does the future hold?
This is the final installment in a series of eight monthly articles
on the 16 Foundational Truths of the Assemblies of God, written
by faculty of Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.
of those who have fallen asleep in Christ and their translation
together with those who are alive and remain unto the coming of
the Lord is the imminent and blessed hope of the church."
"The second coming
of Christ includes the rapture of the saints, which is our blessed
hope, followed by the visible return of Christ with His saints to
reign on earth for one thousand years."
"There will be a
final judgment in which the wicked dead will be raised and judged
according to their works. Whosoever is not found written in the
Book of Life, together with the devil and his angels, the beast
and the false prophet, will be consigned to the everlasting punishment
in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the
"We, according to
His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth
The terrorist attacks
of September 11, 2001, that destroyed the twin towers in New York
City, killing thousands, altered our thinking in many ways. Many
since that day have reconsidered the question, what does the future
hold? People struggle to determine what is ahead for us as a nation.
Believers are refocusing on what lies ahead for the church.
A major part of the questioning
comes from the frustration of trying to predict what events will
occur next in the order of time. With the outbreak of anthrax, the
arrests of some accused of being part of terrorist networks, and
the repeated warnings of possible
future attacks, the concern
for the future grows. The harsh reality is that the future is unpredictable
and beyond our ability to know beforehand.
While that is true, there
are some certainties revealed in the Bible about the future that
can be known and believed. Without trying to set dates for when
future events are to take place, we can rest assured that God does
have the ultimate outcome of human history in His providence, that
He will bring it to pass in His time, and that He has made known
enough of His plan to give us guidance and comfort.
The second coming of
Christ is the major future event to which this entire world is pointing.
The first coming of Christ is the focal point of all human history;
His second coming will be the consummation of human history. Gods
great plan, revealed first in creation, will be complete when Christ
returns. Scholars note
that the second coming of Jesus Christ is spoken of more than 300
times in the New Testament, making it a certain event, creating
hope in the hearts of all believers. The world is not careening
out of control toward its own destruction; rather, God is working
to move human history toward the time when He will send Jesus Christ
back to this earth.
will also mark the resurrection of the dead when the believing
dead are rewarded with eternal life in Gods presence and the
unbelieving dead are forced to spend eter-nity apart from God. The
power of death, which now brings fear and the pain of separation,
will then be defeated. The powerful resurrection life of Christ
will transform these mortal bodies, giving to them the state of
incorruptibility (1 Corinthians 15:35-58).
The Assemblies of God,
along with many other churches, believes that the second coming
of Christ will occur in two phases, separated by a time of severe
judgment upon the sinful world. The first phase of the second coming
of Christ will be His coming to take the church out of the world
before the outbreak of His judgment. This event is known as the
rapture of the church. Although the word rapture is not a biblical
word, the concept of the removal
of the church is a principle message of Scripture. (See 1 Thessalonians
4:16-18; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; 2:1.)
The church, comprised
of believers from all peoples on the earth, has been promised escape
from the future wrath of God upon the unbelieving world. The apostle
Paul asserted that the resurrected Christ "rescues us from
the coming wrath" (1 Thessalonians 1:10, NIV), because "God
did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through
our Lord Jesus Christ"
(1 Thessalonians 5:9).
The future for the believer contains the promise of being either
raised from the dead or being taken directly into the presence of
God. What a blessed hope.
The two phases of the
second coming of Christ will be separated by a terrible time of
judgment upon the sinful world. Instead of the world becoming more
devoted to Christ, the world is becoming more sinful, and God will
bring His judgment on this condition. This period of time is usually
desig-nated as the Great Tribulation. The Book of Revelation, the
Bibles final book, graphically depicts the nature of the Tribulation
as being the outpouring of Gods wrath. The sinful world that
refuses to bow before God and accept Him now will be judged for
the refusal to do so. The images and figures of Revelation indicate
the terrible nature of the judgment for sin. God will display His
righteousness in the final dealing with the rebellion of humankind
that began in the Garden of Eden.
The revelation of Christ,
at the end of the Tribulation, will be the second phase of the return
of Christ to this earth. At this time His coming will be very public
and physical, described by John in this way: "Look, he is coming
with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced
him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him"
Revelation 19:11-21 tells
of this triumphant conquest over the sinfulness of the world. Riding
on a white horse, the victorious Christ will destroy the wicked
with the sword that comes out of His mouth. The Tribulation will
be brought to an end, the judgment of God will be completed, and
the world will experience a time of peace known as the millennial
reign of Christ.
During that time Christ
will rule on the earth in righteousness and peace. This is based
on the teaching of Revelation 20. Satan and his lieutenants will
be unable to torment and tempt humans. At the end of the period
of 1,000 years there will be a final rebellion by Satan, a rebellion
that God defeats with force, assigning Satan and his minions to
the lake of fire from which they never find release.
The ultimate answer to
the question, "What does the future hold?" is the establishment
by God of new heavens and earth. Revelation 21 and 22 describe the
provision of God for a dwelling place for himself among those who
have believed on Him and received the reward of being in His presence
eternally. The present order of things will give way to the miraculous
provision of God. This sin-affected world will yield to the blessedness
of a new world without the taint of sin. Sickness and death, war
and hatred, violence and cruelty all of these will be no
more in Gods final plan for humankind.
While we are not able
to set dates for the fulfillment of Gods intentions for the
future, we can know with certainty that the future holds the return
of Christ both for His church and to judge the world, the reign
of Christ on earth for 1,000 years, and the new heavens and earth.
In light of these certainties about the future, how should we be
living today? Peter answers this question very clearly: "You
ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day
of God and speed its coming" (2 Peter 3:11,12). In the face
of the fear that torments our neighbors about the future we should
live in faith, testifying to them that our God has everything in
His control and that He will bring about the plans that He has had
from the beginning. Armed with the hope that burns brightly within
us, we must light our world, drawing people to Christ.
Railey is professor of theology and chairperson of the Bible and
Theology Department at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.