Introduction: It Was 4 A.M.
Life is now a battle and a journey. . . Life is a desperate quest through dangerous country to a destination that is, beyond all our wildest hopes, indescribably good.[i]
It was 4 a.m. I remained seated on the ground with my back leaning against the outside wall of the church building where I once was the pastor. I had arrived at this spot six hours earlier to cry out to the Lord for help in the midst of my painful circumstances. Tears continued to flow down my face. They had not stopped all night.
Five years earlier, I had begun my ministry at this church with much excitement. I loved being a pastor! I had plans, goals, and a determination to accomplish great things for the Lord. Perhaps this self-focused ambition blinded me to the dark storm clouds gathering overhead and to the growing opposition to both me and my ministry. On second thought, I’m sure it did.
As I now look back, I realize I did not truly seek the Lord that night. I blamed him for the betrayal, the rejection, and distress I felt. I was angry with God. I believed he had abandoned me. (Now I know he was closer than ever during this time in my life.)
My tears accomplished little that night. I was proud and unwilling to look for what the Lord might be teaching me through the varied misfortunes that had come my way.
Despite loving to teach about prophecy as a young pastor, I quickly lost sight of my eternal hope during this time as the as the fierce storms battered against my soul.
I wanted to run far away from the Lord, his people, the church, and from what life seemed to be. However, because of my total certainty that Jesus had risen from the grave, I realized I had nowhere to go if I ran. He alone was and is my life and thankfully I never lost sight of that.
Despite my confidence in Jesus’ resurrection, I allowed fear to replace hope, embraced my troubles instead of the Lord’s love for me, and chose my solutions over God’s paths. I responded to calamity as though this world was my ultimate home.
Eventually, I realized that mere head knowledge of my future hope could not sustain me during turbulent times. I discovered that my expectation of Jesus’ return needed to touch my heart and become the lens through which I saw my life rather than a set of facts filed away in a corner of my mind under “I know this already.” As a young pastor, I had become adept at ignoring that file folder during times of turmoil.
Even now as I write, I still sense this same inclination to ignore the joys of eternity.
Paul David Tripp aptly describes this disconnect:
It is an item on each of our theological outlines, but we don’t actually live as though we believe it. We all say that we believe that this is not all there is. We say we really do believe that there is life after this one ends. Our formal theology contains the fact of a new heaven and a new earth to come. But we tend to live with the anxiety and drivenness that come when we believe that all we have is this moment.[i]
I think we can all identify with this assessment; at times we fret as though this life is really all we have. We desperately need reminders of our thrilling hope.
Jesus is coming to take us home, but that is just the start of the joyous plans he has for us as believers. We will reign with him in his kingdom and dwell forever in the New Jerusalem.
We have so much more than this moment, this short lifespan that passes by so quickly. God’s loving purpose in saving us was not just to deliver us from hell, but to shower his grace upon us forevermore. We will experience his kindness throughout the “coming ages” (see Eph. 2:4-7).
There will be no end to our joy once we are with the Lord.
We study prophecy to draw our attention to our glorious future, to the specifics of our eternal hope. Jesus promised to prepare a place for us and someday take us there to be with him forever (John 14:2-3).
Why wouldn’t we want to know as much as possible about what the Lord has revealed about his appearing and our eternal hope?
Maybe you are reading this book as someone with a basic understanding of what Scripture teaches about our future hope, but you soon forget these truths in the midst of personal storms or neglect your hope as you watch the world around you fall apart. Perhaps you are not as familiar with biblical teachings on prophecy and yet you feel the disappointment that comes from placing your hope in the things of this life. You feel the anxiety that results from living solely for the moment.
If you can relate to any of these frustrations, The Thrill of Hope is for you!
The study of future things, also referred to as eschatology, is not simply for theologians or for scholarly classroom debates; it’s something meant to encourage us each day as we step out of bed, to give us hope in midst of the worst disappointments of this life.
A forward look to the joy before us in eternity brings its comfort back into our present lives and delivers us from many of the worries that so often steal our peace.
A Loss of Excitement in Jesus’ Appearing
We have so much with which to be excited, but so often we lose our anticipation of Jesus’ appearing to take us home. Why does this happen? Why do even seasoned students of
As Paul David Tripp pointed out, it’s easy to live as though this moment is all we have. We get up, go to work, return home, eat, and do a hundred different things throughout the day that focus our attention on this life.
It’s not that we must concentrate solely on eternity all day long; we would never get anything done at work or at home. But so often we go about our daily routines with a one-world perspective seemingly oblivious to the wonders and joys ahead for us in eternity. Why do we so often live as though we have no hope beyond the grave?
I believe this happens for a variety of reasons:
Misconceptions: How often have you seen depictions of lonely glorified believers sitting on clouds strumming harps? With such a caricature of eternity, it’s no wonder believers lose their eagerness for heaven. Such a picture dampens our anticipation and understandably so.
Better to live for the moment than wait for an eternity of loneliness sitting on a cloud somewhere in the sky.
Scripture, however, tells us we will reign with Christ in his earthly kingdom and then forevermore throughout eternity. Doesn’t that sound more exciting than the popular misconceptions of heaven?
I love the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, but someday we will be so much more than aspiring angels jumping into icy waters to earn our wings. Scripture says we will “judge angels” (1 Cor. 6:3). I am not sure of all that implies, but it certainly distinguishes us from them and speaks to a much more amazing future than displayed by Hollywood.
As we will examine in a later chapter, the New Jerusalem will be spectacular beyond what we can imagine; its beauty difficult to put into language. We will dwell there for all eternity.
“I’ve heard that before:” Back in the 1960s’ and 1970’s, eschatology became a hot topic. Many churches emphasized the imminent return of Jesus. I remember Jack Van Impe coming to my church to teach on prophecy for an entire week.
As time has passed, however, believers have lost their expectancy of Jesus’ return. Having watched for it for so long, I understand the sentiment that finds it difficult to remain hopeful of his imminent appearing as the decades go by. We have heard it all before and nothing has happened. As a result, it’s easy to give up on our expectations understandably so.
However, as we see prophecy begin to be fulfilled in our world today, if there was ever a time to be watchful, it is now! The signs increasingly point to Jesus’ soon appearing.
Silence: Unfortunately, rather than increase their focus on Jesus’ return as the signs of his return multiply around us, churches remain mostly silent on the subject.
Murky references to eternal life do not stir our hearts or relieve anxiety over what we see around us. John Eldredge said this in his book Desire, “C.S. Lewis summed it up, ‘We can only hope for what we desire.’ No desire, no hope.” Eldredge then added, “Bland assurances of the sweet by-and-by don’t inflame the soul.”[ii] This is why we need a renewed focus on what Scripture reveals about the joys ahead for us rather than bland allusions to heaven.
Without this vision, it’s difficult to imagine heaven can be better than IPhones, smart TV’s, electronically-equipped cars, comfortable homes, and a host of other items that add enjoyment and comfort to our everyday lives. It’s quite easy for these things to become our hope rather than eternity.
Teaching without a two-world perspective: When churches ignore a biblical two-world perspective, they can unwittingly make things such as happy marriages, good parenting, and wise financial planning, our ultimate hope rather than Jesus’ return for us. Of course, biblically-centered teaching on topics such as these is essential. Without a two-world perspective integrated into such instruction, however, they can easily become our hope rather than Jesus’ appearing.
The danger comes from focusing our hope on temporal results where so many factors, including the sinful choices of ourselves and others, negatively impact the outcomes we so greatly desire. The New Testament teaches believers to expect difficult times in this life (James 1:2-3; 1 Pet. 1:6, 4:12-13). Scripture promises us paradise in eternity, not now. We set ourselves up for great disappointment when we define anything in this life as our ultimate source of satisfaction.
When we live as though this life is all we have, we lose a key Gospel encouragement for enduring the tragedies of this life.
A Loss of Comfort for Troubled Times
Hebrews 6:18-19 says, “so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain.” I believe our “anchor” equates to the “hope set before us” including such things as our anticipation of the Lord’s return, the millennial kingdom, and eternity.
These things sustain and comfort us during times of loss and suffering. Tim Keller in his book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, said, “There is nothing more practical for sufferers than to have hope. The erosion or loss of hope is what makes suffering unbearable.”[iii] A lack of focus on eternity robs us of a great source of comfort during times of sorrow.
Keller quoted from African-American scholar Howard Thurman’s 1947 lecture at Harvard University. In this speech, Dr. Thurman answered criticisms regarding the Negro spirituals. Some argued that the songs were too “otherworldly” thus making the slaves “docile and too resigned to their condition.” Thurman, however, argued that what the slaves believed and knew about their Christian faith and eternity enabled them to endure their slavery.[iv]
The slaves sang about God’s coming judgment of the wicked, Jesus’ return, and the new heavens and earth. “They knew that eventually all their desires would be fulfilled and that no perpetrator of injustice was going to get away with anything—that all wrongdoing would be put down. And that was a hope that no amount of oppression could extinguish. Why? Because their hope was not in the present but in the future.”[v]
The specifics of Bible prophecy sustained the slaves in the midst of dreadful circumstances. Can you imagine their despair if they thought this life, this moment, was all they had? Yet so many Christians live as if this is the case.
Last evening in the small group I help lead, dear friends of my wife and I shared a video of their granddaughter, Avery, who died of cancer a year ago. Doctors diagnosed the cancer days after Avery turned one. For a little more than a year Avery endured chemotherapy and long hospital stays as she bravely battled the cancer that relentlessly overwhelmed her little body. On October 24, 2015, Avery went home to be with Jesus after a year of great suffering.
As we watched Avery’s brief life displayed through pictures, we shared in the grief of her grandparents. We cannot understand the reasons why her life ended so quickly, but we know cancer is not the end of her story. Avery is with the Lord now and someday her family will again enjoy her presence and see her smile.
For Avery’s grandparents, the truths of God’s Word regarding eternity are anything but dry theology. They are words of life and comfort that mean everything in the world to them as they remember their dear Avery.
They experienced much pain watching their granddaughter suffer as she endured the ravages of both the cancer and chemotherapy; now they look forward to again hearing her laughter and feeling her hugs.
The words of Revelation 21:4 kept coming to my mind as we watched the video of Avery, “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.” What a contrast to the suffering, death, and sorrow we so often see in this life.
Who can understand why precious little children such as Avery endure the painful affliction of cancer? How can we possibly deal with such tragedies without focusing on the better day that is coming for all who believe in Christ?
This is why I write. My desire is to show how our joyous anticipation of eternity comforts us in the midst of grief and relieves the deepest of anxieties that come from living in a world full of sorrow, pain, and frustrations.
[i] Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies – A daily Gospel Devotional (Wheaton: Crossway 2014), March 11
[ii] Eldredge, pp. 64-65
[iii] Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (Riverhead Books, New York, 2013), p. 313
[iv] Ibid. p. 315
Hope Versus Our Fears
We were created to live in a forever relationship with a forever God forever. We were designed to live based on a long view of life. We were made to live with one eye on now and one eye on eternity. You and I simply cannot live as we were put together without forever.
Paul David Tripp
As Steve Green introduced his next song, the Lord spoke these words to my heart, “Jonathan, this is for you.” After that, it seemed as though the crowded auditorium was strangely empty and Steve was singing In Brokenness You Shine just to me.
The lyrics pierced my soul that evening back in 2005 and began a process through which the Lord healed the deep wounds of my past and calmed my troubled heart.
Here is how my journal entry began after hearing In Brokenness You Shine:
Imagine a glass vase broken into hundreds of pieces scattered about on the floor. Humanly speaking, that is my life right now. My hopes and dreams have all been shattered. The person I thought I was or could become is all gone. Everything in my life is broken; I am broken – reduced to emotions I do not understand and a life I do not want. My hopes, dreams, and aspirations are like the pieces of glass from the vase lying on the floor, shattered beyond recognition and any hope of restoration. . .
But last night Steve Green sang a song about the Lord’s beauty shining or showing itself best in our brokenness. How can that be? What can God do with a shattered, despised, and broken vessel? How can he make the scattered pieces shine again?
Something resonated deep in my heart that evening as I heard Steve Green sing. The perspective of eternity began overshadowing the past events of my life. Here is how I concluded the entry in my journal:
The pain and guilt that I feel are intense. I could have made better choices. I could have been stronger. I could have done a thousand things better and nobler. But does it really matter now? Was not God the One who ultimately engineered the shattering of my hopes and my current broken condition?
And if that is true, then I have to believe that God’s purpose for me is still alive and well. This is not the path I would have chosen for my life, but then again, God asks us to trust and lean not on our own understanding. He also promises to work everything for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
So it comes down to three words: I Still Believe!
Despite the shattering of dreams, I still believe God can work his purposes through me–mine is not to wonder how or why.
Despite my brokenness, I still believe in a God of healing and restoration.
Despite the ugliness of my current situation, I still believe the Lord’s beauty is shining somehow and will shine in the brokenness.
Despite hearing no to many of my prayers, I still believe he hears me and has my absolute best interests at heart.
Despite the loss of all my aspirations, I still believe the Lord has wonders in store for me in this life and especially in eternity that will far exceed all my dreams.
Despite the shame, regrets, and wild emotions, I still believe Christ will one day show off his righteousness in me for all to see.
Despite the rejection I feel, I still believe the God of this universe loves me.
Despite the fear I feel, I still believe I am safe and secure in God’s arms. He is my rock and strong tower.
I STILL BELIEVE!!
The Lord’s complete healing of my past wounds did not immediately follow the writing of these words; I still had much to absorb and learn in the months and years ahead. My declaration of belief did, however, set my heart on another reality, an eternal outlook, which brought a much needed change to my perspective and healing to the deep recesses of my heart.
The words to In Brokenness You Shine stress believing the Lord to “bring hope alive” while enduring brokenness and turmoil in this life (see appendix 1 for the lyrics). For me, that meant trusting God’s promises of great blessings in eternity. A two-world perspective came to life again in my soul.
As a result of the Lord’s speaking to my heart that evening, eternity increasingly became the lens through which I saw my everyday life.
My renewed confidence did not consist of believing my situation would improve. At the time, I doubted my circumstances in this life would ever change for the better. I found relief, however, in a new perspective that brought my anticipation of eternity into the moment as I connected my future in eternity with my current circumstances. My perspective changed as I gave priority to the unseen realities over the temporal misfortunes of my life.
If nothing else, I knew the God of this universe loved me and would never forsake me. His love became the starting point and eventually the culmination of my healing. If nothing in this life turned out the way I desired, I knew the Lord’s care for me meant he had wonders in store for me in eternity far beyond what I could ever imagine.
The study of prophecy (many of you may already be recoiling at those words, but please don’t give up yet) invigorates our hope in a way that brings comfort in the midst of pain, calm in the midst of turmoil, and peace in the midst of panic.
My turmoil the night I heard In Brokenness You Shine stemmed from both past and current misfortunes, entrenched fears, a deeply wounded heart, and a future I dreaded. As the Lord worked to transform my temporal outlook on life, he also healed the deep lesions of my soul at the root of so many of my apprehensions.
Trusting what Scripture promises us relieves our worries; it acts as a salve for our most troublesome anxieties.
Salve for Our Anxieties
Before the Lord spoke to me that night, I doubted the Lord could have any purpose for the grief and loss I had experienced. What could he possibly do with my mistakes, my sins, and the sins of others against me, which I mistakenly believed had ruined my life? I thought my life was broken beyond repair.
The song, In Brokenness You Shine, reminded me of God’s eternal purposes for all we endure as believers regardless of the source of our pain. I found peace in my soul knowing the Lord was working through my sorrow in ways I could not fully understand. He would somehow make the broken pieces of my life shine again although at the time I could not imagine how.
It’s difficult to escape the grip of our apprehensions if we cannot see beyond this life.
Regardless of what we experience, our lives here are not meaningless. In the midst of pain it’s so easy to think we have blown it and God cannot use the brokenness in our lives. What could he possibly do with the shattered pieces of our lives?
But when we look at what Scripture tells us about eternity, we see a different story. We are never beyond the healing touch of the Savior or outside the reach of his everlasting design for our lives.
It’s not enough, however, to simply believe in the Lord’s return for us or even to acknowledge our hope of heaven. Believing these things did not keep me from despair when the fierce storms ravaged my life. I needed to connect my faith regarding eternity with the turmoil in my soul.
The Lord’s return and all the prophetic events described in the Bible are not meant to scare us. They represent the Savior’s deep and lasting love for those who belong to him. They reveal the glorious future he is preparing for us.
This is the future tense of the Gospel message. His intent is to forever show us the kindness of his grace.
Paul wrote this in Romans 8:23, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” The long awaited completion of our salvation comes when Jesus appears to take us home and gives us immortal bodies that will life forever. This represents the completion of Jesus’ promises to us revealed in the Gospel.
Our future blessings represent the finishing of our salvation. Jesus died on the cross so we could have forgiveness for our sins, experience victory over sins in this life, and be set free from the presence of sin when Jesus comes for us and our joyous eternity begins.
Why Do We so Often Ignore our Joyous Hope?
As we look at our wondrous future, it’s not cold facts or meaningless theology. It’s the completion of our redemption and a wondrous and joyous eternity that begins with Jesus’ return to take us home to his Father’s house (John 14:2-3).
As such, I believe Jesus wants us to know the things he has prepared for us as his church, his bride. New Testament prophecy represents a key aspect of the Lord’s love story for us. Almost every epistle refers to our eager anticipation of Jesus’ appearing to take us home to forever be with him.
Why would we want to ignore it or not talk about our amazing future hope?
Imagine a man, a few months before the wedding ceremony, explaining to his fiancé his vision for them as husband and wife. As he explains what his hopes for the couple in the future, he notices disinterest on the face of his bride-to-be.
“Let’s just concentrate on our life now before the wedding;” she replies, “we can talk about our honeymoon and life together after we get married. Let’s not look beyond our current lives.”
Would you not think it strange for a bride to respond in this way? Why would she not want to think about plans for the honeymoon the future she will share with her husband?
Obviously, this is not the norm. Brides are typically absorbed in the wedding as well as life together as a married couple. I recently watched the 1950 version of the movie, Father of the Bride. In the movie, an argument over the honeymoon caused the bride-to-be Kay Banks, played by Elizabeth Taylor, to call off the entire wedding. All brides have a great interest in what happens after the wedding. It’s the natural response
Yet the church remains strangely fixated on this life while so often ignoring all that her Groom has revealed about her future. Like the bride in the above illustration, we sadly disregard eternity and the joys ahead for us replacing it with a disappointing look at this life and the troubles around us.
Jesus’ appearing to take us back to his Father’s house in heaven (John 14:2-3) does not signal the end of our happiness; it’s the beginning of a joyous eternity. It’s the end of our sufferings in this life and the beginning of a wildly exciting adventure that will never end or cease the enthrall us.
Ephesians 2:7 is so overlooked today. We read about God’s intervention to rescue us from God’s wrath and skip this key and instructive mention of eternity. We read of God’s great mercy and grace and happily memorize 2:8 as we acknowledge we are saved by grace through faith; it’s totally “the gift of God.” In doing so, we gloss over God’s promise in verse 7.
The Lord’s saving love for us goes beyond forgiving our past. There is a future tense to the Gospel as Paul explains in verse 7, “. . . so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” This is far more than what we can imagine. Not only does God forgive our sins and make us alive in Christ, he will display his grace through his kindness for all eternity. Jesus’ future plans for us reveal his great love for us; we will experience his love toward us forever and ever.
It’s God’s love for us that ultimately matters as we look to eternity. The details of Jesus’ return, the kingdom, and eternity all magnify the Father’s love for his children.
What began with the Lord touching my heart the night I heard Steve Green’s song reached its culmination one night a few years later. The evening began with a long run listening to songs of praise and concluded with time alone in my prayer closet. Although still troubled to some extent regarding what might lie ahead, I submitted my future totally to the Lord.
As I prayed I asked the Lord, “If you were seated right here next to me in this closet, what would you say to me?”
The words had scarcely left my lips when I heard his response deep in my soul, “I love you!” Tears again streamed down my face from joy and amazement. I regard that moment as the finishing touch of the Lord’s healing of the past deep wounds of my heart.
Years earlier as I wrote in my journal, I claimed God’s love for me as a matter of faith. That evening as the Lord spoke into my heart I experienced that love like never before.
The study of future things represents a look into God’s loving plans for our future. It’s an integral part of his “great love” for us (Eph. 2:4) that not only causes him to save us from hell but also shower us with kindness throughout all eternity.
I believe Jesus wants his bride, the church, to know his loving plans for us. We may not understand everything, but we know that an amazing day is coming in which we will experience more joy than we ever thought possible. Why wouldn’t we want to know as many details as possible of the future Jesus is preparing for us?
We will begin our journey from the present into the future by looking at the two-world perspective of 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, things that are seen versus things not seen. Such an outlook does not imply our focus is divided between the world and Jesus; it means that we live in anticipation of Jesus’ appearing and the great joy ahead for us in eternity.
In the next chapter, “Life in the Balance,” we will examine this everlasting outlook in greater detail and see what it means to put eternal realities ahead of temporal concerns.
Life in the Balance
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Imagine you are living in poverty barely able to survive while working at a terrible job; one that you hate (maybe some of you can identify with this picture). Add to this scenario the certain hope that in exactly one year’s time you will inherit an enormous fortune worth two hundred million dollars. How would that change the focus of your daily life?
What would occupy your thoughts as you drove to work each day? How would you respond to financial setbacks in the coming year? Would your future inheritance change how you respond to missed promotions at work or to other misfortunes?
Such a prospect of earthly riches would certainly change our perspectives in regard to almost everything we experience. Traffic jams on the way to work would seem a lot less irritating as would long lines at stores. Scarcely an hour would go by in our day without our thinking of our future inheritance.
The above outlook of anticipated earthly wealth actually understates the current spiritual reality for each and every follower of Christ. Paul said this in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Paul believed that the glories ahead for him in eternity far outweighed all his current afflictions, which were many.
Picture a balance scale with one side balanced by the weight on the other side. On one side we see the scale weighed down with the glory ahead for us in eternity while on the other side we see all the suffering and heartaches of our lives. The scale before us is tipped to the extreme with the weight of the joy ahead for us and no amount of additional troubles from this life can budge the scale even to the smallest degree.
This is life balanced between now and eternity; it’s what I like to call “life in the balance.” This phrase captures the essence of seeing our lives on the balance scale with all the sorrows of this life on one side and the unimaginable joys of heaven on the other side.
We naturally regard our earthly troubles as far outweighing the glories ahead for us in eternity. However, just the opposite is true. All of our trials, afflictions, and sufferings in this life added together do not move the scale even to the slightest degree. It remains fully weighed down with the joy and glory ahead for us in eternity in spite of all the sorrows we might add to the other side of the scale.
The Apostle Paul’s Example
The apostle Paul exemplifies this perspective in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 where he states, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Paul’s words represent the essence of a two-world perspective. While not ignoring the temporal realities around him, he placed a greater value on things he cannot see, on eternal matters. His eternal perspective allowed him to view his sufferings as “light momentary affliction.” Paul’s suffering was real, but his comparison was with the joy ahead for him in eternity, not the person down the street or on television or anywhere else.
This is how the apostle described his hardships in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28:
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
And yet, in view of what Paul regarded as ahead for him in eternity, all this was “light momentary affliction.” No one can argue that Paul did not suffer greatly as he proclaimed the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire. However, when he compared his afflictions with the glory ahead for him, he saw the scale as tipped to the extreme in favor of his eternal joy.
What must be the extent of our future joy to keep the scale balanced in favor of eternity despite all of the tribulation Paul endured? I’m still amazed and humbled that with all he suffered he could still regard his afflictions as “light.”
Does this even come close to how we regard our suffering today? Have we become so focused on this life that we forget all about the promise of eternal life and the glories ahead for us? Or, like the apostle, do we recognize the importance of an eternal focus?
The Importance of a Two-World Perspective
In his book, Hot Tub Religion, J. I. Packer argues that the loss of a two-world perspective among believers has led to the current ineffectiveness of the church.[i] He said, “What Paul and John assumed, both from their own experience and from their God-taught understanding of divine grace, was that the reality of redeeming love and the certainty of heaven would so thrill believers’ hearts that they would think about these things all the time . . .”[ii]
S. Lewis said this about the importance of hope and such a two-world perspective:
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since because Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.[iii]
As believers (including myself), we focus far too much attention on this life. We see a much different perspective in the New Testament, however, where the apostles constantly reminded themselves and believers of the message of the hope regarding Jesus’ soon appearing. It was with that perspective that they set out to fulfill the Great commission and literally changed the world of their day.
Ironically, it’s not an earthly focused that causes believers to reach out to the world around them, but rather a vision of eternity. Motivated by the possibility of Jesus’ return at any moment, the early church reached out with compassion to those around them and shared the Gospel across the known world.
Even today, Samaritan’s Purse, founded by Franklin Graham, reaches out to the suffering everywhere in the world with tangible help and the hope of eternity contained in the Gospel. It’s precisely a hope in eternity that motivates Graham and many of the contributors to the organization.
In addition, if our hearts are solely absorbed on this life, we become self-focused and its storms hit us hard. When we make an eternity of this life and nothing of eternity, as Pascal once stated, we have nowhere to go for our hope when suffering erases all our earthly expectations. However, with hearts focused on living forever with Jesus, we remain hopeful during even the fierce tempests of life.
How do we develop such a perspective? How do we learn to keep one eye on the present and one eye on eternity as Paul David Tripp encourages us to do (see quote at beginning of chapter 1)? Such a perspective does not come easily, especially since the temporal realities of this life confront us every waking moment continually shouting for our attention.
Developing a Two-World Perspective
In the coming chapters, we will look at specifics of our hope such as the imminent return of Jesus, the tribulation, Christ’s Second Coming, the millennium, and eternity. As believers, we possess an amazing and glorious future. Our waiting for Jesus’ appearing will be rewarded beyond anything we can imagine at the present time. The key to developing a two-world perspective is to allow that hope to invigorate our daily lives. Yet so often we express dread rather than hope for what lies ahead for us in eternity as though we fear he might interrupt our future dreams for life here on earth.
However, no one will get to heaven and complain that the Lord should have further delayed his return; such thoughts will not happen once we see Jesus and what he has prepared for us.
Recognizing the glories ahead for us is an important first step in developing a two-world perspective, but it’s just the beginning. We must also learn to measure our brief current lives in light of what is ahead for us in eternity.
The balance scale mentioned at the beginning of this chapter helps in this regard. When we visualize this scale weighted to the extreme with the joys ahead for us in eternity, it helps put the affliction and the storms of this life in perspective.
Our hope is so much more valuable than winning a large amount of money in the lottery. Eventually this life ends; what then becomes of the money? However, our eternal “inheritance” as believers, so much more valuable than anything on earth, “is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for” us.[iv]
Earthly wealth can and will eventually disappear. It’s certain we cannot enjoy it forever. However, as the apostle Peter stated in the verse referenced above, our heavenly inheritance will not ever vanish and we will enjoy it for all eternity. Which would you rather have: a large amount of money here on earth that you can only enjoy for a short amount of time or an eternal inheritance that you will never cease to enjoy?
Doesn’t it make sense that we would value what will last for millions of years and beyond over what we may be able to enjoy for several decades at best?
It’s this forward look of putting our lives in the balance that helps us develop a two-world perspective. It’s realizing that the sorrows of this life cannot compare with the joy we will experience throughout eternity.
Jesus provides us with another example of balancing our current suffering with the glories ahead for us in eternity. Hebrews 12:2 says, “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Any realistic depiction we see of the cross leaves us in shock as we see the great suffering our Savior endured on our behalf. The cross was horrifically brutal. Yet as Jesus focused on his future joy he found added strength to endure the searing pain of the cross.
This is the secret of a two-world perspective, of “life in the balance” as I like to call it. Christ saw that the joy ahead for him in eternity outweighed his incredible suffering and horrific distress upon the cross. He saw the scale tipped in favor of the joy of being exalted to God’s right hand and the resumption of his glory that he will someday share with us in eternity. Perhaps he looked forward to seeing all those who would be redeemed praising him in eternity.
The more we treasure eternity over what we currently value in this life, the more we view life from a two-world perspective. When the opposite is true, our trials become all the more frustrating because they get in the way of the paradise we seek to create this side of eternity.
We fight for what we can only briefly enjoy while losing sight of the wonders in store for us in eternity, an inheritance we can never lose or cease to enjoy.
This Life as Preparation for the Next
Not only does a two-world perspective value the joys of eternity over the things of this life, it also recognizes that this life is preparation for eternity.
All our life experiences, including both the trials and the good times, prepare us for what the Lord is planning for us. We have all heard teachers explain how our experiences bring about spiritual maturity in this life and prepare us to serve others; all this is certainly true.
But is there an eternal purpose as well for all we endure? Is there another reason for all we experience in this life?
I believe the answers to these questions are found in our hope for the millennium. It’s there we will see the Lord’s purposes for what we endure in this life come alive. There the dark times of our lives will explode into wonderful light as we clearly see all of God’s purposes for taking us through them.
Paul David Tripp said the following about this life as preparation for eternity:
If there is a final glorious destination for all God’s children, then this time is not a destination, but a preparation for a final destination. There is meaning and purpose in everything we are going through. In a real way, God is using all the difficulties of life in this fallen world to change and mature us, making us ready for the world that is to come.[v]
One of my favorite songs to play on my trombone is, “This World is Not My Home.” That song captures the above perspective of being pilgrims in this world headed for an entirely different destiny. Although it’s not possible to play the trombone and sing at the same time, I never fail to think of the words as I play that song and visualize angels in heaven waiting for my arrival.
Since this world is not our final destination, doesn’t it make sense the Lord would prepare us now for the time we will be reigning with Him as Tripp asserts? In the parable of the talents, Jesus gave kingdom authority to his followers based on their faithfulness in this life (Matt. 25:14-30). Jesus rewarded his followers with varying degrees of responsibility in his kingdom based on faithfulness in this life.
There is so much more than a momentary purpose for all we experience in this life.
The millennium is the vital link between this life and eternity. Our roles in this future kingdom will bring to fruition our current experiences and prepare us for eternity, for God’s eternal kingdom in the new heaven and earth. The millennium is a time where faithfulness in this life is rewarded and we fully realize the purposes for all we endure in the here and now.
We will look at this in much greater detail in a later chapter dealing with the millennium. Our future hope helps us see why the balance scale is tipped heavily in favor of the joy that awaits us in eternity versus what we experience here on earth.
We actually have a more immediate hope than that of the millennium. Our great expectation is that of Jesus’ return for us. In the next chapter we will explore how New Testament believers waited in great expectation for Jesus’ appearing.
[i] JI Packer, Hot Tub Religion (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1987) p. 88
[ii] Ibid. p. 95
[iii] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London: Collins, Fontana Books, 1955), p. 116. Quoted in Hot Tub Religion, p. 90
[iv] I Peter 1:4
[v] Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies – A daily Gospel Devotional (Wheaton: Crossway 2014), September 18
Our Great Expectation
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 . . .
The ringing of the telephone woke me from a deep sleep. Who would be calling in the middle of night and why? I felt a deep sense of panic as I listened to my mom’s side of the conversation; it did not sound good.
I still remember her loud scream as she hung up the phone and the tear-filled eyes of those who later came to our home in the early morning hours. Despite being only ten at the time, I recall so many of the events surrounding the death of my dad.
At first, everything seemed surreal. It took a long time to fully grasp the reality of my loss. I felt greater sorrow as the shock gradually wore off in the weeks that followed his death as I came to fully realize I would no longer see him sitting with us at the supper table.
In response to my bewildering grief, the Lord showed up in a number of ways even before my dad’s heart attack.
Several months’ earlier, missionary friends of my parents asked if I knew about Jesus’ return to earth and talked to me about his second coming. They gave me a tract providing details of the rapture, the tribulation, and Jesus’ second coming, which I carefully studied under a dim lamp while lying in bed that night.
As I look back, I recognize the Lord’s hand in using this couple to prepare me for my dad’s death.
Although saddened and bewildered by the loss of my father, I also sensed the Lord’s comforting presence. I felt both deep sorrow and hope at the same time. I took a rose pedal from my father’s coffin and placed it in my Bible at 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18, where it remained for many years as a reminder of my expectation of seeing him again someday.
The passion for this book, to share my great expectation for the Lord’s return and the reassuring hope that accompanies such anticipation, began back in the heart of a young boy grieving the loss of his dad.
Not long after my father’s death, I sensed God calling me into fulltime ministry. While later attending John Brown University, Paul’s message to Timothy to “preach the word” spoke to my heart (see 2 Tim. 4:1-3). I majored in Biblical Studies at John Brown as preparation for following the leading of the Lord. I looked forward to a ministry of proclaiming God’s Word and sharing my hope with others.
After college, I attended Talbot Theological Seminary where many of my classes focused on eschatology (the study of future things). My professors at Talbot instilled in me a love for the Old Testament prophets as well as the importance of carefully and accurately interpreting New Testament prophecy. I graduated with a great passion for teaching others about our future hope. As noted in the introduction, I loved preaching on prophecy as a young pastor.
As turmoil and great upheaval entered my life, I unfortunately lost focus of my future hope for many years. However, as the Lord later used my anticipation of eternity to heal the deep wounds of my past (see chapter 1), my desire to communicate my great expectation returned stronger than ever.
The ridicule of Jesus’ return for his church on social media has further stirred my heart to share why it matters that we have a biblical viewpoint of our future. It’s not simply a matter of being “correct” in our theology. Our hope for Jesus’ appearing matters for our daily lives and relieves so much of our troubling apprehensions.
Because we become so easily mired in the temporal matters of this life, we miss the joy and excitement of anticipating Jesus’ appearing to take us home. It’s our great expectation; it’s the substance of our amazing hope and the answer to so many of our nagging worries.
The Eager Anticipation of Jesus’ Appearing
The apostles taught New Testament followers of Christ to live with an eager anticipation of his appearing. Almost every epistle speaks of this exciting prospect of suddenly seeing Jesus face to face. It’s still the essence of our hope.
Titus 2:11-13 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Paul here characterizes believers as recipients of grace who as a result wait for the “blessed hope” of Jesus’ appearing. The natural response to the message of the Gospel is that of waiting for the Lord’s return for his church.
The apostle describes this same reaction to the Gospel on the part of the Thessalonians, “For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:9-10). The consequence of turning away from idols to serve God was that of expectantly watching for the Lord’s appearing. The Thessalonians believed Paul’s message and as a result began waiting for Jesus’ appearing.
In both verses above, Paul equates belief in the Gospel with an eager anticipation of Jesus’ return. Believing the Gospel equals waiting for Jesus’ appearing; one naturally flows from the other.
A recent GEICO commercial portrays a spy fleeing from both armed men and a black helicopter. His phone rings as his adversaries appear ready to capture him. Thinking the call is from those coming to rescue him he answers the phone shouting, “Where are you?” We then see and hear his mom calmly talking about squirrels in the attic after which the narrator says, “If you’re a mom, you call at the worst time. It’s what you do.”
Reflecting on what Paul said in Titus and 1 Thessalonians, we might expect him to say something similar: “If you believe the Gospel, you live in expectancy of Jesus’ return. It’s what you do.” Passage after passage in the New Testament relates points to Jesus’ appearing as our immediate expectation.
In Philippians 3:20 Paul wrote this, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” The word he used for “await” in this verse denotes “intense anticipation” and an “excited expectation” of a future event.[i] It implies a deep heart-felt longing for whatever is expected. In this case, it’s Jesus’ return for his church.
The apostle used the same word in Acts 17:16 of his restless waiting for Silas and Timothy to rejoin him. After Paul’s prior troubles in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea, he very much desired to see his traveling companions again.
It’s this same deep longing of heart that the apostle equates to our waiting for Jesus’ return for his church. This was not simply the readers’ focus, but their intense desire.
In 1 Corinthians 1:7, the New American Standard Bible (NASB) captures the essence of this same Greek word in describing the hope of the church at Corinth, “. . . awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (italics added). Paul characterized his readers in Corinth as those waiting with great excitement for Jesus’ appearing.
I believe the apostle Paul so emphasized Jesus’ return in his proclamation of the Gospel that his early converts did not have to be told to eagerly watch for it. They readily caught Paul’s excitement and as a result such expectancy became a natural response of putting their faith in Christ. This great expectancy naturally flowed from the apostle’s proclamation of the Gospel, which emphasized the soon return of the Savior.
Peter expressed this same anticipation. In 1 Peter 1:13 he said, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Notice the exclusive focus on seeing Jesus as our confidence for the future; he is the object of all our expectation for what is to come. The apostle instructed his readers and us to “set our hope” on Jesus’ appearing.
Everything around us is fleeting. Saving accounts, 401Ks, and all the other things we tend to treasure in this life can evaporate overnight. Politicians and people in authority continually disappoint us. Death and taxes are not the only certainties of this life; frustration and loss of hope rank right up there with them as things we seemingly cannot avoid.
Thankfully, our future resides solely in Jesus. He is our everlasting hope. Our confidence in him endures while everything in which we might place our hope in this life will someday vanish.
When I begin hoping in what I see around me, 1 Peter 1:13 brings me back to reality. Life is ultimately all about Christ; he is the answer to the longing of our hearts. He is our hope; his return is what we long for deep in our hearts.
Yes, Jesus taught that his follower should expect opposition and tribulation in the world (John 16:33). That does not, however, diminish our posture of waiting for his soon appearing. This is our hope in the midst of the turmoil of this life.
One of my favorite passages regarding our expectation is 1 John 3:2-3: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” When Jesus appears and we see his great glory, he will transform us to be like Him.
This moment by moment anticipation of Jesus’ appearing changes us; it purifies us. Like the apostles Paul and Peter, John looked for the Lord to appear at any time and wrote about the transforming power of such a perspective. Interestingly, the beloved apostle began chapter 3 speaking of the Father’s love for us as seen in his calling us his children. Our thrilling hope is the outflowing of the Father’s great love for us as his children. Our salvation begins with his love and results with endless displays of his kindness throughout eternity (Eph. 2:4-7).
James, the brother of Jesus, also wrote of the nearness of the Lord’s return, “The coming of the Lord is at hand . . . . the Judge is standing at the door” (5:8-9). In the book of James, one of the earlier books of the New Testament, we see the expectation Jesus could appear at any time. James pictured the Lord “standing at the door,” ready to come for us. He’s still there waiting for the right time.
The writer of Hebrews also spoke of our anticipation of Jesus’ appearing, “. . . so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb. 9:28). Here again, another writer of the New Testament identifies believers as “those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Like Paul, the writer here characterizes our response to the Gospel as one of longingly anticipating Jesus’ return for his church. It’s what we as believers do in responding to God’s great love for us.
The New Testament church waited with great anticipation for Jesus’ appearing as something that could happen at any moment. That’s what we mean when we refer to it as something “imminent.” That was the hope of the New Testament church and nothing has changed since that time to diminish such anticipation.
The above is just a sampling of verses from the New Testament on Jesus’ return for his church. I provided numerous examples to demonstrate the New Testament emphasis on Jesus’ appearing as our immediate expectation.
Why Does it Matter?
At this point, you might be wondering why this emphasis is so important. Why does it matter that the New Testament church anticipated Jesus’ appearing at any moment? Some suggest they were wrong to do so since two thousand years have passed since then.
Are we still supposed to eagerly await His return after all these years?
I’m not sure I have all the answers to these questions; I only know what Paul and the other apostles taught about the nearness of Jesus’ return for his church. They taught early believers to eagerly wait for his appearing. I do not believe the length of the long interval of time changes our sense of watchfulness. So yes, I believe we are still supposed to eagerly await Jesus’ return to take us home.
In 2 Peter 3:1-9, the apostle anticipated a long delay before Jesus’ return, one that would give rise to “scoffers” ridiculing our beliefs in Jesus’ return, such as what we are seeing today.
Peter explains the delay as resulting from God’s patience, not wanting any to perish but to have the opportunity to repent and find eternal life. The Lord, who looks at time much differently than we do, displays his grace by extending the time for as many as possible to respond to the Gospel (3:8-9).
But why the eager anticipation when the delay would be significant? It goes back to what the apostle Peter said regarding our unfailing inheritance (1 Pet. 1:4-9). Our hope enables us to rejoice in the trials that will surely come our way. It’s our focus on eternity that keeps us close to the Lord, relying on him during the times of turmoil in our life. It’s what keeps our hope alive in the midst of tribulation.
We have an amazing inheritance waiting for us in heaven that surpasses anything we could ever receive from a rich uncle or wealthy parents. It’s not going anywhere; someday it will be ours. In the meantime, we face the fierce storms of this life knowing a much, much better day is coming in which our faithfulness will be rewarded.
As we saw from 1 John 3:1-3, our focus on Jesus’ appearing also has a purifying focus on our lives. Such hope keeps our eyes on our Savior who works to transform us in the process. This fits with Jesus’ repeated admonitions to watch and be ready for His return. If we think his coming is not a current reality, both our focus and hope shifts to the things of this life making us candidates for despair when these things inevitably disappoint us.
The promise of Jesus’ imminent appearing acts as a counterweight to the certainly of persecution and trials in this life. It brings the hope of eternity into the turmoil of our lives and keeps us focused on what really matters in life. Our hope will not fail us; Jesus will return just as he promised at precisely the most opportune time for us.
If the Lord, through his apostles, had told the church to relax because his arrival would be greatly delayed, can you imagine the results of such a message? There would be no urgency to proclaim the Gospel or to live for Christ. What would be the purpose of watchfulness if the Lord had told us there would be many centuries before he came for us?
How would we know when to start looking for his return? What would be the key to change from passivity to eagerly awaiting his arrival? If the church has started out with the knowledge his return would be delayed by at least two thousand years, no one would ever start looking for it.
Our expectation is just the same as it was in the New Testament. We eagerly await Jesus’ return for us. We have the same anticipation that he could come at any moment.
I realize there is much disagreement regarding the imminency of Jesus’ return. However, as I prayerfully return to the Words of Scripture asking the Lord for guidance, I always sense the Spirit’s leading, through the words I read, back to my expectation of Jesus’ return as my immediate expectation.
An Immortal Body
Our anticipation of Jesus’ return for us contains an amazing promise. When he appears, we will receive an immortal imperishable body.
If we are alive at the time of his appearing, Jesus will instantly transform our aging and achy bodies into an eternal body just like His. If we die before his return, he will bring our dead bodies to life again never again to be subject to the illnesses of this life or to death. All this happens amazingly fast, “in the twinkling of an eye” according to Paul (1 Cor. 15:52). It will all be finished in less time than it takes to blink our eyes.
In 1 Corinthians 15:52b-53 the apostle says, “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 Lord, through Paul, promises that we as believers will someday possess immortal bodies.
We will live forever in the bodies we receive when Jesus comes for his church. That’s so very difficult for us to imagine, but wondrously true.
Philippians 3:20-21 adds this about our future bodies, “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. . .” Our future bodies will resemble Jesus’ resurrection body. We will be like Him just as the Lord promises us (1 John 3:2).
This exchange of bodies, our deteriorating and aging bodies for immortal ones like Christ’s, will be like swapping an old rusted out Ford Pinto held together with duct tape for a brand new shiny Porsche Carrera. Only our new bodies will never deteriorate, grow old, or wear out as even the best-built cars will do over a long enough period of time. I can scarcely imagine having a body that will never grow weary, get sick, or age. No more achy backs and sore knees! Our new bodies will be immortal; they will never die.
Consider the implications. No more doctor and dentist appointments. Taking pain relievers and medicine . . . a thing of the past. No more stubbed toes, sprained ankles, or broken bones. Can you imagine never getting sick again? No more flu, colds, allergies, cancer, heart disease, A-fib, or any ailment you can name. Our new bodies will be forever immune to all sickness and disease!
Think of all the effort and expense we put into maintaining the health of our bodies along with its upkeep. How much do we spend each month just to sustain our bodies? Many of us take supplements, exercise, and seek to follow at least a somewhat healthy diet. In addition to that, think of all we do to treat our bodies with lotions, creams, conditioners for our hair, and a host of other things.
We will be wondrously free from all these things for all eternity! Wow! That alone is enough to make us celebrate!
Such is our great expectation in Jesus’ appearing. He alone will bring to an end the suffering, pain, and turmoil of this life. We will experience something more wonderful than we can imagine. We will not feel one moment of disappointment with the Lord has in store for us.
Our hope comes from the Lord. He gave us the promise of his return so we could have hope in the worst of life’s tragedies. God calls us to move beyond anxiously striving for what we can get out of the moment to a hope that surpasses anything we can imagine. It’s about living for a glory that far outweighs the pains and sufferings of this life.
[i] Colin Brown, editor, Dictionary of New Testament Theology Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969) p. 244.