I. Future Aspect of Salvation
God's plan of salvation includes promises for the future as well as provisions for the past and the present. Although the gospel provides many blessings for the present life, the goal of the gospel is eternal salvation for man in Christ's future Kingdom. Paul emphasized the fact that future resurrection is essential to man's salvation when he wrote, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" (1 Cor. 15:19). "Godliness is profitable unto all things" in that it has the promise not only of "the life that now is," but also of "that which is to come" (1 Tim. 4:8). He who forsakes all things and all persons for the name of Christ is promised not only that he will "receive an hundredfold," but also that he will "inherit everlasting life" (Matt. 19:29).
The future is included in the threefold salvation which the gospel provides for man. In Christian experience, there is a past salvation, which is an accomplished fact; there is a present salvation, which is a progressive process; and there is a future salvation, which is a promised hope. The believer can truthfully say, "I have been saved, I am being saved, and I shall be saved."
Through the work of our Saviour, the sinner has the prospect of salvation from the presence of sin as well as from the penalty of sin and the power of sin. The sinner receives salvation from the penalty of sin at his conversion. Jesus paid the penalty of sin in His sacrificial death. The believer receives salvation from the power of sin progressively as he permits Christ to dwell in his mind and heart. The power of Christ counterbalances the power of the carnal mind. The believer will acquire salvation from the presence of sin in Christ's future Kingdom. The presence of sin is the evidence of sin in one's environment. When Christ returns, He will transform man's environment, this planet, so that "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isa. 11:9). The believer's body will be transformed from mortality to immortality. The earth will be purified and restored as the paradise of God.
Salvation from the penalty of sin refers to the past; salvation from the power of sin refers to the present; and salvation from the presence of sin refers to the future. Considering this threefold salvation, the believer can pray: "Lord, cleanse my past, consecrate my present, and clarify my future. " Christ cleanses man's past through His blood; He consecrates man's present through His power, the Spirit; He clarifies man's future through the promises of His future Kingdom.
II. The Future Can Be Known
God foreknows the future, and, through divine prophecy, He has revealed His secrets to man. Agnosticism teaches that the future cannot be known, that God has hidden Himself in obscurity, and that man must remain in perpetual ignorance concerning His nature and plans. Christian theism, on the other hand, asserts that God has planned an eternal future and that He has communicated facts about the future to man.
Man is able to know about the future because God, through divine prophecies, has revealed His plans to man. Apart from divine revelation, man cannot know what the future holds. Man cannot acquire information about the future through fortune tellers, spiritualist mediums, or the oracles of Delphi. He cannot learn what the future holds by observing cloud formations, flights of birds, position of stars in the sky, lines in a person's hand, bumps on one's head, tea leaves, shuffling of cards, throwing of dice, casting of lots, analysis of dreams, and similar superstitions. Divine revelation is man's only source of knowledge concerning the future.
III. What the Future Holds
Human speculation has produced many false theories concerning the future. Atheists deny the existence of God and insist that man has no future life. Hinduism holds that the human "soul" transmigrates from one body to another, that at death man is reincarnated as an animal or another human being. Buddhism teaches that the goal of life is to attain Nirvana, a state of nothingness, where the soul" is absorbed into the divine nature. American Indians visualized man's future life as a "happy hunting ground." Classical mythology pictured the dead as crossing the river Styx in a ferryboat; the Romans placed a coin in the dead person's hand or mouth to be used to pay the fare. Plato, the pagan Greek philosopher, formulated the theory of the soul's natural immortality. He taught that man has an immaterial nature which can have conscious existence apart from man's body, and that this immaterial nature is immortal. He taught that death is not death at all; it is the continuation of life in a new form and in a new place. According to Plato, matter is evil; the body and the earth contaminate the soul. Purification and true happiness, he taught, can be attained only when man's soul is released from the body and when man dwells apart from the earth. Many theological systems of Christendom embody Plato's theory and teach that man at death goes either to heaven or to a burning hell. These theories are false.
The Bible alone presents an accurate picture concerning what God has planned for the future. Contrary to Greek dualism, the Bible teaches that the earth and man's body are not evil in themselves. God created the earth and man's body, and He rejoiced in His finished work. God's plan of redemption includes the changing of the believer's body from mortality to immortality and the transforming of the earth into the paradise of God. The redeemed Christian will have a real, material, immortal physical body, and he will dwell on this planet, cleansed, transformed, and restored to its original purity and perfection.
God's plan of salvation will result in the revelation of His glory. A principal goal of God's redemptive plan is the establishment of His rule over man and the earth. When this goal is accomplished, the famous prayer taught by the Lord will have been answered: "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:10). Then, "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isa. 11:9). The most important subject associated with God's plan for the future is the Kingdom of God.
The medium through whom God will accomplish His work of establishing His Kingdom is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Kingdom of God personified. Through Christ, God is "reconciling the world unto himself" (2 Cor. 5:19), and is subduing all things unto Himself. Jesus is the beginning of the new creation, the Life-giver, the Judge, and the King. When Christ's work has been completed, He will present the Kingdom to God as an accomplished task. "Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all" (1 Cor. 15:24, 25, 28).
Major factors included in the study of the future are the second coming of Christ, the resurrections, the coming Kingdom of Christ, the restoration of Israel, future divine judgments, and the new earth.
IV. The Believer's Hope
The second coming of Christ is the blessed hope of believers. "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13). Christians have many hopes for the future. The one hope which supersedes all other hopes, however, is the return of Christ, because it will make all other hopes possible. The blessed hope, our Lord's return, is the open door to God's Tomorrow.
The believer's hope is centered not in a thing, but in a person, the Lord Jesus Christ. "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). "The Lord himself shall descend from heaven" (1 Thess. 4:16). The believer is looking not so much for the coming of Christ as he is for Christ to come. He is looking not for the event, but for the person. The hope which the gospel holds forth to the mass of humanity today is this glorious person, Jesus Christ. He is the world's only hope. Christ alone is the answer; He is the "only way out," the only solution to the world's problems. As earth's rightful King, He alone can transform the world's chaos and bring righteousness, peace, and true happiness to mankind. Jesus is the man of the hour; He is just the person whom the world needs today.
V. Preparing for the Future
Bible writers use the hope of God's Tomorrow as a motivating influence to inspire men to accept Christ as sacrifice, to permit Him to change their lives today, and to prepare for His future Kingdom. "Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure" (1 John 3:3). " Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness? Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless" (2 Pet. 3:11, 14). Because Christians look for "that blessed hope" (Titus 2:13), they deny "ungodliness and worldly lusts" and live "soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world" (Titus 2:12).
Man's life today is a trust. All time belongs to God. Every minute we live is God's minute; every breath we breathe comes from Him. God tests man today in preparation for the life of tomorrow. As the oak is in the acorn, and the song is in the note of music, eternity is in the minutes we live today. How we live in man's today will determine whether we will be privileged, through the grace of God, to live in God's Tomorrow.
(Adapted from Systematic Theology, by Alva Huffer, published by Church of God General Conference, Oregon, Illinois 61061, U.S.A.)
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