The Consumation: A Biblical Scenario
Note: This essay is an extract from my book, The Great End Time Debate (Redemption Press, 2022). For a close study of many of the biblical texts cited here, please consult the book itself, along with the relevant essays posted here on my website and blog.
In the course of our journey we have learned much about the Consummation. It is the historical hinge on which the temporary Kingdom of the Son swings into the eternal Kingdom of the Father (and the Son). It is the theme of many solemn, majestic, and encouraging Old Testament Kingdom prophecies. It is the capstone of the Millennium and the Morning Star of the World to Come. Its purpose is manifold, its elements simple, its structure unified, and its essence Christ-centered. It is the Blessed Hope of the Church (Titus 2:11-14).
And we need this hope. The God who alone is wise has predestined his Church to an arduous walk through wilderness of this world. However, he has not left her comfortless (John 14:16-18). Far from it. When the Risen King ascended on high he gave gifts to men (Eph. 4:8). One of the greatest of these was hope (Rom. 5:2; 8:24; 15:13). He intends that we should see it, embrace it, and constantly draw upon it, thereby receiving strength to worship, serve, and rejoice as we make our difficult way to the Promised Land.
Accordingly, as we bring our study of the Consummation to a close, I want to offer a final biblical scenario of this majestic event—but this time with a special emphasis on hope. As we journey together, we will see that God has designed each element of the Consummation in such a way as to ignite a special kind of hope in the hearts of his pilgrim children. At the end of the day, I trust you will have found that the totality of these different kinds of hope makes our one Blessed Hope blessed indeed!
The Signs of His Coming
We have seen that Christ and the apostles gave us a body of signs by which we may know that the Parousia and the Consummation are drawing near. Again, in strictness we cannot call them elements of the Consummation, since they are providential events that herald the Consummation rather than supernatural events that actually bring it to pass. Nevertheless, because they are so closely associated with the Consummation—and so vital for the spiritual health of God’s people—we do well to consider them afresh.
On this score our Lord himself led the way, speaking about many of these signs in his Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). After his ascension and the subsequent outpouring of the Holy Spirit, he would inspire his writing apostles to disclose the rest, thereby giving us a complete picture of the events that will herald the end (Rom. 11; 2 Thess. 2; Rev. 6-20). The signs of his Coming fall into two basic categories. Let us consider them once again, paying special attention to the kinds of hope they engender.
The Beginning of the Birth Pains
First, we have the beginning of the birth pains (Matt. 24:8). As is true of all the signs, these reflect the continual clash of the Kingdom of God with the kingdom of Satan. Ever since the Day of Pentecost, Christ himself—by his Spirit and through his Church—has been going forth into the earth, mounting a redemptive assault on Satan’s Domain of Darkness (Rev. 6:1-8; 12:17). The strong man and his followers are not pleased (Matt. 12:22-31). Therefore, at every turn they seek to oppose the High King and his army; at their every defeat they seek to avenge their formidable losses (Rev. 12:13-17). This warfare is perennial, with the result that the signs associated with it are also perennial. They occur throughout the entire course of the High King’s heavenly reign: the entire course of the Era of Gospel Proclamation and Probation.
Broadly, there are two kinds of early birth pains.
On the one hand, we have what are manifestly judgments of God (but also the wages of human sin): wars, famines, earthquakes, pestilence, and the judicial hardening of human hearts (Matt. 24:7; Luke 21:5-19; Rom. 1:18-32; Rev. 6:1-8; 9:20-21; 16:9, 11). But while God disciplines and warns the world through these events, he also gives understanding and hope through the Church. In every generation she is called to interpret these judgments, to proclaim the greater Judgment that they portend, and to direct sinners to the One who took that judgment upon himself so that he might save them from the wrath to come (Matt. 3:7; 20:28; 1 Thess. 1:10).
On the other hand, we have what are manifestly acts of Satan: the emergence of false christs and false prophets, the apostasy of nominal believers, and the persecution of the true spiritual Church (Matt. 24:4-14; Rev. 6:9-11; 11:7-10; 16:12-16; 20:7-10). As in Eden, so throughout all Salvation History: God tests our love of God, truth, and righteousness, in large part by allowing deceiving spirits to raise their voice against his (Gen. 3:1-5; Prov. 17:3; John 3:16-21; Acts 17:26-28; 2 Thess. 2:9-12; 1 John 4:1). In the midst of this spiritual warfare the Church also raises her voice, urging all men to listen to him who is the way, the truth, and the life, and to ponder the many reasons why they should do so (John 5:30-47; 14:6; Acts 2:22-26; 17:22-31).
Importantly, the Lord strictly warned his disciples against misconstruing the meaning of these signs, saying, “These things must take place, but the end has not yet come” (Matt. 24:6). Yes, they are indeed signs that the end is fast approaching (Rev. 12:12); but they are also signs that the end is still to come (Mark 13:7). Accordingly, the wise disciple will not allow himself to be distracted by the beginning of birth pains. Instead, he will recall their meaning, renew his commitment to the cause of Christ, and immerse himself afresh in the gifts and callings of his Lord, all in the sure hope that his labors are not in vain, and that soon the day the birth will arrive (Matt. 24:14; 1 Cor. 15:58).
Signs of the Imminence of the Parousia
These signs will occur near the end of the present evil age, and will indeed herald the imminence of the Parousia and the Consummation. Importantly, they will not enable believers to determine “the day or the hour” of their Master’s return, only that it is quite near, even at the door (Matt. 24:32-36). Therefore, believers should be on the lookout for (the confluence of) these signs, and should take courage when they see them on the horizon.
One such sign is the completion of world evangelization. As Jesus himself expressed it, “This Gospel of the Kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14; cf. Rev. 11:7). Accordingly, believers will want to stay abreast of the state of the global harvest, rejoicing in hope when they see thriving churches being planted in “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).
Another such sign—closely related to the first—is the conversion of the great mass of ethnic Jews. According to the apostle Paul this will occur near the end of the Era of Proclamation, when the full number of elect Gentiles has finally come to Christ (Luke 21:24). At that time, God will graciously visit his ancient people and graft (many of) them into his New Covenant vine through the preaching of the Gospel and a newfound faith in their Messiah. When he does, it will be nothing less than “life from the dead,” a thrilling promise that surely refers to the Resurrection that Christ himself will effect at his Parousia (Rom. 11:20-27).1
A third sign of the nearness of the end is thick and widespread spiritual darkness. Hitherto, the light of the Gospel has shone fairly brightly in the darkness of the world system, restraining much of its evil (Matt. 5:14; John 1:5; Phil. 2:15; Rev. 20:1–3). But in the last of the last days—which may well be upon us—the darkness will largely prevail.
The Lord himself warned us that lawlessness will increase, and that the love of many (professing believers) will grow cold (Matt. 24:12). He said that things will be as they were in the days of Noah, Lot, and Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 6:5; Matt. 24:36-44; Luke 17:26-30).
The apostle Paul concurs, predicting that in those days the manifestations of human depravity will be appalling and appallingly diverse (2 Tim. 3:1-9); that many (professing Christians) will fall away from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1); that prior to the eschatological conversion of ethnic Israel (many of) the Gentile branches (i.e., nominal Christians and nominally Christian nations) will be broken off from the vine of God (Rom. 11:19-21); and that just prior to the manifestation of the Antichrist, a final “rebellion” will occur, in which huge swaths of humanity will altogether cast off the cords of the Law and Gospel of God (Ps. 2:1-3; 2 Thess. 2:3).
In the Revelation, the Spirit corroborates these testimonies: Even in the face of lethal temporal judgments, the men of the last days will refuse to repent of their idolatry, murders, sorceries, sexual immorality, and thefts (Rev. 9:13-21). Such prospects are daunting, but the Lord would not have his Church face them unprepared.
This brings us to the fourth sign of the imminence of the end, the Last Battle (Rev. 11:7; 13:7; 16:12-16; 19:17-21; 20:7-10). It will commence with the rise to power of the Man of Lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:1-4), also referred to as the Antichrist (1 John 2:18). He will be a satanically energized world leader with pretensions to deity, who, by means of persuasive words and miraculous powers, will succeed in consolidating the fallen world-system around himself and against the people of God (Rev. 13:3-4). The resulting persecution—global in scale and fierce in intensity—will culminate in the apparent demise of the true spiritual Church and her expulsion from the public square. Institutionally, she will lie dead in the street of the great city, which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also her Lord was crucified (Matt. 24:15; Rev. 11:7-10; Rev. 16:12-16; 20:7-10). It was this latter-day persecution—and not simply the destruction of Jerusalem—that the Lord had in mind when he warned his disciples, saying, “For at that time there will be great tribulation, the likes of which have not been seen from the beginning of the world until now—no, and never will be” (Matt. 24:21-22).
It should not be supposed, however, that the Church alone will endure the tribulation of those days. For God—responding to the final assault of evil against his Christ, his truth, and his people—will bring wave upon wave of providential judgment against the rebellious nations. As the end draws near, these judgments will increase in number and intensity, with less and less time in between for (a dangerously deceptive) “business as usual” (Matt. 24:36-44; Luke 18:1-8; 1 Thess. 5:1-3; Rev. 8:1-6).
Here, then, is the fifth and final sign of the imminence of the end: stupendous disruptions in nature and society. They are at once “death throes” and “birth pangs.” On the one hand, they signal the imminent destruction of Satan’s evil kingdom and the demise of the City of Man (Rev. 18). As such, they are like trumpets, mercifully warning sinners of the Judgment soon to come, and giving them a final opportunity to repent and trust in Christ (Rev. 8:2). On the other hand, they signal the imminent birth of God’s Kingdom in its glorious fullness. As such, they are meant to give insight and courage to the saints (Dan. 12:10; Matt. 24:8). Speaking of these extraordinary events, the Lord remarked as follows:
“And unless those days had been cut short, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake, they will indeed be cut short.” (Matthew 24:22)
“And there will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth distress among nations perplexed by the roaring of the sea and its waves; men will be fainting from fear, and from foreboding over the things that keep coming on the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” (Luke 21:25-26)
It is not difficult to see why Christ and his (writing) apostles make these signs known to all disciples: How shall they endure such strong tribulation unless they know that it is all part of God’s plan, that God will preserve them through it, that it will be ever so brief, and that it will both herald and trigger the return of their King: the One who will fly swiftly to the rescue of his beloved Bride, and who will richly reward her faithfulness with the unspeakable joys of the Kingdom of God (Luke 21:17-19; John 10:28-29; 2 Thess. 1:3-10; Rev. 11:11-19; 20:9-10; 21-22)?
We see, then, that the Lord gave us all these signs in order to kindle hope: hope of his provision and protection amidst tribulation, hope of his Parousia, and hope of the eternal blessings that it will bring (Rom. 8:18-24; 31-39). As he himself said, “Now when these things start to happen, stand up and lift your heads, for your redemption is drawing near!” (Luke 21:28).
This is the hub, the central element of the Consummation, the core eschatological event that brings all the others to pass in quick succession. Many NT texts describe it, but none more famously than the one found in the Gospel of Matthew:
“But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will wail and mourn and beat their breasts; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send forth his angels with a loud blast of the trumpet; and they will gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of the skies to the other.” (Matthew 24:29-31; cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10; Revelation 19:11-21)
Earlier we discussed this text in some detail. Here I want simply to highlight certain specific elements of the Lord’s Parousia—elements by which God seeks to convey important messages to all of us as we continue to take the test of life.
First, there is a darkening. God literally extinguishes the sun, moon, and stars. The result is thick darkness, the kind that engulfed the earth-in-the-deep at the dawn of creation, and a kind that symbolizes the spiritual darkness that engulfed mankind through the fall of Adam (Gen. 1:1-5; Col. 1:13). This darkness sets the stage for the appearing of the Light of the World, the One who will now separate all light from all darkness forever. In that day, the saints will declare that the Light is exceedingly good (Gen. 1:1-5; Eccl. 11:7; 2 Cor. 4:6)!
Secondly, there is an appearing—an appearing of many things, but especially of the Son of Man himself. Because of the Resurrection of the Dead, every eye will see him (Rev. 1:7). But along with an appearing to the eye, there will also be an appearing to the mind. In his Light, all will see light (Ps. 36:9). All will see and acknowledge the truth about God: truth previously made known to them in nature, conscience, history, Scripture, and above all, in Jesus Christ and the preaching of the Gospel (Josh. 4:23-24; Is. 45:20-25; Gal. 6:16; Eph. 3:4-6; Phil. 2:9-11; 1 Thess. 1:9; 1 Tim. 3:15).
Thirdly, there will be mourning. The poet wisely said, “Of all the words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’” Such will be the mournful thought of multitudes at Christ’s Parousia. “If only I had sought the Lord when he could be found; if only I had called upon him while he was near; if only I had believed and obeyed the light by which God tested my love of the truth. For now the door is shut, and the thing that I feared has come upon me” (Job 3:25-26; Is. 55:6; Prov. 3:20-33; Matt. 25:10; John 1:9; 3:16-21; Acts 17:30-31; Rom. 1:18-19; 2 Thess. 1:8; Rev. 1:7; 18:1-24).
Fourthly, there will be gathering. Here the Lord speaks of the gathering of his elect. In a moment, he will speak of the gathering of all the nations: of all who have ever lived upon the face of the earth (Matt. 25:32). This is a gathering unto judgment, but also unto the truth: the truth about what each person did with the light he was given during his days upon the earth.
Finally, there will be a centering. When the Lord returns, the luminaries above will be dissolved, and the earth below will flee for safety from before his face (Is. 34:4; Zech. 14:6; Rev. 20:11). Then the true Center will be revealed: the High King of Heaven and Earth, seated upon his glorious throne, with all men and all angels gathered before him, awaiting the final disposition of all things.2 In that day all will realize that the One now enthroned at the center of the universe is the One who was always enthroned at the center of the Father’s affection, purpose, plan, and work. All will behold the Son of God for who he is, and for what God appointed him to be: the Alpha and the Omega: the divine Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, Ruler, Judge, Re-creator, Light, and Life of all.
Do we understand God’s purpose in structuring the Parousia in this way? Yes, he has indeed structured it to maximize the glory of his Son, to vindicate the truth of the Gospel, and to unite the heavenly Bride and Groom once and for all. For all these reasons, the Parousia lies at the very heart of the Blessed Hope of the saints.
But God also has structured it—and has revealed its structure—in order to speak to us who are still making their pilgrimage on the earth, who are still taking the test of life. Through these things he lovingly asks us, “Who or what is your center? To whom or what are you devoting your life’s time, talent, treasure, and energies as you journey toward the hour of your death or the day of my Son’s return? Have you considered Him: his life, his miracles, his teachings, his death, his resurrection, his people, and his book? Is he not, far and away, the world’s best candidate for every man’s true center? So then: Will you not turn aside and investigate this great Light (Ex. 3:3)? Will you not earnestly inquire as to who he is and why he came, and keep on inquiring until you have found out for sure (Matt. 7:7-8)? I tell you the truth: When the High King of Heaven comes again he will be the absolute center of all things; and no tongue or pen will be able to describe the joy of those pilgrims who sought and found the Truth, and who made him the absolute center of their lives” (John 14:6; Jude 1:24).
The Resurrection of the Dead, promised by the OT prophets, taught by Christ, proclaimed by the apostles, and longed for by all the saints, takes place at the Parousia (Acts 26:6-8). Christ himself will accomplish it. As Jesus said, “Don’t be amazed at this; for an hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth: those who did what is good to a resurrection of life, and those who practiced what is evil, to a resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28-29; cf. Phil. 3:20-21).
As these words make clear, there is but one general resurrection, for which reason Christ and his apostles repeatedly speak of it as the Resurrection (Matt. 22:30; Luke 14:14; Acts 17:18; 24:15; Phil. 3:11). The saints look forward to it as the consummation of their redemption (John 11:24; Rom. 8:23; Phil. 3:11). When it occurs, their perfected spirits, descending with the Lord from Heaven above, will be joined to perfected bodies, after which they will live forever as fully restored human beings, perfect in body, soul, and spirit (1 Thess. 4:13-18; 5:23). Their new bodies will be like Christ’s body: glorious, powerful, incorruptible, and immortal, perfectly suited to the glories of the World to Come (Luke 20:35-36; 1 Cor. 15:43-49; Phil. 3:20-21). One of Israel’s leading sects, the Sadducees, flatly denied the bodily resurrection (Mark 12:18). The Athenians, at the sound of Paul’s preaching, scoffed at the very idea (Acts 17:32). Modern skeptics follow in their footsteps. But Jesus rebukes them all, saying, “You are greatly mistaken, knowing neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt. 22:29; cf. Mark 12:27). The Resurrection will abundantly vindicate both.
Saints living at the time of Christ’s return will not be raised, but suddenly transformed and glorified. According to the apostle John, this amazing change will occur the moment they behold the Lord coming in the sky. “Beloved, even now we are the children of God. As for what we will be, that has not yet been revealed. But we do know that when he appears we will be like him, for we will see him just as he is” (1 John 3:2; cf. 2 Cor. 3:18). Similarly, the apostle Paul declares: “Listen carefully, for I am telling you a mystery: Not all of us will sleep, but all of us will be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:51-52; cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18). At the Resurrection of the Dead and the Transformation of the Living Saints, Christ will glorify and gather together the new family of man so that they may live forever with him and his Father in the World to Come.
The Resurrection also involves the Catching Up of risen (or transformed) mankind to meet the Lord in the sky. As we learn from the Olivet discourse, at his Parousia Christ will send forth his angels to gather his elect from the four corners of the earth (Matt. 24:31; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). But as we learn from the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, he will also send forth his angels to gather up the unrighteous (Matt. 13:36-43). To judge from related NT texts, it appears that they too will be brought before the Judgment Seat of Christ (where all must appear), and then cast into the “furnace of fire” (Matt. 13:43, 50; 25:31-46; cf. 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:11-15). Dispensational interpreters argue that the Catching Up (which they call the Rapture) affects only Christ’s Church, occurs in secret, and takes place seven years prior to his visible return in glory. We have seen, however, that this view seriously departs from the Bible, and also from historic Christian theology, confessions, and creeds.
The Resurrection and its concomitants bring the saint’s blessed hope exceedingly close to home. These amazing events promise us a healthy new body, a joyful reunion with departed Christian loved ones, and the privilege of being like the Lord, with the Lord, forever.
The Resurrection leads quickly to the Judgment. Christ himself will administer it. In the days of his flesh Jesus taught his disciples that he would occupy the Judgment Seat of God on the Last Day (Matt. 19:28; 25:31). He also said, “As the Father has life within himself, so too has he granted the Son to have life within himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgment, since he is the Son of Man” (John 5:26-27; cf. John 5:30; 2 Cor. 5:10). The Judgment signals the end of all Gospel probation for the sons of Adam: There is no further opportunity to receive salvation, no further opportunity to earn rewards. As on the day of his death, so on the Day of Judgment: A man’s eternal destiny is sealed once and for all (John 8:24; Heb. 8:27; Rev. 20:11-15).
The Judgment has two main elements. First, Christ will effect a final separation of the saved from the lost. This element is vividly set forth in the Olivet Discourse, where the Lord likens himself to a shepherd who must separate the sheep from the goats at the end of the day (Matt. 25:31-46; cf. Matt 3:12; 13:30, 48). All-pervasively, the NT teaches that the one criterion for inclusion in God’s Kingdom is personal faith in the Person and finished Work of Christ (Matt. 11:28; 22:11-12; John 3:16-21; 5:24; 6:29; Acts 16:31; 26:18; Rom. 3:28; 4:16; 5:1; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8; Titus 3:4-5). When the scrolls are opened, those who trusted in him—and who therefore lived for him—will find their names written in the Lamb’s Scroll of Life (Rev. 20:12, 15). Those who did not, but trusted instead in their own righteousness to win Heaven’s favor, will be dismayed to see how far short they fell of the one and only standard for salvation: the glory (i.e., the character, perfection) of God, freely offered to mankind in the Christ of God (Matt. 5:48; 22:11-12; Luke 18:9-14; Rom. 3:23; Phil. 3:8-9; Heb. 12:15).3
The second element of the Judgment is reward and retribution. Christ himself will administer them both. In the case of the saints, there is no retribution since the Savior underwent their punishment in his own Person (1 Peter 3:18). Indeed, this was one of his great purposes in laying down his life as a ransom for many: namely, that he should deliver them from the wrath to come (Mark 10:45; 1 Thess. 1:10). Believers will, however, receive rewards. For their faith in—and faithfulness to—Christ, they will receive a warm welcome into the completed Kingdom (Matt. 25:34; 2 Peter 1:11). For their spiritual labors—that is, for all that they allowed Christ to accomplish through them by his Spirit —they will receive gifts and privileges: some thirty, some sixty, and some a hundredfold (Matt. 6:19-21; 25:14-30; Mark 10:29-31; John 15:1-8; Rom. 15:18). Soberingly, Paul warns that negligent saints will find many of their works burning up like wood, hay, and stubble, though they themselves will be saved (1 Cor. 3:12-15). Presumably, the recognition of this grievous loss will occur on the day of their death (v. 13); with respect to the Day of Judgment, it portends real but limited reward.
As for the lost, it is written that they will suffer eternal retribution in Gehenna (Matt. 5:22, 29; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33), also called the Lake of Fire (Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 14). The Scriptures represent Gehenna as a true place; and since the Father has given all judgment to his Son, it would appear that Christ himself will “prepare” it on the Day of Judgment (Matt. 5:22-30; 10:28; 18:9; 25:41; John 5:22). It may be situated in another dimension or in space itself, close to the (new) earth (Rev. 14:10-11). Since it is a place of “outer darkness,” the exact nature of its fires is unclear (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). As previously in Hades, so now in Gehenna: Its inhabitants will experience loss, regret, torment, and the awareness of God’s wrath abiding upon them (Matt. 8:12; Luke 16:22-31; John 3:36; Rom. 2:12-16; Rev. 18:1-19). For their specific sins, its inhabitants will endure varying degrees of torment (Mark 12:38-40; Luke 12:47; 2 Cor. 5:10).
The etymology of the word Gehenna identifies it as a kind of cosmic garbage dump, in which the refuse of the universe—both human and demonic—will burn forever just outside the City of God (Rev. 19:1-4; 22:15). Very importantly, the Lord Jesus taught that its eternal fires will not be prepared for men, but for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41). Therefore, if human beings arrive in this place of eternal rejection, it is because they themselves persistently rejected the light of God, choosing darkness instead (John 3:19-21; Acts 13:46; Rom. 1:18; 2 Thess. 1:8-9). Though God and the saints will indeed rejoice in this final administration of justice (Rev. 16:6-7), they will take no pleasure at all in the punishment of the wicked (Ezek. 33:11; Luke 19:41-44; Rom. 9:1-5; Phil. 3:18).
Solemn as it is, the Judgment is also an integral part of the saint’s blessed hope. Christ’s disciples look forward to the day when their King will send forth the Judgment that leads to final victory, when the scales will be balanced at last, and when the righteous will receive their just reward and the wicked their just desserts (Luke 6:20-26; 18:1-8; Rev. 6:9-11; 15:3-4; 18:20). They also look forward to receiving their own rewards, and to hearing these precious words from the Master’s lips: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21; cf. 1 Cor. 3:9-15).
Recognizing, however, that the true source of their righteousness is Christ himself, they mostly look forward to casting down their crowns at the feet of him who loved them and gave himself for them: the One who called them, kept them, and sanctified them during their lifetime on earth so that he might present them faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy (Gal. 2:20; Jude v. 24; Rev. 4:10).
The Restoration of All things
In order to supremely honor his Son, the Father has also conferred on him the privilege of restoring and glorifying the universe. This is the climax of Christ’s specifically redemptive acts. God has made him to be the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End (Rev. 1:8, 17-18). This means that the Father has granted the Son not only to create the universe in the beginning, but also to re-create it at the end. Just as Christ at his return has authority to raise, transform, and glorify the broken bodies of his saints, so too he has authority and power to subdue all things to himself. So shall he liberate them from their subjection to futility and lift them into the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Rom. 8:20; 1 Cor. 15:24-27; Phil. 3:20-21).
The restoration of the universe is twofold. It begins with a cosmic conflagration: a universal meltdown in which, as Jesus predicted, the heavens and the earth shall pass away (Matt. 24:35). The most complete description of this awesome event is found in 2 Peter 3, where the apostle writes:
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar, the elements will be dissolved in blazing fire, and the earth—and the works done in it—will be laid bare. Since all these things will be dissolved in this manner, what kind of persons should you be, conducting yourselves in holiness and godliness, and looking for and hastening the coming of the Day of God, on account of which the heavens will be dissolved by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat? Nevertheless, in accordance with his promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:10-13; cf. 3:7)
Importantly, Peter is not looking for the annihilation of the natural world, only for its purging and restoration. It is only the form of this present world that will pass away, not the world itself (1 Cor. 7:31). Just as the ancient Flood cleansed the earth of sinners and paved the way for a new world, so too in the Day of the Lord—only this time in eschatological fullness. In the conflagration, Christ will erase from the natural order every scar of sin, so that out of the very fires that consume “the former things” new heavens and a new earth may emerge (Matt. 13:41-43; Luke 17:26-30; 2 Peter 3:3-6).
The second stage of the restoration is what Jesus called the Regeneration, what Peter called the Restoration of All Things, and what Paul called the Subjection of All Things (Matt. 19:28; Acts 3:21; Phil. 3:20-21). Negatively, these expressions point to cosmic deliverance: Once and for all Christ will lift the curse that lies like an iron blanket upon the natural order, thereby releasing it from its bondage to hindrance, defeat, and corruption (Is. 25:7; Rom. 8:18-25; Rev. 22:3). Positively, these expressions point to the creation of new heavens and a new earth: a new universe upon which God impresses both the forms and functions that will perfectly reflect his benevolent will for his creatures (Is. 65:17; 66:22; Matt. 6:10; 2 Peter 3:13).
What will this world—also referred to as the Eschaton and the Final State—be like? Sparingly, yet richly, the Bible offers some tantalizing replies.
As for the saints’ resurrection bodies, we have seen that they will be like the body of the risen Christ. As the Scriptures repeatedly teach, he is “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” He is the divine prototype to which the new humanity will be conformed in body, soul, and spirit (1 Cor. 15:20; cf. Rom. 8:29; Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2). Jesus gave us provocative glimpses of the resurrection body on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-3), in his several resurrection appearances (Luke 24; John 21), and to some extent in his self-disclosure to John on the island of Patmos (Rev. 1:9-16). Being altogether perfected both within and without, the saints will shine like the sun in its strength in the Kingdom of their Father (Dan. 12:3; Matt. 13:43; Rev. 1:16).
But what of the World to Come, the future home of the saints: What will it be like? Since much of the language used to describe it is symbolic, we must be cautious. Still, it is clear enough that there will no longer be sun, moon, or stars, for God and Christ themselves, throughout a single eternal day, will be the light in all, and the light of all (Dan. 12:3; Zech. 14:7; Rev. 21:25; 22:5). Also, there will be no more sea—though a world inwardly refreshed by the life-giving waters of the Spirit will doubtless be graced with physical analogues thereof: springs, fountains, streams, lakes, and rivers (Is. 35:5-7; 41:17-20; Rev. 21:1; Rev. 22:1). As for the great panoply of creaturely life—plants, flowers, trees, fish, birds, beasts, and creeping things—there is much to encourage us that we will see them again in a vast eternal home of Edenic beauty (Gen. 1:26-28; 6:19-20; Is. 11:6-9; 35:1-10; 55:12; Rom. 8:19). It is doubtful that we should look for a physical city, since the NT consistently identifies the Church herself as the bridal City of God and Christ (John 4:21-24; Gal. 4:26; Eph. 2:19-22; Heb. 12:22; Rev. 3:12; 21:2, 9-10, 12, 14). Our new dwelling place will be the world itself, a garden universe so perfectly suited to its inhabitants that indoors and outdoors are no longer two, but one (Gen. 2:8; Is. 51:3; Ezek. 36:35; Rev. 21:1-2).
While some interpreters have tried to tease out of Scripture further details about the physical nature of the World to Come, the Bible itself seems content to describe it in these few generalities. In so doing, it stirs the saints to a holy curiosity and an eager expectation of the glories that are yet to be revealed (Rom. 8:18-25; 1 Cor. 13:12).
Meanwhile, we may take rich comfort in Scripture’s many promises concerning the spiritual nature of the completed Kingdom. For example, we can take comfort in the sure knowledge of what will not be there: the curse, sin, Satan, violence, war, sickness, pain, sorrow, and death (Is. 2:4; Rev. 20:10; 21:4). Similarly, we can rejoice in all that will be there: God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, all the holy angels, multitudes of fellow-saints, light, life, purpose, service, righteousness, beauty, and joy inexpressible and filled with glory (Matt. 25:31; 2 Thess. 1:7; 1 Peter 1:8; Rev. 19:14; 21-22). This is, of course, the world of mankind’s dreams, precisely because it is the world of their Creator’s dreams, whispered through the ages into the secret chambers of the human heart. It is a world in which, by God’s consummating grace, dream and reality have at last become one. Such is the Blessed Hope of the Church.
The Handing Over of the Kingdom
When the restoration is complete, there remains one final act for Christ to perform: He must hand over the completed Kingdom to his Father. Of this mysterious transaction the apostle Paul wrote as follows:
For as in Adam all die, so too in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, and after him those who belong to Christ at his coming. Then comes the consummation, when he delivers up the Kingdom to God the Father, after abolishing all rule, and all authority and power. For he must reign till he has placed all his enemies beneath his feet. Now the last enemy to be destroyed is death. For, “He has placed all things in subjection beneath his feet.” (But when he says that all things have been placed in subjection, clearly this does not include the One who subjected all things to him.) Now when all things have been subjected to him, then the Son himself also will become subject to the One who subjected all things to him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:22-28)
Paul’s theme in this text is the Resurrection. However, while discussing it he is moved to survey the entire course of the Messiah’s heavenly reign. At the beginning of that reign, God the Father gave his Son all authority in Heaven and on earth—and with that authority, a commission. Here Paul states that the commission was to abolish all hostile rule and authority, and to place all his enemies beneath his feet (Pss. 2; 8; 110; Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:15-22). Elsewhere, he defines it as the heading up of all things in Christ, whether things in the heavens or things on the earth (Eph. 1:10). At the Parousia, Christ will fully fulfill this commission. Every enemy will be expelled, and all things will be headed up in and under him. The glorious Kingdom that the Father commissioned him to create will stand complete before him.
Accordingly, but one thing remains: one final act of worship, one final acknowledgment of the great trinitarian mystery that brought about Salvation History: The Son must hand the Kingdom over to the Father. The High King must give the Kingdom up to the One who gave it to him (John 17:6). In other words, the Son must now relinquish this form of his cosmic sovereignty, and freshly submit himself, his people, and his Kingdom to the Father. He must do this so that the Father may be properly glorified as the supreme Sovereign of the universe. He must do it so that the Father (together with his Son) may be all in all (Rev. 11:15). And because the Son loves the Father, he will do so gladly (John 17:1).4
This handing over of the Kingdom is “the consummation of the Consummation.” Moreover, it is also the crowning touch upon the Blessed Hope of the saints. Mysterious as the transaction is, they anticipate it with relish, knowing that herein the redemptive achievements of the Son are forever sealed, the Father is fully glorified, and the completed Kingdom of the triune God is introduced at last. Accordingly, even before it happens, they think they hear the Father saying to the Son precisely what the Son will say to them when their own labors are complete: “Well done, good and faithful Servant; enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matt. 25:31).
Our theme in this chapter has been the Blessed Hope of the Church. In love and wisdom, God our Father has given it to us through his appointed Teacher so that we may have eternal comfort and good hope by grace (2 Thess. 2:16). My prayer is that we all may understand, use, and savor it well.
What is this hope? As we have seen, it is the one Consummation of all things at the end of this present evil age, a Consummation wrought by Christ himself at his Parousia.
It is, however, a multi-faceted hope. We look with hope, not only upon the one Consummation, but also upon its several elements.
Therefore, should God so ordain it, we hope to glorify Christ and promote his redemptive plan through our steadfast witness in the midst of the Greatest Tribulation and the Last Battle (2 Thess. 1).
We hope to behold his face at his appearing, and so to be changed into his likeness (Rom. 6:5; 1 John 3:2).
We hope to see our beloved Master universally vindicated: honored by all men and all angels as the High King of Heaven and Earth (Phil. 2:5-11).
We hope for perfect spiritual and physical wholeness, bestowed on us at the Resurrection of the Dead (1 Cor. 15; Col. 3:4).
We hope for a joyful reunion with departed believers as we all gather together to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
We hope to see the Holy and Righteous Judge turn a morally upside-down world right side up, and expel all evil from his new homeland (Matt. 13:41-42; 25:41; Rom. 2:1-11).
We hope to hear the merciful and gracious Judge commend us for lives well lived, and for works well done in the power of his Holy Spirit (Matt. 25:21; Rom. 15:17-19).
We hope to see the realm of nature purified of every vestige of sin, and a beautiful new world rising out of the ashes of the old (2 Peter 3:10-13).
And in that world we hope to know, love, serve, and enjoy our triune God forever (Rev. 21:9-14).
Such is the Blessed Hope.
Such is the eschatological Pearl of Great Price.
Such is the hidden treasure, formerly locked away in the storeroom of Scripture, but now opened to our wondering eyes by the High King of Heaven, who so graciously places in our grateful hands the master keys to the Great End Time Debate.