Man’s future involves both time and eternity. Time in total embraces past, present and future. Man knows something of the past and the present, but even his knowledge of the past is limited and defective. In himself he knows absolutely nothing whatever of the future, whether in time or eternity. God alone knows the future, some of which He has been pleased to make known in the Bible. Man in his present state cannot comprehend the concept of eternity and can only think of it in terms of time—that is, as never ending. God knows this and in the few passages in the Scriptures where eternity is spoken of, it is always expressed using the language of time. For example, we read of the “day of eternity” (2 Pet. 3: 18, my emphasis). However, the Scriptures say very little about eternity but a great deal about the future in time. About two thirds of the Bible is prophecy, directly or indirectly, in which God tells man what is going to happen in the future—largely in time, not eternity, and mainly on the earth, and not in heaven.
So far as man is concerned, the Bible speaks of just two ages. The first is called “this age” (Matt. 12: 32; 1 Cor. 2: 8; Eph. 1: 21; see also Luke 20: 34; 1 Cor. 2: 6; where the word world should be age) or “the present age” (1 Tim. 6: 17; 2 Tim. 4: 10). The second is called “the coming [one]” (Matt. 12: 32), “the coming age” (Mark 10: 30) or the age “to come” (Eph. 1: 21). Put another way, in contrast to “this world” (Luke 16: 8 etc.) we have “the habitable world which is to come” (Heb. 2: 5). The latter will last one thousand years (see Rev. 20: 4–6) and is the great subject of the future in the Scriptures.
The Future for the Unbeliever
Apart from two awful exceptions (see Rev. 19: 20), the history of every unbeliever will end in a single event—death. Accordingly, the Bible states “it is the portion of men once to die” (Heb. 9: 27)—a statement that none question. While the atheist may claim ‘when you are dead you are done with’, that is not the end, for the unbeliever has a future. The same Scripture goes on to say, “and after this judgment” (Heb. 9: 27). The whole future of the unbeliever is encased in that single word judgment (there is no definite article in the Greek making judgment characteristic of his future rather than just limiting it to a single event). At death the spirit is separated from the body (see James 2: 26; also Judg. 15: 19; 1 Sam. 30: 12) and a person enters the “unclothed” (2 Cor. 5: 4) state described in the OT as Sheol and in the NT as Hades. However, that is not the end, for “an hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall go forth; those that have practised good, to resurrection of life, and those that have done evil, to resurrection of judgment” (John 5: 28, 29). The end of unbelieving man is judgment and the terrifying detail is graphically given in Rev. 20: 11–15. His ultimate destination is a confined place described as the lake of fire (see Rev. 19: 20; 20: 10, 14, 15) or hell (see Mark 9: 45 etc.). The word hell in the Greek is geenna and is taken from the Hebrew for ‘the valley of Hinnom’ near Jerusalem, where a continual fire was kept burning (serving as an apt figure for hell). The Lord Himself spoke of “the judgement of hell” and “the fire unquenchable” (Matt. 23: 33; Mark 9: 43). Hell was never prepared for man (see Matt. 25: 41) but the unbeliever will spend eternity there. He will know nothing of “the habitable world which is to come” (Heb. 2: 5) for we read “the rest of the dead did not live till the thousand years had been completed” (Rev. 20: 5). By contrast, all believers, irrespective of the dispensation in which they lived, will be raised in “the first resurrection” (Rev. 20: 6) to have a part in the world to come.
The Future for the Believer
Unlike the unbeliever, the pathway here on earth of the believer will be terminated by one of two future events: either his death or the return of Christ. In the words of Scripture: when he has “fallen asleep through Jesus” (1 Thess. 4: 14; see also John 11: 13; Acts 7: 60; 13: 36 etc.) or “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to him” (2 Thess. 2: 1). The view of the future that many Christians have is just limited to heaven and eternity. While a place (hell) is presented in Scripture as the final location for the unbeliever, a place (heaven) is never presented as the ultimate destination for the believer. Scripture always speaks of a believer going to a person not a place. Yes, the Lord is in heaven and we will be with Him there, but heaven is not the hope of the believer. The hope of the believer is Christ (see 1 Tim. 1: 1)—“our gathering together to him” (2 Thess. 2: 1, my emphasis). If I just think of going to heaven, then those thoughts are selfish. I am thinking of myself and my future rather than the One who died in order that that future could be secured.
The Future for the Believer after Death
While the vast majority of saints will have to go through the article of death, that event should never be the hope of the believer. Death is not presented in Scripture as something to look forward to—indeed, quite the reverse. The believer may have to “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” but he has the assurance that the Lord is with him (see Ps. 23: 4). He may have to endure excruciating pain in his body, but however extreme his sufferings, they can never match those of the One who has died for him. God will never put His children into circumstances in which He is not able to sustain them through the priestly service of the One who has passed through them all without failing. And if we have to experience something of “the fellowship of his sufferings” (Phil. 3: 10), we can cast all our “care upon him, for he cares about you” (1 Pet. 5: 7). Death may be a welcome release from the believer’s sufferings but it should never be the object before him. Stephen when dying, prayed “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7: 59). The Lord should always be the One who is before us, not ourselves and our circumstances (words easy to write and the Lord may well test the writer to see if he himself is in the gain of them). The apostle Paul lived under the shadow of death, but his one wish was that “as always, now also Christ shall be magnified in my body whether by life or by death” (Phil. 1: 20). His great object was the Person. Paul’s desire was not for death but for “departure and being with Christ” (v23). It is not departure to heaven but “departure and being with Christ” (my emphasis). The word departure embraces both ways that a believer may exit this scene: either having “fallen asleep in Christ” (1 Cor. 15: 18, my emphasis) or at the Lord’s “assembling shout, shall be caught up … to meet the Lord in [the] air and thus ... always be with [the] Lord” (1 Thess. 4: 16, 17, my emphasis). Either way he will be “with Christ—“very much better” (Phil. 1: 23).
The Future for the Believer at the Lord’s Coming
The second coming of Christ is presented in the Bible far more in connection with His reign in the millennium on the earth than with coming to take the saints to heaven. If I am only waiting for Christ’s return to take me to heaven then my love to Him is faulty. Yes, He will firstly come for His saints (see 1 Thess. 4: 15, 17) but He will then come with them (see 1 Thess. 3: 13, my emphasis). If I love the Lord, then I will want to be with the Lord in the latter as well.
Furthermore, at His return “we shall be always with [the] Lord” (1 Thess. 4: 17, my emphasis). When the Lord comes again for those who are His, “God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus” (v14) that they may be united with their raised glorified bodies and along with those living, “be caught up together with them in [the] clouds to meet [the] Lord in the air” (v17). The truth is that “if we have died together with [him] we shall also live together” (2 Tim. 2: 11, my emphasis). The Biblical order is suffering, then glory. So that “if indeed we suffer with [him], that we may also be glorified with [him]” (Rom. 8: 17, my emphasis). Hence, “when the Christ is manifested who [is] our life, then shall ye also be manifested with him in glory” (Col. 3: 4, my emphasis). Thus “whether we may be watching or sleep, we may live together with him” (1 Thess. 5: 10, my emphasis). Believers “shall reign with him a thousand years” (Rev. 20: 6, my emphasis). To the dying thief the Lord promised “To–day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23: 43, my emphasis). Those words with me in connection with the Lord are repeated several times in the last book of Scripture (see Rev. 3: 4, 20, 21). In the Lord’s prayer He prayed “Father, [as to] those whom thou hast given me, I desire that where I am they also may be with me, that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me” (John 17: 24, my emphasis).
Yes, Christ is in heaven and He will return to take me there initially, but my hope is the Person and not the place. The present service of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Christ (see John 16: 14)—that is to make Christ great in my soul. If heaven is the hope of my soul, it is really selfishness at root. Yes, the Lord Jesus Himself speaks of the place but notice how it is described: “In my Father’s house there are many abodes; were it not so, I had told you: for I go to prepare you a place; and if I go and shall prepare you a place, I am coming again and shall receive you to myself, that where I am ye also may be” (John 14: 2, 3). The place is not described as heaven, although it is heaven. It is the Father’s house—the One to whom it belongs is the leading thought. Angels belong to heaven but they are not spoken of in relation to the Father’s house. Many seem to think of the Lord is there at the present time putting things in order for our entrance in the future. This is not the sense of the words “I go to prepare you a place” at all. His going there is the preparation for His presence makes the place what it is. It is not ‘I am coming again and shall receive you there’. No, it is “receive you to myself” (my emphasis). The reason? “That where I am ye also may be”. True love cannot bear separation. The great object on His part is to have us with Him. Love is always reciprocal. Hence the great object of our hearts should be to be with Him—wherever He is.
The Future lies in the Past
God is never thwarted in anything that He has determined. His ways may change but His purpose never: “Remember the former things of old; for I [am] God, and there is none else; [I am] God, and there is none like me; declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Is. 46: 9, 10). The key to the future often lies in the past. Man was created and placed on the earth and given authority over the lower creation. He was told to have dominion over it and to subdue it. He was created in the image of God, that is, he was to represent God in this scene (see Gen. 1: 26–28). He was also told that “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest of it, thou shalt certainly die” (Gen. 2: 17). But man failed and disobeyed God. So, we read “by one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death; and thus death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5: 12). Yet Adam lived for 930 years (see Gen. 5: 5). How was this? We must remember that Biblical prophecy often has a double fulfilment: an initial fulfilment shortly after it was uttered and a distant future one. The seeds of death were sown in Adam the moment he sinned. However, Peter reminds us, “that one day with [the] Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pet. 3: 8). The oldest person recorded in the Bible was Methushelah who lived 969 years. No man ever has ever had the full ‘day’ of 1000 years. After 930 years, Adam died (see Gen. 5: 5). But Adam was “[the] figure of him to come” (Rom. 5: 14). Hence there will be a man who will have the full day of 1000 years—the millennium. Creation itself is awaiting the day when “the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid” (Is. 11: 6, 7). As the whole creation is awaiting that day, so should every believer (see Rom. 8: 18–30). That day is reserved for God’s Man, the Lord Jesus Christ (see Rev. 20: 4–6).
The Future for God’s Man
The prophet Daniel says “I saw in the night visions, and behold, there came with the clouds of heaven [one] like a son of man, and he came up even to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom [that] which shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7: 13, 14). This is the Man “who is image of the invisible God, firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1: 15) that will have dominion over the whole earth and subdue it. At present, in anticipation of that day God has “wrought in the Christ [in] raising him from among [the] dead, and he set him down at his right hand in the heavenlies, above every principality, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name named, not only in this age, but also in that to come; and has put all things under his feet, and gave him [to be] head over all things to the assembly, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1: 20–23). Again, God has determined “for [the] administration of the fulness of times; to head up all things in the Christ, the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth; in him, in whom we have also obtained an inheritance” (Eph. 1: 10, 11). Yet again, we read “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of heavenly and earthly and infernal [beings], and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ [is] Lord to God [the] Father’s glory” (Phil. 2: 10, 11). Christ is the Man that will have the full day.
The Future—“that day”
We read of “that day” again and again in the prophecies of the OT concerning the world to come: “And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be brought low; and Jehovah alone shall be exalted in that day ... And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, standing as a banner of the peoples: the nations shall seek it; and his resting-place shall be glory ... And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem toward the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west,—a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south ... And Jehovah shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Jehovah, and his name one” (Is 2: 17; 11: 10; Zech 14: 4, 9, my emphasis). Whose day is it?
Let the NT answer: “who shall also confirm you to [the] end, unimpeachable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ ... to deliver him, [I say], [being] such, to Satan for destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus ... even as also ye have recognised us in part, that we are your boast, even as ye [are] ours in the day of the Lord Jesus ... having confidence of this very thing, that he who has begun in you a good work will complete it unto Jesus Christ’s day ... that ye may judge of and approve the things that are more excellent, in order that ye may be pure and without offence for Christ’s day ... holding forth [the] word of life, so as to be a boast for me in Christ’s day, that I have not run in vain nor laboured in vain” (1 Cor. 1: 8; 5: 5; 2 Cor. 1: 14; Phil. 1: 6, 10; 2: 16, my emphasis).
In harmony with the OT prophets Paul often just speaks of “that day”: “when he shall have come to be glorified in his saints, and wondered at in all that have believed, (for our testimony to you has been believed,) in that day ... For which cause also I suffer these things; but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep for that day the deposit I have entrusted to him ... the Lord grant to him to find mercy from [the] Lord in that day—and how much service he rendered in Ephesus thou knowest best ... Henceforth the crown of righteousness is laid up for me, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will render to me in that day; but not only to me, but also to all who love his appearing” (2 Thess. 1: 10; 2 Tim. 1: 12, 18; 4: 8, my emphasis).
The Future—“the last day”
When the Lord Jesus was on earth, He told the Jews “Your father Abraham exulted in that he should see my day, and he saw and rejoiced” (John 8: 56, my emphasis). Abraham, the man of faith, sets the example for us all. Do we exult and rejoice in the anticipation of our Saviour having His day? This was not the day when He was on earth in the midst of Israel or the day of His sufferings. It was the future day of His glory, what He Himself called “the last day” (see John 6: 39, 40, 44, 54; 11: 24; 12: 48, my emphasis). The Lord Jesus must have the last day. It is an absolute moral necessity. He has suffered here in this world, and on this earth. Therefore, God is going to see to it that it will be here in this very scene that He will be glorified. Glory is the display of moral excellence. As another has said ‘There are many prophecies about the coming glory without any reference to the suffering, but there is never a prophecy of the sufferings without a reference in the immediate context to the glory.’ The Lord Himself asked “Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into his glory?” (Luke 24: 26). The sufferings precede the glory, but the glory always follows (see Heb. 2: 9, 10; 1 Pet. 1: 11; 4: 13; 5: 1, 10). We should remember that in God’s reckoning, the suffering of Christ took place on the day before yesterday—(see 2 Pet. 3: 8).
What is called “that day” in both the OT and the NT is spoken of by the Lord as the “last day”. It is the final period in time—there is nothing to succeed it. Time and again in the OT you read of the Sabbath, the seventh day, and therefore the last day of the week. Israel was told that “the seventh day is the sabbath of Jehovah thy God: thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy bondman, nor thy handmaid, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates” (Ex. 20: 10). It was to be a day of rest for all—for man and beast alike. Paul, in writing to the believing remnant in that nation, reminds them: “There remains then a sabbatism to the people of God” (Heb. 4: 9). This was based on the fact that God “rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made” (Gen. 2: 2). The Sabbath being the last day of the week essentially looked on to “the last day” (John 6: 39 etc.).
Finally, the Lord identified two things with the “last day”: resurrection and eternal life (see John 6: 39, 40, 44, 54). Christ will raise all the saints for “the last day” irrespective of the day in which their lot was cast. As thus raised they will enjoy eternal life. Adam brought in death; the last Adam (see 1 Cor. 15: 45) will bring in life—eternal life. The “last day” is the proper setting for eternal life, not eternity. Why? Because death will not be eradicated in the “last day” but will be the exception rather than the rule for those who will be born during the millennium (see Is. 65: 20). It is in a scene where death still exists that eternal life has its true force. Death is the last enemy that to be annulled (see 1 Cor. 15: 26) and that does not take place until the millennium has ended and the unbelieving dead are raised.
This is the glorious future for the earth, for all creation and for the all the saints of God. What a future to look forward to!
I have sought somewhat briefly to outline the future in time as Scripture presents it. Much more could be said. For example, I have not mentioned anything of the prominent place that Israel will occupy in the world to come when their Messiah at last takes the Kingdom in power and reigns. What I have stressed throughout is that the future hope of the believer lies in a person, not a place. It now just leaves me to ask you, my reader, if you are assured of your future as knowing that Person, the Lord Jesus Christ?