3.) On that Day, we will be judged on the basis of our works:
But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works: (Romans 2:5-6.)
God’s Law will judge us, and the only ones who will be able to escape God’s Judgement will be those who have received the grace of Christ, have their sins covered, are found to be united with Christ’s righteousness, and have responded by the gift of faith alone in Christ alone, as seen in lives of persevering faith (Rom 1:17; Heb 10:23-31.) So, the second coming means the salvation and deliverance of the church from all the miseries of this world.
But what of those who have not trusted in Christ alone for their salvation? Despite, a great deal of controversy about universalism (the salvation of all) or annihilation (the extermination of unbelievers), the Bible is clear: The sentence on nonbelievers is very dark and sombre: it is eternal punishment in hell:
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ (Mark 9:45-48)
Please notice here that it is the Lord Jesus himself who speaks, quoting and affirming Scripture. Jesus is both the cosmic, divine Judge and the kind, gracious, loving, divine Saviour. Jesus speaks of hell more than anyone else in the whole Bible because He (together with the Father, and the Holy Spirit) has ordained it as an unending revelation of the perfect justice of God for all those who have rebelled against his infinite majesty, and Jesus exhorts to take radical action to avoid it by faith in him.
Yet by God’s divine grace alone some have been chosen not for the hell they deserve, but for heaven itself, the place where God Himself shall dwell in eternal felicity and joy with His People in a New Creation:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Rev 21:1-2.)
This shall be the divine marriage that has been prepared since Genesis 1. This shall be the goal and consummation of God’s eternal masterplan for the cosmos. Pain, death, suffering, and mourning shall all have passed away. Yet, the best part of this heavenly place, shall be the very direct presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. We shall see and enjoy him for all eternity.
What shall we say about these things? There is no better way to conclude our short exploration of the future than to quote the Word of God:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)