Most fairy tales end with the words ‘and they lived happily ever after’. Many people dream of better days, utopia and conditions that are idyllic. In response to this, the realist says, ‘it will never happen’, the cynic quips, ‘it’s just a pipe dream’ and the idealist reflects, ‘it’s a nice idea but it’s not true, so enjoy it in your head’. Some people believe that the Bible is just a fairy tale and that it promotes a view that everyone will get to heaven in the end. But the future is not nice for everyone, as we will discover, exploring the subject.
This paper is about the reality of what God has revealed in His word about the conditions that will exist when all of earth’s history has run its course. For the sake of this article, we are calling it ‘the eternal state’. That is because we are describing conditions which will be fixed and unchangeable by that stage. In the scriptures the future has been described for us in such detail that though we don’t know everything about what life will be like beyond our present world, we can be sure that all humans will ‘live to see another day’ in permanent conditions and in very specific locations. However, we must be careful not to conjecture about what has not been revealed nor ignore what has.
When God made Adam, we read that He ‘breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul’, Gen. 2. 7. This and many other verses make it very clear that we are also not solely physical beings. The study of the subject of the soul is a very interesting one and there are sufficient scriptures to convince the present writer that the soul is not only spiritual, but that it is also eternal. For instance, in Psalm 16 verse 10 the possibility of a soul being in hell is implied as opposed to the body going into the grave. We now know that this Psalm is referring to the Lord Jesus, Acts 13. 35, and is a prediction that not only would His soul not be abandoned in hell but that His body would not decay while in the tomb.
I want initially to focus on the words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew chapter 25. The setting is when the Lord Jesus comes back to earth after the period of the Great Tribulation and just before He sets up His 1,000-year kingdom on earth, Rev. 20. 1-6. As the nations of earth stand before the Son of Man, vv. 31, 32, or the King as verse 34 describes Him, they see Him seated on a throne dividing people into two groups - sheep and goats.
The goats are on the left, the sheep on the right. The sheep are the righteous, v. 37, those who recognized Messiah and showed kindness to His people.
The goats are the unbelievers who are alive when the Lord comes in ‘power and great glory’, Luke 21. 27. The sheep will enter into the kingdom, but the goats are consigned to ‘everlasting fire’, v. 41, also described as ‘everlasting punishment’, v. 46. Tragically, we discover that the eternal future for the unbeliever is very bleak. They will be in a place of unending punishment. The ‘eternal state’ for the unbeliever will be one of an endless loss of well-being, 2 Thess. 1. 9, and endless regret, Mark 9. 44, existing in the same location as all those who opposed God and His Son, Rev. 20. 10-15. In light of this we should be reaching out with the gospel with incredible urgency.
There are two aspects of the eternal state for the believer that I want to focus on - the conditions and the locations. Scripture makes it clear that the privilege of all who have been reconciled to God will be to enjoy His presence and the blissful conditions that are normal in the presence of God. Back in the garden of Eden, Genesis chapters 2 and 3, all was well until sin entered. At this point we discover that rebellion against God and His commandments changed both the conditions and location in which the first man and woman lived. First, the change of conditions is laid out by God - there will be great pain and sorrow, Gen. 3. 16, the earth will be cursed, v. 17, work will be hard and exhausting, v. 19, and death will be the end of life on earth, v. 19. Hard on the heels of this devastating description of the conditions comes the final blow -Adam and Eve were expelled from the presence of God, vv. 23, 24. What a crisis! Relocated into darkness and barred from the presence of God and the tree of life, v. 24. God has not changed, the conditions in His presence have not changed, but humans are now spiritually dead, living under the curse and far from the presence of God.
As we then journey through the Old Testament, we discover God making provision for men to approach Him. In the sacrifices of the patriarchs, the offerings of Israel’s priesthood, the construction of the tabernacle or the temple, we start to see glimpses of the presence of God, His holiness, His glory, the fragrance of being in His presence, and the joy of living with God. The Psalms are a rich resource when it comes to describing and appreciating the presence of God. Come back to Psalm 16 with me and read verse 11 - ‘Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore’. The key words are life, presence (relationship with God), fulness of joy, and pleasures for evermore. These are the conditions that will exist in the ‘eternal state’. Look at Revelation chapter 21. Try to ignore the ‘where’ for a moment (location). Once again, we see relationship with God, v. 3, joy, life, no sorrow, no crying, no pain, vv. 3, 4. As a result of the work of the cross, God will restore in that future day all that was lost in the garden of Eden.
But what about the ‘where’, the location? Where will we live to enjoy these conditions? My starting point, and the one I revert to when I am attempting to understand some of the discussions that take place about the location, is this - we will be ‘with Christ; which is far better’, Phil. 1. 23. The conditions will change as soon as we are in the physical presence of Christ. Today, however, the believer who dies is ‘absent from the body’ and ‘present with the Lord’, 2 Cor. 5. 8. But, when the Lord Jesus returns for His church, we will be given glorified bodies and enjoy His presence in a physical sense as well.1Our location at that stage is described by the Lord Jesus in John chapter 14 as ‘My Father’s house’. I take this to be the uncreated presence of God. When the Lord Jesus returns to set up His millennial kingdom, the church will be with Him, 2 Thess. 1. 7-10, coming down from heaven to earth, Matt. 24. 30; Mark 14. 62.
The 1,000-year reign of Christ will take place in a refreshed (new) earth, Isa. 65. 17-25; 66, the characteristics of which are very similar to the new heaven and earth of the ‘eternal state’, 2 Pet. 3. 13. Peter writes about ‘new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness’. His description follows another interesting statement in verse 12 -‘Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?’ The ESV, Darby, and NASB translate the word ‘wherein’ as either ‘because of which’ or ‘by reason of which’. The verse is saying that the old universe will be dissolved or destroyed by fire so that the ‘the day of God’ can commence. The old world and all the unrighteousness that characterized it will be gone forever. The term ‘the day of God’ is a description of the era that will start when the Lord Jesus Christ has brought everything under the control of God the Father, 1 Cor. 15. 24, 28. This is the ‘eternal state’ when righteousness is the norm, God is on His throne, and all ‘rule and all authority and power’ will be subjugated to the Father.
In conclusion, let’s think about where we, the Church, will be. Across the span of scripture, Israel has always been an earthly people. They were called out of Egypt, Hos. 11. 1, and given a land which they have occupied in part from time to time over their history. The church, however, despite commencing on earth, has been called to spiritual blessings in heavenly places, Eph. 1. 3, encouraged to set their affections on things above, Col. 3. 1, 2, and are described in Hebrews chapter 12 verses 22 and 23 as coming ‘unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect’. Considering this, and the teaching of Revelation chapters 21 and 22, there would appear to be a city, Rev. 21. 2, 9, 10, that is the church, the bride of Christ, Eph. 5. 23-33; 2 Cor. 11. 2, and a city which the church occupies, Rev. 21. 10-27. These are quite difficult to distinguish as we know that the ‘Lord God Almighty and the Lamb’ dwell in the city and the ‘the Lamb is the light thereof’. So, the Lord Jesus Christ is among His people. We also know that there are nations, v. 24, that come to this city that is suspended over the new earth, vv. 1, 2, 10. It is stated that nothing that defiles can enter the city, v. 27, and the curse no longer exists, 22. 3. This is the location for the believer in the ‘eternal state’. What a future we have in Christ: no wonder we hear the words, ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus’, v. 20, in the closing chapter of holy scripture.
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