We await our blessed hope, the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13)
– by Dr. John Yocum
The age to come
Advent is the season in which the Christian people focus on the return of the Messiah and the day he comes again in glory. This is the day when the “age to come” will finally be here and the saints will enter into heavenly life: “We await our blessed hope, the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
If we are honest, however, that hope at times seems less blessed than we might want to admit. I have a friend who, in her honesty, sometimes fears that she won’t really enjoy heavenly life that much. The thought of an eternal time of worship doesn’t always appeal to her.
Her misgiving feeds on the notion that the age to come will be like our experience of the ‘spiritual’ things we do in this life, only longer. But the age to come will mean not the elimination, but the re-creation of everything in this life. It will not be a narrower, but a broader, deeper and fuller experience of all the good in the world we now know, with none of the effects of sin. We ourselves will be changed (1 Corinthians 15:52).
The world as it is now is often at odds with God’s intention, and even the good things God created to be enjoyed can entice us away from Him. When I’m deep in prayer, I usually close my eyes because the things around me are a distraction.
God’s glorious presence magnified
In the age to come, what we see and hear won’t distract us from God’s glorious presence. Rather, they will magnify it.
Isaiah describes that day:
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing….
They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.
Everything blooms; everything explodes with life in Isaiah’s vision. The dusty, hostile desert gives way to running streams and bubbling springs. Flowers spring up in the desert. Nature itself sings. Everywhere the world is alive with God’s glory, and testifies to his majesty.
In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis depicts a cosmic bus ride from a dismal, grey hell to heaven exploding with color. When the passengers alight, what they find is a more colorful, more substantial earth. The light at first is nearly blinding. The blades of grass are like needles to their tender feet. The guide who conducts the travelers on a tour of the new creation explains that heaven is brighter, firmer, more solid, because it is more what is meant to be than what we know now. To fit in, the pilgrims in Lewis’ tale need to become people they were meant to be. Those who choose to remain in the heavenly land must go through a period of adjustment, shucking off what is weak and deformed, in order to put on what is noble and strong. They become royal and dignified because they are meant not only to live in the new world, but to reign there (Revelations 22:5).
The adjustment Lewis imaginatively describes mirrors the training that is meant to be accomplished in this life, according to Paul. As he reflects on his own hardships, Paul says, “this slight, momentary affliction is preparing us to carry a weight of glory beyond all comparison (2Corinthians 4:17). “The Hebrew word for “glory’ means “weightiness.” Though 2 Corinthians is written in Greek, the rabbi Paul probably has that Hebrew metaphor in mind. This life – especially its difficulties, persecutions and temptations – is preparing us to carry a heavy load of solid, heavenly glory, the burden, you might say, of kings and queens.
A life of training for glory
Through his Holy Spirit, God is training our hearts, teaching us to turn aside from our sinful passions and our irreverent attitudes, to learn to live our lives by the truth, and to imitate God’s own character (Titus 2:11-14). Like weight training, or physical therapy, the discipline can be painful at times, and we wonder if it’s worth it.
That’s why Paul says the life of training for glory is one in which ‘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” (2 Corinthians 4:18). What Paul means by ‘unseen’ is not permanently invisible, but not yet visible. Deferred gratification is part of Christian hope.
But gratification there will be in abundance. And it won’t be poorer, but richer than the pleasures of this life. At the end of the day, we’ll need new bodies just to cope with it. We’ll need new equipment to handle heaven’s higher voltage (Romans 8:22-23). We find some things in life a struggle just because we get tired, or sick, or hungry. Even when our hearts are right, our bodies don’t always cooperate. Our bodily weaknesses came together with the spiritual corruption of sin. Some day that will all be behind us.
In the meantime, we look to the things we don’t yet see; to the day when what is mortal will be swallowed up in life; when the lame will leap with joy; when the dumb will shout aloud; when the deaf will hear the music of heaven; when the blind will open their eyes and see – along with all of us – the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.
Dr. John Yocum is an elder of The Servants of the Word, a lay missionary brotherhood of men living single for the Lord and a leader of Word of Life community in Ann Arbor MI, USA. Taken from Living Bulwark December 2014/January 2015 Edition. Used with permission.