I have a confession to make. I am a former English teacher and lifelong reader who has what many people would consider an abominable habit. I almost always read the last page of a book first. Supposedly, I’m spoiling the surprise and maybe even ruining the whole reading experience. Some would say this habit demonstrates a lack of patience; my husband would say that I just hate surprises. Both are probably true. But even though my initial motivations for forming this habit may not have been so noble, I have come to realize over time that there is much to be gained by knowing how a story ends in advance. In fact, Scripture demonstrates the power of this principle as it applies to the Christian life.
Why is there a market for book, movie, and TV “spoilers”? What is the appeal of knowing how something ends before we’ve even begun to read or watch it? I think the answer is fairly simple: knowing the ending makes the process of reading or watching more bearable and perhaps even more enjoyable. When I begin reading a novel, I know that I am going to encounter conflict and tension, struggle and heartbreak. Though a book probably wouldn’t be worth reading without at least a little bit of this tension, I have a hard time wading through those parts unless I know that it ends well. I need to know that the struggle will be worth it, that the characters will grow, that relationships will strengthen, that there will be redemption in the end.
Looking Ahead Brings Comfort
The Christian life is much the same. We are better able to bear struggle and difficulty by looking forward to the reward God has promised for those who are in Christ. Jesus tells his disciples in John 16:33 plainly to expect difficulty: “In the world you will have tribulation.” Thankfully, he immediately follows that warning with a comforting truth: “But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Jesus is giving a glimpse of the ending, which is already written. He has overcome the world. When discouragement and defeat come to us personally, or when we witness the devastating effects of sin on our country and our world, we can continue on, strengthened and comforted in the knowledge that the ultimate victory is already won.
Jesus’s model of juxtaposing present reality with future hope is repeated many times in Scripture. Consider how David proclaims his assurance of God’s faithfulness in Psalm 23. In verse 4 he alludes to a present struggle saying, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” But he ends looking to the future, proclaiming, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” He is comforted not only by the knowledge that the Lord is with him in present struggles, but also by looking forward to his eternal home.
Looking Ahead Encourages Obedience
The author of Hebrews helps us to see how Abraham and Moses were spurred on in obedience to God’s will by looking forward to their heavenly reward. Abraham was called to go out “not knowing where he was going,” so “by faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land” (Heb. 11:8-9). How was Abraham able to take this huge step of faith, to uproot his entire life not knowing what was ahead? Verse 10 tells us: “He was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”
Similarly, Moses “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” (Heb. 11:24). Moses chose “rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:25). How could Moses make the choice to be mistreated rather than pampered? Verse 26 explains, “He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” Abraham and Moses were able to leave behind earthly comforts and act in obedience to God’s call on their lives because they were looking ahead to their eternal reward.
Looking Ahead Enables Faithfulness
A future-sighted view can also strengthen the believer to remain faithful amid temptation, a concept that English Puritan preacher Thomas Manton (1620-1677) eloquently explained in a sermon he preached on Hebrews 11. He taught, “Foretastes of heaven will bring such a strong influence in the heart of a believer, that all the reasons in the world cannot alter or break the force of our spiritual purpose.” He explained the benefits of a forward-looking faith with these examples:
- When tempted to disregard the service of the Lord in favor of earthly advantages, faith looks to the immeasurable riches of heaven.
- When tempted to seek the fame and good opinion of the world, faith looks to the crown of righteousness that God will give us.
- When tempted to complain and grumble under the weight of taking up our cross and following Christ, faith looks to the end of the journey, which will find us in sweet fellowship with him.
Manton taught that God’s promises for the future protect our hearts. Knowing what God has in store for the believer does not spoil anything; to the contrary, it improves everything.
I hope you’ll agree that I’m not spoiling anything when I tell you (or perhaps remind you) how the greatest book ever written ends. It ends with a promise, a prayer, and a blessing. There is a promise to remind us that our future is sure, the victory is won, and our bridegroom is coming; a prayer that invites us to look forward with joyful anticipation to the fulfillment of God’s promises; and a blessing that gives us what we need to remain faithful until our hope is fulfilled. Be encouraged by the words of Revelation 22:20-21: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”