When approaching the subject of the Bible and the future, what should we bear in mind? This article mentions several things: keep within the bounds of Scripture, focus upon the truth as it is in Christ, go back to the beginning to understand the promises for the future, and let your hope be nurtured by the Word.

Source: The Outlook, 1994. 4 pages.

The Bible and the Future: Hope Nurtured by the Word

Most people have a keen interest in the future. There is a kind of curiosity about the events which lie on the horizon of our lives that we find difficult to suppress. We want to know what is coming; we don't like to be taken by surprise. That's why we are often ready to listen to anyone who boldly claims to be a prophet or seer, who believes he can see into the future and predict what is going to occur. That's also why we are inclined to support the po­litical candidate who can make the most compelling case for what the future would hold, were he to be elected (otherwise known as "cam­paign promises"!).

This general interest in the future has become especially pronounced in North American culture. An American who visits the countries of Europe cannot help but notice by contrast how much more attention they pay to the past. Among European countries, traditions shaped over centuries still continue to in­fluence the patterns of people's lives. By contrast the "new world" of North America seems largely ori­ented to the future, and relatively unimpressed by ancient traditions and ways of doing things. This char­acteristic of American culture has often been noted by interpreters of American cultural traits. Whether these interpreters attempt to de­scribe the future by determining the "megatrends" of our day or by not­ing the "future shock" (Toffler) that many people are experiencing, they generally agree that North Ameri­cans are far more preoccupied to­day with the future than in many previous generations.

Christian believers today often share this heightened interest in the question of the future, but are terri­bly confused as to whom and what to believe about it. This may reflect in part the confusion and uncer­tainty of our culture, to the extent that this confusion spills over into the church. It may also be due to the host of Christian teachers whose pronouncements about the future so radically differ. However, it is largely owing to a lack of careful study of and reflection upon what the Bible teaches us about the fu­ture. Here — on the subject of the future — as elsewhere, we need as believers to study the Word of God so as to become wise unto salvation in Jesus Christ. We need to examine the Scriptures to determine what we can know and believe about what the future holds.

As we approach the subject of the Bible and the future, there are sev­eral things that we should bear in mind.

Staying within the Boundaries of God's Word🔗

The most important rule with which believers ought to approach the subject of the future is: stay within the boundaries of God's Word in the Scriptures. Much of the confu­sion and uncertainty that abounds today on this subject is due to a failure to abide by this rule.

When we contemplate the future, we are contemplating something that in the strictest sense might be termed a "mystery." Though we may have many reminders of the past, this is not the case with re­spect to the future. You cannot con­sult a scrapbook, examine historical documents and search out the his­torical evidence to determine what the future holds, as you can to de­termine the past. The future is, from our vantage point, hidden. It is shrouded from our view. Even though we can conjecture about what it might bring, we cannot re­ally predict with any certainty what will occur.

But this needs to be qualified. Though we cannot know or predict the future, the Triune God who cre­ated the world and all things in it, who providentially superintends the life and history of the creation — He is able to reveal to us in His Word the things we need to know for our salvation, including those things which pertain to the future. Christian believers know Someone who can disclose, to the extent that He is pleased to give us to know these things, the shape of the future, of things to come.

This is the only antidote available to the speculation that abounds to­day about the future: we need to listen carefully to the Word of God, taking notice of what it promises regarding the future and disciplin­ing ourselves not to go beyond what it warrants. The only safe course available to us in this otherwise con­fused and disputed terrain is one which is charted by the compass of God's Word. We need gratefully to receive what God has been pleased to teach us in His Word about the future; but we also need humbly to remain within the limits of this rev­elation.

Christ, the Lord of History🔗

If Christian believers approach the subject of the future in strict confor­mity to the teaching of the Word of God, they will be compelled to fo­cus their attention upon the truth as it is in Christ, who is the Lord and center of history.1

One of the common mistakes be­lievers make when they consider the future is that they become dis­oriented by focussing upon a vari­ety of matters, without seeing any biblical connections between them. When we consider the future for example, we think of such things as: the millennium, the signs of the times, the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead. But we don't have any focus to our vision; it is as though we see a whole complex of discon­nected events looming large upon the horizon. But we remain confused as to the whole picture, what joins these events together.

This disorientation to­ward the future occurs whenever we fail to see that all of God's ways in history are centered upon and realized in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, who is "the same yesterday, today and forever," is the One through whom we are given to know the meaning and purpose of all history. There are a number of ways in which this can be illustrated from the Scriptures.

In the Old Testament the Lord's dealings with His people continu­ally pointed to the future and particularly to One in whom His prom­ises to His people would be ful­filled. Already in the "mother promise" of Genesis 3:15, the focus falls upon the "seed" through whom God promises to crush the head of the serpent and bring bless­ing to His people. The promises of God's gracious covenant commun­ion with His people constantly find their basis and fulfillment in Christ. Christ is the seed of Abraham through whom all the families of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 17:7; compare Galatians 3:16). He is the prom­ised Son of David who will be es­tablished upon His father's throne forever, reigning in righteousness and peace over the people of God (2 Samuel 7:12, 13; Psalm 89:3, 4). Accordingly, when Luke describes the risen Christ's conversation with the two men on the road to Emmaus, he notes that "beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, [Christ] explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scrip­tures" (Luke 24:27).

Similarly, the New Testament treats the history of the Lord's pre­vious dealings with His people as a preparation for the coming of Christ in the "fullness of time" (Galatians 4:4). In the genealogies of Mat­thew and Luke for example, Christ's birth is traced back through the centuries to Abraham (Matthew 1:1) and ultimately to Adam (Luke 3:38). Matthew, by crafting his ac­count of Christ's genealogy in terms of three sets of fourteen generations (the number 14 being the numeri­cal equivalent of the name of "David" in Hebrew), clearly wants to reveal that history has been mov­ing forward under God's faithful superintendence to the great and decisive events (for all history!) of Christ's birth, life, death, resurrec­tion, ascension and anticipated re­turn at the "end of the age" (Mat­thew 28:20).

The central place of Christ as the Author, Governor and End of his­tory within the will and purpose of God, is explicitly affirmed as well in several New Testament passages. In Ephesians 1:9-11 the apostle Paul describes the "mystery of God's will" revealed in Jesus Christ as "the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth." In Colossians 1:16-17 we read, "For by Him [Christ] all things were created, both in the heavens and on the earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold to­gether." The apostle John's visions on the isle of Patmos, recorded in the book of Revelation, describe Christ as "the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth" (Revelation 1:5). Only Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, has the power and authority to "open the book and its seven seals" signifying His power to adminis­ter God's sovereign purposes in all of history (Revelation 5).

But this is not all. Just as Christ fulfills all of the Old Testament promises (2 Corinthians 1:20), Christ also guarantees the future consummation of all God's promises by His resurrection from the dead, session at the Father's right hand and out­pouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. These events are disclosed in the New Testament as end time events, events which mark a decisive turning point in history. These events signal that Christ has been given all au­thority in heaven and on earth and will reign until all things have been subjected to Him, including death, the last enemy (1 Corinthians 15:25-26). By His resurrection from the dead, Christ has become a "first fruits" of all who will, through union with Him, share in His victory. By His session at the Father's right hand, Christ has been given the keys to unlock God's plan for history until He be revealed at the "last day." And by His outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Christ has entered into the last and most decisive epoch in His church-gathering work which, once completed, will serve to prepare all things for His coming again.

The biblical revelation regarding the future, therefore, always fixes our attention upon Christ. Just as God's ways with His people in his­tory in times past have all met in Christ, so all of His ways in the fu­ture will meet in Christ. The great event on the horizon of the future, in biblical perspective, is accordingly the event of Christ's return or "Second Coming." This event is the great event toward which all history is moving; it is the event which gives meaning to present history; it is the event which will consummate God's work of redemption; it is the event with which the entirety of the biblical teaching about the future is inti­mately linked.

Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained🔗

Another theme in the biblical rev­elation regarding the future is that of "paradise lost, paradise regained." To understand the bibli­cal promises for the future, it is nec­essary to go back to the beginning, to the circumstances of God's origi­nal covenant fellowship with Adam and Eve, our first parents, in the garden of Eden. For in these cir­cumstances we see something of that communion of life with God for which man was created, and that which will be restored to Him in the new heavens and the new earth.

It is striking for example, how closely the vision of the new heav­ens and the new earth in Revelation 22 resembles the original circum­stances of paradise. In Revelation 22, the last chapter of the Bible, the new heaven and earth is described not only as a city, the new Jerusa­lem come down out of heaven to earth, but as a renewed garden of life: "And he showed me," says John, "a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations" (vv. 1-2). The "first things" of creation are thus prophetic of the "last things" of the new creation. The fullness of re­demption for God's people in the new heavens and the new earth is reminiscent of the life Adam and Eve (and in them, all men) enjoyed at creation.

This does not mean that the fu­ture, in which paradise is regained, will bring nothing more than was man's at creation. This would be to deny the progress of history and the greater glory that is given in re­demption through Christ. The Christian church has understood that the new heavens and the new earth will surpass the old in glory. Not only will God be acknowledged through­out the whole of His creation as the Most Holy One, but He will also suffer no further prospect of rebel­lion against His dominion or cov­enant unfaithfulness by His people. The covenant communion which God's people will enjoy before the face of God will be an unbroken and unbreakable friendship. It will not be threatened by a "fall from grace" or defection among those who comprise the new humanity, the company of the redeemed from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

A Living and Certain Hope🔗

The biblical promises and expec­tation for the future are not to be confused with the modern practice of "fortune-telling" or attempts to predict the precise timetable for the events of the future. There is much in the future that God does not give us to know in His Word. But what He has given us to know kindles in the believer a living and certain hope, a confidence that the redeem­ing work of God in Christ will not fail to be fully accomplished in God's own time. Through the res­urrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, "we have been born anew to a living hope" (1 Peter 1:3). Such hope will not die.

This is the style of the believer's expectation for the future: it is char­acterized by a hope nurtured by the Word. It is marked out by a lively expectation of the accomplishment of God's purpose in Christ. The future does not loom darkly on the horizon as something to be feared. It is something eagerly expected and anticipated, something which the believer is convinced is bright with the promise of the completion and perfection of God's saving work.

It is true that many of the biblical exhortations relating to the future call God's people to watchfulness and sobriety, warning them against being found unprepared at Christ's coming (1 Peter 4:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:6; Matthew 24:42-45). They often warn the church to remain faithful and stead­fast in holding to the apostolic teach­ings and Word of God (2 Thessalonians 2:15; Hebrews 10:23). It is also true that the biblical descriptions of the meaning of Christ's coming for the unbeliev­ing are often starkly descriptive of its frightening and terrible conse­quences for the wicked (2 Thessalonians 2:8; 2 Peter 3:12; Revelation 18:10).

But the chief note sounded in God's revelation regarding the fu­ture is one of hope. God's people eagerly await the return of Christ. They eagerly await Christ's return because it promises the completion of God's work of redemption for them and for the whole creation. The Christian's approach to the fu­ture is always one of hope nurtured by the Word.


  1. ^ I do not use the typical language here of "redemptive" history because it easily suggests that Christ's lordship is limited to a particular current of his­tory, the "redemptive" as contrasted with the "non-redemptive." But this would be to admit an unbiblical separation between Christ's lordship in the redemption of His church in history, and the remainder of "secular" history. All history finds its meaning in Christ (compare Ephesians 1:10).

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