In my last post, I ended with this thought: “This final image in Revelation is not of God’s people escaping the world floating on clouds. It is of a City with God himself at the center, we as his worshipping, resurrected family, and a glorious renewed earth. If this is our future, what does that mean for the present?”
The Christian hope in the resurrection and the Kingdom stands in stark contrast to the typical escapist images of life in heaven for eternity. We will inherit a “limitless” body, a bustling City, and creative, fulfilling, beautiful work without the curse that makes our work now often so frustrating. These are powerful, challenging images, but they beg the question: “how do we live now if that is our destiny?”
This is not a new question. The New Testament was written primarily to small communities who were trying to make sense of how to live in a confusing, changing world. They had the same questions we do. Why is there so much suffering? How should we respond to evil in the world? How can we live in the world, but not be of it? How can we see people come to faith in Jesus? What does the future hold and when will Jesus return?
The apostolic writers directed these communities back to the heart of Jesus’ message of Kingdom come. They envisioned small groups of people singularly committed to the Way of Jesus. In these groups, there was at the same time an incredible challenge to the self-righteous and an incredible invitation to the broken. The lavish, unfathomable love of God destroys religious achievement and blazes the trail for even the worst sinner to experience the riches of the Kingdom.
Dallas Willard describes what this will look like in practice: “We should, first of all, find ourselves constantly growing in our readiness and ability to draw our direction, strength, and overall tone of life from the everlasting kingdom, from our personal interactions with the Trinitarian personality who is God. This will mean, most importantly, the transformation of our heart and character into the family likeness, increasingly becoming like “children of our Father, the one in the heavens (Matt 5:45).” – The Divine Conspiracy
Yet it is still tempting to slip back into a vision of our future that only values individual decisions. Transformation is wonderful, but are you choosing an eternity in heaven or hell? This, of course, gets right to the heart of the matter. What is salvation for? Why are we being saved? What is the ultimate purpose of salvation? Is it just to avoid hell?
This is where our friend Tom Wright spells it out clearly: “As long as we see salvation in terms of going to heaven when we die, the main work of the church is bound to be seen in terms of saving souls for that future. But when we see salvation, as the NT sees it, in terms of God’s promised new heavens and new earth and of our promised resurrection to share in that new and gloriously embodied reality – what I have called life after life after death – then the main work of the church here and now demands to be rethought in consequence.” – Surprised by Hope
So we are being saved to participate in something much larger than ourselves and certainly something greater than to just avoid punishment. We are, in the words of Willard, training for reigning. So our life and work now as the church takes on new meaning. We are hope-filled, joyous, peaceful, excited, wonderfully creative, and constantly aware of the power we live by. It is important to say that we do not build God’s Kingdom. As Wright says, we build for God’s Kingdom.
Returning to my question above, in light of our future, how should we live now? To begin, I think we need to revise our expectations. If your vision of the future amounts to hell-avoidance, then your expectations for the present will be very limited. At best, you will hope to convince a few of your family and friends to say the sinners prayer before you go to be with Jesus. But if your vision is of a new heavens and earth brimming with hope and resurrection power, you will want to see that manifest in the present as much as possible. You will expect God to act in a way that is consistent with that future. And you will want to join in on the fun however you can.