Monday, September 23, 2013

Monday Musings: A Crack in the Wall Separating our Present from God's Future

As Christians we live as future oriented people. We have a clear sense of how God is going to act in the future to set things right in his creation by removing sickness, death, sorrow, pain, and sin (Revelation 21). One way this knowledge of the future impacts our present is by filling us with hope, a hope based on the firm promises of God. This hope carries us through the difficulties, problems, and sicknesses that characterize our present existence.

In addition to hope, the future impacts our present existence by invading it. In Christ and because of Christ’s death and resurrection future realities have been unleashed in this present evil age that is characterized by sin and death. In Christ the future has invaded the present! I want to draw attention to a few ways the future has invaded the present in this post and will discuss a few more ways in a future post.

The Kingdom of God: When we look at the symbolic visions of Revelation 21 and 22 we are seeing the full, future realization of the kingdom of God. God’s reign and rule will be physically and tangibly present in the new heavens and earth. God will be with us and will personally wipe every tear from every eye (Rev. 21:4). The nations of the earth will exist in perfect allegiance to God (Rev. 21:24–26) and the leaves of the tree of life will bring healing to the nations (Rev. 22:2). God’s reign and rule will perfectly extend through and be acknowledged by all creation. This future kingdom is spoken of throughout the New Testament (Matt. 6:10; 25:34; Luke 19:11; 21:31; Acts 14:22; 2 Thess. 1:5; 1 Cor. 15:50).

In Christ this future kingdom has invaded the present! Christ told the Pharisees that the kingdom of God was in their midst (Luke 17:21); of course it was in their midst because it was embodied in the king himself. Jesus directly links his miracles to the coming of the kingdom: “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20; cf. Matt. 12:28). Even as we await the coming of God’s future kingdom we experience it to a partial degree in the present as we submit ourselves to Christ’s reign, pledge and live our lives in allegiance to him, and extend his rule and presence everywhere we go. We belong to the kingdom now and reap the benefits of the kingdom even as we wait with longing and expectation for the full realization of the kingdom in the future. Paul notes that, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). This passage clearly links the present experience of God’s kingdom, reign, and rule with another future reality that has invaded the present, the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit: In the Jewish thinking of Jesus’ day the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all humanity was an event associated with God’s future kingdom. This expectation was based upon Joel 2:28–29 (see also Ezek. 36:25–27; 37:14) which stated, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophecy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” Following Jesus’ resurrection the Holy Spirit was indeed poured out upon Jesus’ followers as recounted in Acts 2. Peter directly interprets the outpouring of the Spirit as a fulfillment of Joel 2:28–19 in Acts 2:16. The fruit of the Spirit is thus the fruit of the life of our future existence in God’s kingdom being supernaturally produced and developed in the midst of this present evil age (Gal. 5:22–23). We are commanded to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16) and the Spirit is our seal and the guarantee of our future inheritance in God’s future kingdom (Eph. 1:13–14). The outpouring of the Holy Spirit follows Jesus’ resurrection; thus pointing out another feature of the future that has invaded the present: resurrection.

Resurrection: Most first century Jews, excluding the Sadducees, believed in a future resurrection that would be followed by vindication for the righteous and judgment for the wicked. This makes Jesus’ statement to Martha particularly startling. “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:23–26). Jesus was the living embodiment of future resurrection power.

Following Christ’s resurrection Paul makes it clear that those who are in Christ share in his resurrection and the power of his resurrection even in the present! Believers are united to Christ and share in his resurrection and power over sin and death: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. . . . Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. . . . If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 6:5, 13; 8:11). Our present experience of resurrection power is directly linked to the Spirit that indwells us. Finally, in Ephesians 2:6 Paul describes Christians as those who have been raised up with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly places right in their present concrete, physical existence on earth. Our boots are solidly on the ground in this present evil age, so to speak, but spiritually we are already experiencing the future reality of resurrection!

New Creation: Paul provides a summary description of how the future has invaded the present in 2 Corinthians 5:17. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” “New creation” is a way to point to the future world described in Revelation 21 and 22. In Christ this future new creation has broken into this present creation and is at work transforming those who are in Christ! As Jesus used the illustration of the kingdom of God being like leaven slowly spreading through an entire loaf, new creation has broken into the present and is transforming individuals one at a time as it spreads throughout creation (Matt. 13:33).

Jesus’ resurrection could be thought of as the opening event, the crack in the great wall separating our present and God’s future in the new heavens and earth. In Jesus’ resurrection the future resurrection burst through the wall and opened the way for all of these other “end time” realities to come pouring out: the kingdom of God, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, resurrection, and new creation itself. Our present experience of these future realities is as real and concrete as it is partial and incomplete and we long for the day when Christ will return and completely remove, not just crack, the wall separating our present and God’s future.

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