I love a good science fiction story. And if you’ve read enough of them, you will notice that most are built around two concepts—two visions of the future.
The first is the dystopian nightmare. These are what you find in books and movies like The Hunger Games, The Handmaid’s Tale, or the timeline where Biff Tannen has taken over Hill Valley in Back to the Future Part II. And in some of the best—and the worst—examples, these visions warn against our own worst tendencies. They’re an opportunity to reflect and consider our way of being (how effective they are depends entirely on how heavy-handed the moralizing is).
The second concept is the utopian fantasy. These are visions of the world as we would all like it to be. It is the world in which humanity has evolved out of its propensity toward conflict and is spreading a message of peace, tolerance, and currency-free economics throughout the galaxy. Basically, Star Trek.
So what does this have to do with the Christian faith? Well, kind of everything. See, the problem with dystopian nightmare scenarios is that, as much fun as they are to read or watch, the hope they offer is too small. It relies entirely on us. And the problem is the same with our imagined utopias. The vision of a better world they offer is also too small because it relies entirely on us. And what Christianity offers is a better future, a more perfect one than any of our best imagined ones.
The Bible ends with this needed vision; the future where all the universe is actually headed. The future the Bible points to is built on good news. And it starts with Jesus’s return; the second coming of Christ.
Why we might avoid talking too much about the second coming
Now, depending on your background, you might be most familiar with this concept through:
- weird internet memes
- bizarre speculative fiction
- stories about false teachers who claim to have predicted the exact date Jesus will come back (that are always wrong)
Or maybe you grew up as part of a church where they talked about the second coming a lot, except it sounded more like a dystopian nightmare instead of good news. And it had charts.
All that weirdness can lead to Christians not wanting to talk about it all that much, let alone give any serious thought to it. Instead, we adopt a perspective of “pan-millennialism”—we don’t know much, but we know that everything works out in the end. And while that might be satisfying in the short term, it does us—and the Scriptures themselves—a disservice.
What we can actually know about Jesus’s return (and what happens after)
So what does the Bible actually say about Jesus’s return and everything that happens after? Both a lot and not very much. And even the “a lot” is pretty open-ended. For example, we can know that:
- It will be unexpected (Matt. 24:44)
- Everyone will notice (Matt. 24:30-31)
- Jesus will have a physical body (Matt. 24–25)
- His power and glory will be fully seen (Matt. 24:30)
- Jesus will judge the righteous and the unrighteous (Matt. 25:31-46)
- Only the Father knows when that will be (Matt. 24:36)
When Jesus returns, all of creation will be made new—including us (2 Peter 3:13). We will have new bodies, glorified as Christ’s is, forever free from the effects of sin that plague us today (Rom. 8:22-23; Phil. 3:20-21). We will feast on the finest foods and drinks without shame or fear of overindulgence. And we will live in a holy world as entirely holy people, with new desires and identities uncompromised by status-seeking and sin. Most importantly, we will live in a real world where we will delight in the presence of Jesus, whom we will see face to face for the first time and who will live with us forever (Luke 22:18; Rev. 21).
Those are the essentials of what Scripture says about Jesus’s second coming and the new creation. It’s a vision of a world we can hardly imagine. A world that no human vision of the future can possibly imagine; one that offers more fulfillment than exploring strange new worlds with new civilizations that are more or less the same as ours. It will be the world as God intends it, and so also will we.
The promise of the second coming of Jesus fuels our witness
This promise has been the heart of the Christian witness in the world for two thousand years. It has been a source of hope and comfort as we’ve faced genuine persecution, suffering, and strife.
But it’s not just a promise to sustain us in persecution. It’s a promise for right now. The hope of Jesus’s return acts as an antibody to the false promises of the world; visions that are more in line with fantastical utopias than anything Scripture has to offer. The false promises of power, reputation, and wealth—the source of so much of the moral rot and factionalizing permeating the western evangelical movement.
This promise instead challenges us to see those things for what they are: to see them as worthless compared to the surpassing riches of Christ (Phil. 3:7-8). And that should shape how we live in the world (Titus 2:11-14):
1. We’re playing a different game (not merely by different rules).
We can’t live like everyone else because we’re not everyone else. And that means that, no matter what circles we walk in, whether we’re in the private sector, the public sphere, or the political arena, we do so in a distinctively Christian way: with honesty, integrity, and charity.
2. We are more focused on our shortcomings than on faultfinding.
While we should not excuse or seem to endorse sin, we should not be surprised when non-Christians act like non-Christians. But people who are pursuing holiness—people fueled by a vision of a new world—ought to be more tenderhearted toward them because we know that we were once such as these (1 Cor. 6:11). And if Jesus saved us, who can he not save?
3. We are people with good news to share.
Christianity is both radically exclusive—salvation is found only through faith in Jesus Christ—and radically inclusive—everyone who believes, no matter their background or history, will be saved! The vision we have of the future—the promise of Jesus’s second coming—is for everyone who believes. And the promise of the new creation, the fruit of the second coming of Jesus, is something that is more glorious than anything any human can imagine. That’s something I want to everyone to share in. So I want to tell all the people I can about it and invite them to join in. How about you?