The Glory That Awaits
The sky is not the limit! Those of us who have been born again are headed for a home that is out of this world. God has revealed His church’s glorious future; and like a great symphony, there are four movements:(1) the church’s translation, or Rapture; (2) its evaluation at the judgment seat of Christ; (3) its presentation at the wedding of the Lamb; and (4) its relocation to the everlasting Kingdom.
Here, then, is God’s prophetic plan. It should encourage us to live exclusively for Him today because, whatever our trials on Earth, He has prepared for us a glorious tomorrow.
The ‘Catching Up’
The next prophetic event on the church calendar is the Rapture. The term comes from the Latin Vulgate translation of the Greek word harpidzo, for the “catching up” of living church saints. Although harpidzo refers explicitly to living believers only, the term Rapture has been drafted to refer to the larger event in which Jesus will raise dead church saints and “catch up” to heaven the saints still living on Earth: “The dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Th. 4:16).
The phrase in Christ refers to both Jews and Gentiles who have put their faith in Jesus as Savior and have thus been baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ (Rom. 6:1–11; 1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 2:11–16). Theologically, then, the Rapture consists of (1) the resurrection of the deceased church saints and (2) the catching up of the living church saints.
It completes God’s earthly program for the church. This departure is one of two events that inaugurate the Day of the Lord and restart God’s prophetic program for the nation of Israel.
This reunion in the air corrects the separations that have affected the church since its inception at Pentecost. Originally separated from her Head (Jesus), who had ascended to His Father, the church soon experienced separation from other church saints who died.
Then followed geographical, doctrinal, denominational, and personal divisions. The Rapture will reunite all believers when “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Th. 4:16–17). All personal, denominational, and theological divisions will be corrected as we experience the ultimate fullness of Jesus’ love.
Anticipation of this future reunion should encourage us to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1–3, emphasis added).
The Judgment Seat
Following the Rapture, the church will “appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). This judgment may only involve the newly transformed, living saints, since Jesus may have evaluated the “dead in Christ” immediately after their deaths.
The purpose of this judgment is twofold. First, the quality of each believer’s works will be tested by fire (probably the glory of God, as seen in the case of Korah; Num. 16). The wood, hay, and straw will be incinerated, as Jesus completes the purification of His bride (Eph. 5:26–27). This personal and individual evaluation would seem to be private, since it is hardly likely that Jesus will subject His “betrothed” to public embarrassment in the courts of heaven.
Church saints have the opportunity to minimize this divine cauterization because every sin confessed here on Earth will be forgiven, cleansed, and forgotten. The more sanctified we are, the less purification we will need. This purification is not related to salvation, but to sanctification: our continuing conformity to the image of Jesus. All of us have motives and actions that we have not perceived from God’s perspective and, therefore, need this final cleansing—the removal of the “wood, hay, and straw.” When introduced into the presence of Jesus’ holiness, we will be embarrassed at these imperfections. Since there will be no tears in heaven, this cauterization will bring us great relief. Believers should endeavor to say, as did Paul, “For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord” (1 Cor. 4:4).
Then our works that remain—those likened to gold, silver, and precious stones—will receive their just rewards. The works themselves will be rewarded, as well as their methodology (“let each one take heed how he builds,” 1 Cor. 3:10) and motivation (“the Lord…will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels [motives] of the hearts,” 4:5).
Four imperishable crowns will be awarded for faithful service (9:25):
The crown of life, or crown of living, will be given for persevering under trials with God’s wisdom. The Lord has promised this crown “to those who love Him” (Jas. 1:12).
The crown of rejoicing will go to those who evangelize and disciple others (Phil. 4:1; 1 Th. 2:19–20).
The crown of glory will be given to those who faithfully shepherd some segment of Christ’s body (1 Pet. 5:1–4).
And the crown of righteousness will be given to those who love Jesus’ appearing—to those who live in such righteous purity that they are anxious to see Him (2 Tim. 4:8). Pursuing sanctification and good works maximizes our treasures in heaven.
The Wedding of the Lamb
Following her final purification and remuneration, Jesus will induct His bride (church) into the courts of heaven in preparation for the wedding of the Lamb.
It appears that the 24 elders seated on 24 thrones around the throne of God represent the church in heaven (Rev. 4—5). Clearly, they are glorified, crowned saints who are distinguished from (1) the four living creatures (4:9–10); (2) the hosts of angels (5:11–12); (3) the Tribulation martyrs (7:13–14); and (4) the 144,000 Jewish saints (14:3).
Inside the circle of these elders, the Lamb of God also appears in heaven’s throne room. It would appear that Jesus presents His bride to His Father before all the hosts of heaven. From this vantage point, the church will observe the unfolding of God’s judgment of the nations of Earth (Rev. 6—18).
After chapter 3, the church is no longer mentioned in Revelation, except for 19:7–8, where she has readied herself for the marriage of the Lamb, and 22:16, where she is in the eternal state. This wedding preparation seems to be the result of being cleansed and rewarded at the judgment seat of Christ so that she is now “arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (19:8).
Here is positive motivation for faithful service to God while living on Earth. Many brides invest hundreds or thousands of dollars for wedding dresses. How much more should the bride of Christ be willing to invest in her collective wedding garment. Every good work for which the church was created will adorn Jesus’ bride on that glorious day (Eph. 2:10).
It appears the wedding will take place in heaven, since it is placed here in Revelation 19 prior to Jesus’ return as King of kings to destroy His enemies and set up His Kingdom on Earth. Matthew 25:1–13 bids Israel to be vigilant to enter the wedding feast with the Bridegroom (and His bride) when He comes, indicating the reception will take place on Earth. The Kingdom, or at least its initial phase, seems to be likened to the wedding feast. So the bride is also presented to the earthly citizens of the Kingdom when the King returns.
The Glorious Kingdom
During the Millennial Kingdom, Messiah Jesus will reign for 1,000 years as the glorified Lion of Judah and King of kings. The earth will be restored to near-Edenic conditions and enjoy the golden age of peace and prosperity promised by the Jewish prophets throughout the Old Testament.
The King will live in the restored city of Jerusalem with the glorified church saints as His bride who will reign with Him (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 5:9–10). Apparently the church will assist in the administration of the Kingdom, since the 12 apostles were promised 12 thrones from which to judge the 12 tribes of Israel (Mt. 19:27–28).
After Satan’s final rebellion at the end of the Millennium, the present heavens and earth will be destroyed (2 Pet. 3:10–13). Then will come the new heavens and earth and the New Jerusalem that will come down from heaven, “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:1–2). The New Jerusalem is associated with the church as bride:
Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal (vv. 9–11).
This use of the term bride to describe the city seems to indicate the church will abide eternally in the New Jerusalem.
Since Israel has been promised the land as an everlasting possession, it appears that Israel will forever occupy the new earth around the city. There will be three gates in each wall of the city, each bearing the name of a tribe of Israel, which suggests the tribes will live around the city much like Israel’s wilderness encampment in the days of Moses.
Revelation 21:14 further identifies the city with the church: “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” The apostle John, who received the prophecies of the book of Revelation, added,
But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light (vv. 22–23).
The Lamb will live in the city forever with His bride. This is the Father’s house of which Jesus spoke: “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (Jn. 14:2–3). The bride of Christ will enjoy this unique relationship of oneness with Jesus for all eternity.