The Church as the Future
Over the last few months we’ve looked at different metaphors for the church. Today, let’s look at the church as the future. In his book The Kingdom of God and the Church, Geerhardus Vos wrote, “The church actually has within herself the powers of the world to come... She forms an intermediate link between the present life and the life of eternity.” This is exciting! The powers of the world to come! An intermediate link between the present life and the life of eternity! This sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but it’s not; it’s God’s plan to unite all things in Christ.
For all those whom I have already lost, let me rephrase: the heaven we long for has broken into this present age and it has happened through the church. This means those who are part of the church have front row seats to God’s grand plan to unite all things in Christ!
One of God’s promises in the Old Testament was that this current world, broken by sin, would be replaced by the New Creation. God would do a second work of creation (or recreation), making a world that is better than his first creation. It would be better because it would be a world where there is no mark of sin or even the possibility of sin entering again (Isa 34:4, 51:6, 56:5, 65:17).
When Jesus begins his ministry in Luke 4 he reads from the scroll of Isaiah. He reads a passage (Isa 61) that describes the New Creation, ushered in by the Messiah. It’s a place where the poor are encouraged, the blind see, the captives are set free. There will be no more tears or pain in this new world (Rev 21:4). Jesus then tells his listeners something unbelievable: this promise of the New Creation was fulfilled when Jesus read those words from Isaiah!
How do we make sense of Jesus’s words regarding the fulfillment of the promised New Creation? Jesus’s words make sense when we consider them in light of his whole life. Jesus, though fully God, was fully human. His life mirrored ours in every way, even in dying. In one sense Jesus’s life looked very ordinary. But three days after his death something remarkable happened; Jesus was raised from the dead. If we are thinking of the church as the future, we cannot miss the significance of this.
Paul explains it in 1 Corinthians 15. He states that Jesus’s resurrection was the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:20); when he returns, all those who belong to Christ will be raised from the dead. This means that the end-times resurrection started with Christ. If Christ still lay in the grave we would still be waiting for God to begin making all things new. But we aren’t still waiting; three days later God resurrected Christ. And that moment was the turning point; a new work was afoot, a work of recreation, the work of making all things new. It was the beginning of the end. The resurrection of Christ was the spark that started the fire that will one day fill all the world with its light.
Christ is living the resurrection life that we also will live. To put it another way, Christ, in his resurrection body, is the first person to experience New Creation. This New Creation, that place described in Revelation 21 & 22, is not something fully in the future. The heavenly New Creation broke into our Old Creation world when Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.
Now, here is where it gets exciting. Paul tells us 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.” Paul teaches that those who have faith in Christ are united to Christ. A function of that union with Christ is that, just as Christ was made new in the resurrection, so also are Christians made new in Christ’s image. Paul teaches us that when you become a Christian, you are spiritually resurrected. You take on a New Creation spirit, a spirit that is part of the new heavens and new earth that God is creating. Think of it as a spark. The New Creation spirit in your life may be just a spark, but Jesus will not “crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle” (Isa 42:3). The source of this flicker is a fire that originates not in this world, but has come (time traveled!?) from the future New Creation into your present life. The future has broken into the present.
The church is the future because it is the gathering of people who have within them the light of the New Creation.
Congratulations if you’ve stuck with me this far! We needed to understand this teaching before we understand the radical implications for what this means for you right now. One of the things I love most about Scripture is that is that some of the deepest theology–and we’ve looked at deep theology–is the most practical!
You will make it home
It’s easy to be discouraged; it’s easy to doubt that God really loves us; it’s easy to wonder if we will make it home to be with God. But you can be confident because God has already begun the work of New Creation in you! God’s shown his love for you with his actions. He has put within you a spark of the world to come. It’s his down payment guaranteeing he will finish the work of transforming you.
You are beautiful
One of our deepest desires is to be seen as beautiful, to be desired. We spend lots of money with all kinds of things to get the look and body we want. We pursue a certain career because it comes with money or prestige. We want to be worthy of desire. God sees you as beautiful because he is making you truly beautiful in his sight. You may hate certain things about you, but God looks on the inside, and on the inside he has put the beautiful light of New Creation within you. You may think the baggage of your past keeps you from being desirable, but God doesn’t need to change your past because there is resurrection. He is transforming you into something better, and that work has started now. You may not see it, but God does, and he is pleased with what he sees.
You have power to fight sin
The power of sin in our life sometimes feels overwhelming. It causes us to doubt if we'll ever change. Sin has influence over us, but it doesn’t have control over us. Because we have been created new in Christ, we have everything we need for godliness (2 Peter 1:3). The next time you are tempted, remember that you have been made new. It may just be a spark of new life but God will not let it go out. He will fan that spark until it’s a fire of holiness in your life. Part of faith is believing what God has said about us is true , despite our feelings at the present.
You are part of the main effort
Before a military operation, one unit is designated as the “main effort.” This usually goes to the unit with the strongest commander. This unit is tasked with the crucial part of the mission, and they have the support of the surrounding units. The church (God’s people) is the “unit” God has designated as the main effort. Christ has bought the church with his blood, and God has equipped the church with his Spirit. We have been given spiritual gifts in order to accomplish our mission of making disciples. The church is where the action is. Your service to God, no matter how big or small, is of infinite value, because you are helping to build something that will last forever.