Over 100 years ago, Horatio Spafford penned the words to the well-beloved hymn, It Is Well with My Soul. He wrote the following near the end of the final stanza:
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend
Even so, it is well with my soul!
“Even so.” Those are the words of settling for second best. That is to say, “it is well with [his] soul” even though what he most desired wasn’t yet reality. And what he most desired was that “cry of command,” that “voice of an archangel,” and that “sound of the trumpet of God” that would mark his Lord’s return (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Spafford was a man with his gaze fixed. A man with his hope set where Peter said to set it, namely, Christ’s second coming and the grace brought to him then (1 Peter 1:13).
If we’re honest, our desire for that great Day often doesn’t match this. We often desire our “bucket lists” more than the eternity that Christ will bring with him. And pastors, so do the people in our pews. Why is this? Well, I’m sure the answers vary. But let me suggest one: we often settle for a less-than-biblical view of eternity.
We might imagine eternity as an ethereal existence of floating in the clouds while plucking on harp strings. Or even if we know this folklore-ish view of the eternal state to be ridiculous, we still might imagine our eternal home to be so other-worldly that we have a hard time desiring it as we should. Yet, this view of eternity is a product of our own imaginations, and not of the Bible.
The Bible presents to us a different picture of eternity, one that has a point of reference for us in earthly kingdoms. Of course, our Lord’s everlasting kingdom is not like the kingdoms of this world in the sense that they are won by arms, exist only temporarily, and are stained with sin (John 18:36). But it is akin to earthly kingdoms in the sense that it is a real, physical kingdom. That is to say, it consists of embodied people (Philippians 3:21), on this very earth (Romans 8:19-21), and under the rule of a visible King (Philippians 3:21; Revelation 22:3). In fact, this is the tenor of God’s kingdom throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. In the beginning, God created us as physical beings meant to live in a physical world, which he pronounced as “very good” (Genesis 1:31). The type and shadow kingdom of his people Israel was a physical reality. Local New Testament churches are physical embassies of Christ’s rule. And the New Heavens and New Earth is a physical reality (Romans 8:19-21; Revelation 21:1). Whether or not you agree with the following distinction between covenant and dispensational theology, O. Palmer Robertson captures this earthly reality of Christ’s eternal kingdom well:
Notice in the quotation from Chafer just cited that one purpose of God has to do with an earthly people and earthly objectives, while the other purpose is related to heaven involving heavenly people and heavenly objectives. Inherent in this distinction is not a “more biblical” consistency of interpretation. Instead, basic to this distinction is a metaphysical or philosophical dichotomy between the material and the spiritual realms. It is this distinction that actually lies at the root of the difference between dispensationalism and covenant theology. Covenant theology does not see redemption as related to a more “spiritual” realm than the realm in which the promises of Abraham operated. Because covenant theology sees redemption from the perspective of creation, no dichotomy exists ultimately between redemption in the spiritual realm and redemption in the physical realm. The activity of Christ in renewing a people for himself does not stop with the restoration of “spiritual” relationships. From the very beginning, Christ’s goal is the restoration of the total man in his total creational environment. Nothing less than bodily resurrection in the context of a new heavens and a new earth where the entire curse of the fall has been removed can satisfy the biblical concept of redemption.1
This earthly picture of eternity is the picture that Scripture puts before us. Sure, it will be better than earthly kingdoms—infinitely better. But it won’t be less. It will be beyond our imagination. But it has a point of reference in the kingdoms of this world.
Pastors, here’s the rub: Because this is the picture of Christ’s everlasting kingdom that Scripture puts before us, it is what your people need to hear. If their desires for eternity would grow, then they need to hear this. If their “bucket lists” would become more like enjoyments along the journey, instead of more desirable than the destination itself, then they need to hear this. If they would have a Spafford-like gaze fixed on the Lord’s return, then they need to hear this.
So, preach this. Feed your people Christ’s eternal kingdom as it is described in his Word. Yes, proclaim that it will be beyond what we can imagine and infinitely better than this life. But be sure to proclaim that Christ will be a real King on a real earth. Be sure to proclaim and herald and hold forth for your people that he will be seated upon his throne, forever dirt beneath his feet.