What are your hopes and dreams? A better future, success, significance, health, romance, money, kids, peace, justice, equality, racial reconciliation, fewer potholes, normal temperatures? A better future for me would include a good life, certainly. Yeah, I think about myself. By God’s grace I’m learning to think about others more, too. I’d love a future without the stuff of this past weekend’s shocking images of racist hate-mongering and violence. I’d also love to see the end of every year being the hottest on record. Wait, then I guess that would be the end of the world. I was in Vegas this past July, where a cab driver told me this was an uncharacteristically humid 110 degrees. I mean, it was…hell.
I know, I’m supposed to have a better theology of the afterlife. The bible doesn’t actually present hell as a place where demons torment people (only Jesus rules hell), nor any random uncomfortable situation, like I just joked about. And heaven is shown to be quite earth-like, but an ideal version with a completely renewed surface, everything on it glorious. We will no longer be able to make the no one’s perfect excuse. We’ll have perfect bodies and minds, perfect relationships, and perfect unity in humble, unselfish, wide-eyed, and joyful dependence on an all-satisfying Father. Plus, we’ll see God. You can’t argue–about anything, really–when you do. Jeremiah prophesied about a time when we won’t try to teach each other who or what God is. We’ll all know him directly, from sight. No one will insist on any particular worldview, secular or theist. And crucially, no one will be able to insist on any merit for being there. No superiority. Only the merit of God’s own perfect life and substitutionary death in Christ as the thing we can all equally boast in.
Any sense that humanity is evolving toward some kind of heaven-like ideal is continually met with things like this weekend’s hate fest in Charlottesville. We’ve certainly made strides as a species in many areas…women gained the right to vote in 1920, for example. Interracial marriage was legalized 1967. There are many others. I consider these highlights in our history and building blocks for the future, based on God’s sovereignty and care. I don’t consider them evidence that we’re on an upward trajectory of glorification as a species, because history seems to be a recurring Groundhog Day of human suffering, broken up by bits of redemption. The full and final ideal will only happen in God’s coming kingdom, or heaven, as it’s known, but the seeds of this kingdom were planted with the life and death of Jesus. This means his people, the Church, are to be the primary agency of redemption on earth. Not to negate the importance of public policy, but heart change wrought by faith in Christ is the only real hope of humanity.
The bible presents the kingdoms of this present earth as beasts. The ESV study bible note on Daniel 7 says that “The beasts in general show the present world order as an ongoing state of violence and lust for power that will continue until the final coming of God’s kingdom.” While the beasts in Daniel represent the succession of world kingdoms from Babylon to Rome, the horrifying “Roman” beast is recast in Revelation to represent the entire world system up until Christ’s return. Yep, all governments. Including the ones many of us are hoping will “save” us from evil and whatever else we’re most passionately against.
Again, great things have been and will continue to be done via legislation and the rule of law. But it’s still just one beast after another until the end. So why place all our hope in something beastly? Why not place it in something beautiful and glorious, that promises to actually fulfill every human longing? Jesus lived for this kingdom. In fact, he gave up his right to world-rule when he lived on earth as a man. The one who is actually entitled to everything gave it up now for the promise of it then. And for the promise of our full inheritance then, as well. There’s no future in the beast. We can and should work for justice and peace, but our progress will only ever be a cluster of islands floating in a sea of humanity’s fallen nature.
Aren’t you shocked by the evil still alive and well today? The racism on display in Charlottesville? The Syrian war, the brutality of the Mexican drug cartels, the power of extreme ideology, the power of need, the power of fear to provoke violence and bring out the worst in people made in God’s image? Because those are the main motivations. The white supremacists interviewed in Charlottesville said they were there to preserve their culture. Fear, distrust, and hatred of different cultures weren’t mentioned, though they were implied. But it shows hateful motivations don’t materialize out of nothing. They’re birthed in response to fear of loss, jealousy, and perceived threat. Simple self-preservation. This was the motivation for the first murder on record, with Cain killing his brother, Abel.
This is human nature, as we’ve seen from then until now. No government has found an effective solution. Only the Son of Man who let himself be torn by the beast of 1st century Rome, giving up all right to preserve himself in the moment, will put an end to it at his return. Daniel saw this in dreams. And aren’t you, like me, dreaming of a better future for yourself and others? God calls us to seek the good of whatever kingdom we’re living under until his return, which is done by sowing the seeds of his coming kingdom, now. But only then will we see the fullness of his harvest. Why live and die for anything less?
By Andy Tommelleo, Pastor at Destination