I remember when Christian discussions used to revolve around heaven. There was an expectation of finally seeing our Lord, a longing for the fulfillment and consummation of all things, and a hope of assurance that would well up inside when thinking about our coming glorification. It was almost impossible to fathom that one day we'd receive an everlasting and inexhaustible joy. As a young believer, heaven didn't create a barrage of speculation so much as greater affection for Jesus, whom I'd one day get to see face to face.
And then, like a thief in the night, it seemed to vanish.
Stricken with rapturemania in the 1970s and 1980s, the evangelical landscape seemed to be ruled by end-of-the-world worship songs, apocalyptic sermons, and shoddily produced movies warning believers of the coming judgment. Many churchgoers I knew seemed to be operating with low-level anxiety at best, while others were digging out bunkers in their basements and distributing hastily written underground conspiracy fanzines. Even the slightest mention of "heaven" was swiftly trampled by discussions about world leaders, war in the Middle East, numbers on foreheads, and guillotines that possibly had my name written on them—depending on whether I was "pre-," "mid-," or "post-," of course.
Long Time Ago
Though it feels like a long time ago now, this time still shapes how many of us view eternity with Jesus. I've recently realized just how much my heart longs to remember the future we've been promised through him. A hope that doesn't need to disintegrate under any number of idle end-time debates that put more emphasis on man's speculation than Christ's salvation.
Once again, the gospel brings perspective and balance by pointing us back to where our hope and our home truly lie:
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Phil. 3:20-21)
Notice that Paul doesn't focus so much on our future location as the One responsible for our present salvation and the future transformation of our mortal, earthly bodies. The power isn't in heaven, but in him, who is in heaven.
Have No Fear
Christians, we need not live under the fear of an unwritten future. The One who established our origins is the One who will establish the end of all things. And through it all, he continues to equip his children to endure to the end.
When will the end be? I have no suggestions, but I do know the greatest hope is built on what's unseen, not on what's visible (Rom. 8:24-25; Heb. 11:1, 6). It's a hope grounded in what Jesus has done in the past, what he is doing in the present, and what he will accomplish in the future.
We often forget, don't we? We forget that at one time our hearts were filled with the bright hope of Christ returning in glory to his good and faithful servants. Indeed, the sheer wonder of this reunion will cause all fears to subside, all pain to vanish, and all tears to dry as our King's face becomes visible to all who have longed for his appearing. In the meantime, may we encourage one another daily to remember that future—and to let it galvanize and propel us in the present.
Come, Lord Jesus.
Ronnie Martin is a writer, speaker, and co-author with Ted Kluck of Finding God in the Dark (Bethany House, 2013). You can visit his blog and follow him on Twitter.