BY Jack Kelley
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6-7).
Even after years and years of answering questions about it, I am still amazed at how little most Christians know about what's ahead for the Church. I realize that many Church leaders have become earth centered, focused on meeting growth and financial goals in the here and now. In fact a recent Barna Group survey revealed that the top five indicators pastors use to judge their success are attendance, giving, number of programs, number of staff, and the square footage of their facility.
To me that's a shame because the Church is supposed to be a heaven centered organization focused on getting people ready to go there soon.
Bringing people into the kingdom and preparing them for eternity should be the Church's number one priority (Matt. 28:19-20). You would think it would at least be in the top 5 indicators of success, but it isn't.
Paul said we should fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, because what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor. 4:18). To me that means we should pay more attention to our next life than we do to this one. After all we're going to spend a whole lot more time there. The problem is, most Christians know so little about our next life that even if they wanted to focus on it they couldn't tell where to begin.
Therefore, I invite you to spend the next few minutes thinking about something that will have eternal significance to you; the unbelievably amazing destiny of the Church.
Where Do We Go Next?
Let's begin at the beginning. When Jesus died for our sins and rose again He freed us from the penalty thereof, giving us the assurance of eternal life with Him. This is not only true of the Church, but of all those who believed in a coming redeemer and died before the Church came to be, and all those who will come to believe in Jesus after the Church has departed. Hebrews 10:12 tells us Jesus offered one sacrifice (Himself) for all time. That covers everyone from the first man to the last.
Those who either lived in the time before the Church or will live in the time after it, were (will be) required to give evidence of their belief that Jesus died for them by obeying God's laws, and can suffer a lapse of faith, even to the point of losing their salvation. I assume you know this to be true about Old Testament believers. Matt. 25:1-13, Rev. 14:12, Rev. 16:15 tell us it's also true about post Church believers.
The only requirement God has imposed on people who live during the time of the Church is that we believe in the one He sent (John 6:28-29). What's more, He has accepted the responsibility for seeing to it that we don't suffer a lapse of faith and has put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come (2 Cor. 1:21-22) so we can't lose our salvation. This manifestation of His grace is unique to the Church.
Also unique to us is the authority He gave us to become members of His own family (John 1:12-13). He made good on this by legally adopting us as His children, brothers and sisters of Christ (Romans 8:29) and co-heirs with Him (Romans 8:17, Galatians 4:4-7).
At the same time, He chose to begin seeing us as we will be after we've been perfected, calling us "a new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17), "holy and blameless, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish"(Ephes. 5:25-27), and having the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). He knows we'll be that way in the future, after He changes us from mortal to immortal, but He began seeing only the "future us" from the time we believed. He attributes our post salvation sins to the sin that still lives within us, and not to the perfect creation He now considers us to be (Romans 7:18-20).
These are the first indications that God looks upon the Church differently from any other group of humankind. If that was all He has done for us, it would be far more than we deserve. But in truth, it's only the beginning. The real differences will come into effect after He takes us to our eternal home.
Unlike Israel, the Church's destiny is not tied to a specific location on Earth. In fact our destiny is not on Earth at all. Our citizenship is in heaven, Paul said, and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:20).
While at present the Lord's Kingdom is in this world, Jesus said it's not of this world (John 18:36). In other words we don't belong here. The Church has no homeland on Earth. We are sojourners in a foreign land, and our heart's desire should be to go home where we belong. That doesn't mean we can't have a good life while we're here. It means we should know that, even on its very best day, life here can't begin to compare with being home.
Home At Last
Our journey home will be a short one, and it will take many of us by surprise, although we've been warned that it shouldn't (1 Thes. 5:4). One minute we'll be here, going about our business, and in the next we'll be there, having been changed from mortal to immortal and from flawed to perfect in the twinkling of an eye (1 Cor. 15:51-53).
Jesus said He will come back to take us to a place in His Father's house that He's been preparing for us ever since He left (John 14:2-3). This is where we'll be safely hidden away while His Father visits the most extreme series of judgments in the history of mankind upon the rebellious world (Isaiah 26:20-21). This series of judgments is called the wrath of God in the Bible (Rev. 6:17). It will take seven years to complete and the Lord promised to deliver us from all of it (1 Thes. 1:10, Rev. 3:10).
During that time the Church will experience a series of events that couldn't possibly be more different from those taking place on earth. For the first time in our lives we will actually be face to face with the Lord and receive our welcome into the Kingdom, the voices of untold numbers of angels singing and shouting for joy ringing in our ears (Rev. 5:11-14).
We will have a joyful reunion with those whose spirits preceded us, and who will have received their resurrection bodies at the same time as ours were being changed (1 Thes. 4:16-17).
In describing this change John wrote, "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2) and Paul said, "He will transform our lowly bodies so they will be like His glorious body" (Phil. 3:21). Try to imagine a glorious body just like the Lord's, with abilities comparable to His.
We will attend an awards ceremony called the bema judgment where the Lord will reward us for the things we did at His direction and in His strength during our time on earth (1 Cor. 3:10-15, John 15:5). Jesus called these rewards "treasure in heaven" and said we should be more focused on storing them up than we are on storing up treasure on Earth (Matt. 6:19-21). That old saying "we can't take it with us" is certainly true, but the Lord said we can send it up ahead.
Our relationship with the Lord will be formalized. The Bride of Christ will become the wife of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-8, Rev. 21:9). We'll be seated at His right hand, above all the ranks of angels, assuming our role as co-regents with Him (Ephes. 1:18-21, Ephes. 2:4-7).
So This Is Where We Live
We'll be shown our eternal home, the New Jerusalem. From the description in Rev. 21 it appears to be extravagant beyond all known standards, being made of the purest gold and and precious gems. The overall dimensions of the New Jerusalem seem extravagant as well. It will be almost 1400 miles in length and width and just as tall (Rev. 21:16-17). If it was located on Earth it would be much bigger than Israel, as big as western Europe, and nearly half as big as the USA. At nearly 1400 miles tall, it would extend into space well beyond the upper atmosphere and be 4,000 times as tall as the world's next tallest building.
Based on these dimensions, I don't believe the New Jerusalem will be on Earth, but instead will descend out of Heaven at the time of the 2nd Coming into an orbit in close proximity to Earth. Some speculate it will be triangular in shape while others say it will be a cube, but the Bible does not reveal its shape. (If it was a globe it would be 2/3rds the size of the moon.)
Our home won't need either the sun or moon to shine on it because the glory of God will give it light. In fact the light from our home will be sufficient to provide light for Earth as well (Rev. 21:23-24). Remember, in Matt. 24:29 Jesus said the sun and moon would not give their light after the end of the Great Tribulation. So we will be the light of the world after all (Matt. 5:14). There won't be a temple in the New Jerusalem because the Father and Son will be our Temple there (Rev. 21:22) just as we have been their temple here (1 Cor. 3:16).
The Bible doesn't provide any description of our individual quarters but from the general description of the city I think we'll find them to be just as opulent.
Some have asked why we will need such a spectacular home, and truth be told we probably won't. But remember, the kings of the Earth live in palaces that provide luxurious comfort far beyond their needs. Members of their families live in a way the rest of us can only dream about. How much more so should it be for the family of the King of the universe.
But more importantly, giving us only what we need was not the Lord's objective in building the New Jerusalem. Right from the beginning, His objective where the Church is concerned has been to demonstrate to ages yet to come the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus (Ephes 2:7). And wouldn't you expect Jesus, one for whom cost is truly no object, to throw the budget out the window when it comes to building something that will express His love for His bride?
Some wonder how we'll occupy ourselves in our new life. The Bible doesn't offer any detail on this, probably because there is no way we could compare life here with life in the hereafter. Paul, who did get a glimpse of it, said;
"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Cor. 2:9).
What we do know is that no group before or after us has ever been so blessed while on Earth, and His word tells us that no group before or after us will ever be so blessed in eternity. And the best part is we don't have long to wait to start receiving it all. You can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah.