While there are many things we do not know about the future, God has not left us in the dark about His plans for us who believe: we have the certain hope of a glorious future in heaven. There, in the perfection of holiness, we shall enjoy unclouded fellowship with our Father and with His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Presently, we are a work in progress, as Paul explained to the Philippians: “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Php 1:6). Practical sanctification – living a holy life day by day and becoming more like Christ – has a divine goal in view: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29); we were chosen in Him “that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (Eph 1:4). Let us think briefly of a number of great events that lie ahead in God’s calendar.
The Rapture – Christ the Bridegroom
The Lord Jesus Christ is coming back for the Church, His bride, and maybe very soon! He keeps His promises: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (Joh 14:3). His bride will be presented to Him, “not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27).
The manner of His return will be distinctive as He descends from heaven with a shout. Believers who have died in Christ will undergo bodily resurrection, and those who are still alive will undergo bodily transformation (Php 3:21). Together they will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and to be with Him forever (1Th 4:16-17). Best of all, as John tells us in a more personal way, we shall be like Him at last (1Jn 3:2)! This means that, apart from having bodies fitted for heaven – free from corruption, dishonour and weakness – we shall exhibit moral conformity to Christ. There will be no more sin and no more failure.
Our inveterate enemies – the world, the flesh, and the devil – will no longer have power or influence over us. Having been saved already from both the penalty and power of sin, we shall experience salvation in its fulness by our being freed from sin’s very presence.
The Tribulation – Christ the Judge
Following Christ’s return to the air for His Church, the 70th week of Daniel’s prophecy will quickly unfold. A seven-year period of catastrophic global judgements will take place, with Israel at the centre of this geopolitical turmoil. Evil will abound, without the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit through the Church. It will be home in heaven and safe from the prevailing wrath (1Th 1:10; 5:4,9).
The Millennium – Christ the King
The second coming of Christ to this earth will be so unlike His first coming as a babe to Bethlehem’s manger, largely unseen. When He returns, accompanied by His Church, He will manifest before all His unlimited power, glory and majesty as the King.
His enemies will be defeated in a moment (Rev 19:19-21), bringing deliverance to the faithful remnant of Israel and other believers from among the nations. A resurrection will take place of those who have been martyred for their faith, along with the saints of the Old Testament era. The judgement of the living nations will result in a separation, so that the only ones who enter Christ’s millennial kingdom will be those who have believed.
That kingdom will be one in which the beauty and glory of creation will be restored. Sin will not be tolerated because the King will rule with a rod of iron, if necessary, and in righteousness (Psa 2:9; Isa 32:1). The saints of the Church who accompany Him will be “unblameable in holiness” (1Th 3:13), sharing His glory and reigning with Him: “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection … they … shall reign with him a thousand years” (Rev 20:6). For the duration of this period, Satan will be bound in the bottomless pit, leaving mankind to enjoy a period of unrivalled peace and prosperity (Rev 20:1-3). “In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD” (Zec 14:20). Nevertheless, at the end of the millennium, Satan will be loosed and lead a final but short-lived rebellion against the Lord (Rev 20:7-10).
The Eternal State – God All in All
The period known as “the day of the Lord” will terminate with the last of God’s judgements, not only those upon earth during the tribulation but also the final assize at the Great White Throne. The present heavens and earth will be destroyed by fire and a new heaven and a new earth will be formed. This will usher in “the day of God,” the great eternal day that will know no end and in which God will be all in all (2Pe 3:10-13; 1Co 15:28).
A prominent feature of the eternal state will be “the holy city, new Jerusalem” (Rev 21:2). While opinions differ as to the nature of this city, the author is inclined to regard it as a literal but uniquely glorious city where God will be worshipped in the beauty of holiness (Psa 96:9). Did John find it easier to describe the beauties of things to come by telling us what will not be there? There will be no tears, no death, no sorrow, no crying, no pain, no temple, no sun or moon, and no night. Most importantly, the absence of sin in all its forms will mean no more curse (Rev 21:27; 22:3).
The Church, along with the faithful from both Israel and the nations, will enjoy eternal glory and bliss. Significantly, the bride of Christ will be arrayed in “fine linen, clean and white,” representing the righteous acts of the saints (Rev 19:8). In other words, our holy living now will be manifested for all eternity.
The sure and “blessed hope” of one day being with Christ and being like Christ should spur us on to walk a pathway of purity and holiness down here (Titus 2:12-13; 1Jn 3:3). In writing on the subject of holiness, J.C. Ryle issued this challenge: “How could you possibly be happy [in heaven] if you had not been holy on earth?”
 Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.