The Christian hope is the resurrection, and what a blessed hope it is! Yet the resurrection cannot be considered the Christian's only hope. In fact, without other godly hopes, the hope of the resurrection would be but a selfish ambition. I have to confess that I am exceedingly glad I am saved and that the resurrection is indeed my hope. Yet as I have grown as a believer these past nearly thirty years, I have begun to understand that the Christian life is to be lived for God's purpose and glory, and not to secure my "fire-insurance." Every Christian will be raised to glorious eternal life. If we know our Bible, we can have assurance that the resurrection and eternal life are ours (1 Jn. 5:13). Wonderful! Glorious! But now what? Does God intend for people to get saved and live life eager to exit this world? Is this world merely a holding place for saved sinners until they die and go to Heaven?
Between Now and the Resurrection
What is there between now and the resurrection? The right answers to these questions greatly encourage me in my Christian walk and service. They create in me vision and purpose, hope and motivation to build Christ's kingdom, and help me understand why it is so important to teach diligently and train my children in the ways of God. I hope you sense something of the excitement and passion that stirs my heart when I think about what God is doing and will do on planet Earth prior to the resurrection through the kingdom of Christ.
In order to make clear what I believe the Bible teaches about the future of planet Earth prior to the resurrection, I need to say something about what I believe the Bible does not teach about last things. I believe the Bible does not teach an end-time hope like that being re-popularized through the Left Behind film and books. This popular series teaches a secret rapture, a two-stage second coming of Jesus, and a two-stage resurrection.
Another view of the future, held by a different portion of the body of Christ, believes the world is getting worse and worse. According to this belief, the gospel of Christ will have some success, and the church will be built up to some degree (some even say to a significant degree) yet she will not have much effect on the world. A few people, or maybe even a lot of people get saved, but the church will have minimal success in opposing the flood of evil and darkness coming upon the earth. The final solution will be for God to rescue the church from the whelming darkness and flood of evil by the rapture. I believe this view is also in error.
What then do I believe the Bible teaches about how things on planet Earth will progress before the resurrection? When Jesus came, He planted His kingdom in the earth (Lk. 11:20; 1:32; Ac. 2:30-36; Col. 1:13). Before He returned to heaven He told His disciples, "All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth" (Mt. 28:18). When He ascended to heaven, He sat down on the promised throne of David (Ac. 2:30-36). From there, seated at the right hand of God, He waits until all His enemies are made a footstool for His feet (Heb. 10:12, 13). The last enemy is death, conquered on Resurrection Day (1 Cor. 15:24-26).
Daniel foretold that the planting of the kingdom of God would take place in the days of the Roman Empire, and so it did. Daniel wrote, "In the days of those kings [Roman Empire] the God of Heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever" (Dan. 2:44). This kingdom, Daniel says, will grow into a great mountain and fill the whole earth (Dan. 2:35; 2:45). Jesus illustrated this same truth in the parable of the leaven — the leaven of the kingdom has been inserted into the world and will eventually leaven the whole lump, so that most, if not all, the nations of the world will be made disciples (Mt. 28:18-20; 13:33). God will bless those people and nations that serve King Jesus, and He will remove those people and nations who do not serve the King: "For the nation and the kingdom which will not serve you will perish, and the nations will be utterly ruined" (Isa. 60:12; see also Ps. 2; 72:4, 8-11, 19; 22:27, 28; Isa. 2:2-4).
Jesus is now in the process of subduing His enemies. He will remain in Heaven until the process is complete (no special coming in a secret rapture). Death, the last enemy, is conquered at the last day (Jn. 6:39-40; 6:44, 54; Heb. 10:12, 13; 1 Cor. 15:23-28; Ac. 3:21). When death is conquered there will be a single (general) resurrection in which the dead, both the righteous and the unrighteous, will come forth (Jn. 5:28, 29; 6:39). The righteous are raised to everlasting joy and eternal life, the wicked to everlasting shame and punishment (Mt. 25:46).
Present Day Implications
What are the implications of this? The church of Jesus Christ, though but a seed when it began, has grown to significant proportions. Today about 10% of the world's population is Christian, and Christianity continues to grow. Rather than the world eventually becoming dominated by evil and darkness, the kingdom of Christ will continue to grow (as it has been doing since the Cross), pushing back the powers of darkness, until all of Christ's enemies are under His feet. The struggle of the church against the powers of darkness continues, and though her visual victory waxes and wanes, and though evil may flourish for a season (Ps. 92:7), yet righteousness will spring up and fill the earth (Is. 61:11; 11:9; Hos. 2:14). Abraham's descendants will possess the gates of their enemies (Gen. 22:17; Gal. 3:29). For the "meek shall inherit the earth." And the wicked will also be rewarded, not only at the judgment on the last day, but in the earth as well (Pr. 11:31). As the meek inherit, the wicked are disinherited. The righteous flourish (Ps. 72:4-7; Ps.112), but the wicked, like chaff, are blown away; they are like the grass that sprouts on the roof of a house and withers (Ps. 1; Ps. 129:5-8). Good things are in store for Christ's kingdom, His people, and the church, and all this before the destruction of the last enemy at the resurrection!
So what's the big deal about all this? How you see the future determines how you live today, and how you plan and build for the future (Pr. 6:6-8; Dt. 6:2). If you believe that Jesus is coming any minute to rapture you away, you will tend to live with a short-term-single-generation view of life. If you believe the church will be defeated by evil, or will narrowly escape such defeat by a rapture, you will not be inclined to expect much in the way of victory or advance for her. This will affect how you serve in the kingdom. If on the other hand you believe the church is destined to fill the earth (Dan. 2:44; Lk. 13:21), to triumph over every foe (Gen. 22:17; Heb. 10:12, 13), to crush the head of Satan (Rom. 16:20), that the meek inherit (Mt. 5:5), and the wicked are disinherited (Ps. 37), you will have a different view of life. You will have a different view about possibilities for the future, about what God is willing to do for you, for your children, and for your children's children. In short, you will have a multi-generational view. You will live for bigger things; you will build for the future (Jer. 29:11); you will rejoice that your labor is not in vain in the Lord; and you will rejoice that the Living God is the God who rewards righteousness in this life with blessings of all sorts, and with generational favor and success (Dt. 6:2; Ex. 20:5, 6; Ps. 37).
The good news for the church and the kingdom of Jesus Christ is this — "And the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet...."
I hope you will find time to look up the referenced verses and ponder them. I hope this article will impart something of the hope that we have in the glorious resurrection and God's multi-generational blessing upon our faith and labors. May our heart's cry be that of the Psalmist: "Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; and do confirm for us the work of our hands; Yes, confirm the work of our hands" (Ps. 90:17).
- Eugene Clingman
Eugene Clingman is Executive Administrator of the International Church Council Project (www.churchcouncil.org) a theological effort (of Coalition on Revival) seeking to halt the slide of the evangelical church toward liberalism and compromise. Eugene also works part-time as a representative for an Inc. 500 company (MoreHealthTimeMoney.com).