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What does the future hold?

By Jim Railey

Editor’s note: 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.

"The resurrection 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 second death."

"We, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness."

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. God’s 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.

Christ’s return will also mark the resurrection of the dead — when the believing dead are rewarded with eternal life in God’s 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 Bible’s final book, graphically depicts the nature of the Tribulation as being the outpouring of God’s 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 1:7).

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 God’s final plan for humankind.

While we are not able to set dates for the fulfillment of God’s 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.

Jim Railey is professor of theology and chairperson of the Bible and Theology Department at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.

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