What to Expect When You’re Expecting
Over the last thirty years, over 17 million copies of What to Expect When You’re Expecting have been printed. The authors tapped into a demand for a pregnancy guide that offered reliable information to expectant parents who were ignorant of what lay ahead. Amongst the excitement in expecting a child there can also be a sense of anxiety because so much of what is ahead is new and strange and unknown. The natural question is What will it be like? Similar feelings can be experienced by Christians as they look forward to their eternal future. There is a general sense that eternal life will be wonderful, but what will the experience actually be like?
These are obviously important questions because what we think about our future shapes the way we live now. All too often, however, people’s expectations are shaped from the most unreliable sources like ads on TV, cartoons or jokes. As a minister, I have attended many funerals and have often been surprised to hear what people genuinely think life beyond the grave will be like. While the concept of eternal life, a life that does not end, is not necessarily hard to grasp, the content of what eternal life entails is elusive for many people. As such, they fill the void with misinformation and hopeful imaginings about what is to come. Christians, however, have access to true and reliable information which has been graciously given in the bible by the author of the future Himself. So, if we are trusting Jesus, what are some of the things we should we expect?
Firstly, we can expect a physical life. Jesus had some cracking arguments with some people in his day who didn t believe in the resurrection and he said they were wrong because they did not know the Scriptures or the power of God (Matt 22:29). These are the two barriers that remain in people’s rejection of the doctrine of the resurrection. But, as Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 15, Christians are convinced that Jesus was raised from the dead and his resurrection is the firstfruits of the resurrections of all those who belong to him (vs. 23). From verse 35 Paul goes on to paint some pictures of what the resurrection body will be like. These pictures highlight that there will be a continuity with our present body (just like there is a continuity between seed and plant) but there will also be a transformation into a greater order of body, suitable for eternity. You will still be you, but you will be a better, transformed, more glorious you.
Secondly, we can expect a productive life. It would be easy to confuse the biblical concept of eternal rest with being idle. Just sitting around being blobs and not doing anything. The bible, however, pictures the Christian’s future life as being a productive and active life. In Isaiah’s vision of the new creation he points to God’s people building, planting and enjoying the work of their hands (Is 65:21-2). Moreover, these verses show that this effort will not be subjected to the frustration and decay that is part and parcel of work in this world. This is great news for those of us who have lost work when a computer has crashed or seen something we spent a long time building quickly torn down. Working to be creative and productive is very satisfying and enjoyable when frustrations are removed.
Thirdly, we can expect a social life. The biblical pictures of life to come include, a city, a banquet and a kingdom and each of these pictures highlights the corporate nature of our future life. We ought not to expect a lonely quest of self-discovery and glorious solitude. Rather, we will enjoy the perfect fulfilment of humanity’s natural desire to relate to one another. Even the greatest introvert needs, and benefits from, social relations. It is a tremendous comfort when we enjoy the company and security of close family and friends. The happiest wedding reception or the most jubilant Christmas lunch is but a foretaste of the social life that will mark our heavenly experience.
Fourthly, we can expect a perfect life. We are repeatedly told that God will wipe away every tear from his people’s eyes and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. All of those natural emotional reactions to the things that are wrong in this world will not feature in the world to come. They will not feature because there will be no cause of them. John tells us in Revelation 21:27 that nothing impure will enter into the perfect fellowship of this city. But perhaps this truth might make us wonder if we will be able to enter into this holy fellowship. If you are anything like me, you will be only too aware of your failings and flaws. This sobering recollection will cause us to entrust ourselves afresh to the grace of Jesus in the knowledge that He both took our sin on himself and imputed His righteousness to us. Furthermore, we must understand that, while our present experience is beset by the ongoing presence of sin in our lives, at our resurrection our sanctification will be complete. Not only will we have transformed bodies, we will have transformed characters. You will be a physically new you and a morally new you!
So the biblical expectation of what is to come for those who trust in Jesus is not becoming an angel and sitting on a cloud. It is an expectation of a physical life, a productive life, a social life and a perfect life. It is a real and tangible reality that we look forward to. But as good as all this is, we have not yet touched on the greatest expectation for our eternal future. None of the things I have described so far would be any good at all if it were not for the fifth and greatest expectation.
We can expect a God Centred life. This is the substance of our eternal blessings… we will be with the Lord forever (1 Thess 4:17). The bible reveals that the future hope for believers is to be in the direct presence of God. There is no need for a Temple in the New Jerusalem because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its Temple (Rev 21:22). Believers will enjoy an intimacy and directness with their creator and saviour that they have only the faintest taste of in their present experience. Now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face (1 Cor 13:12). The eternal future of Christian believers will involve a profoundly deep relationship with the one who has loved and cared for us more than anyone else in the universe. And as we live the God centred life we were created to live, He will continue to love us forever. Many people in our society imagine the afterlife in a purely selfish way, from surfing a wave and never wiping out to eating mountains of chocolate and never putting on weight. These are dull pictures of eternity when compared to the biblical hope of intimacy with God and a life centred on Him.
The more we know what to expect, the more these truths will impact on the way we experience life when we’re expecting . Firstly, they will put our trials and troubles in perspective. So much greater is the glory that awaits Christians in the future, Paul said it wasn’t even worth comparing with our present sufferings (Rom 8:18). Physical ailments, relationship breakdown, impending examinations and even persecution for being Christian, are all put in their place when considered from an eternal perspective. Furthermore, for Christians our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20). We belong there; not here. Having just returned to Australia from three years abroad, the concept of coming home is fresh in my experience. What a great feeling it is! And yet, despite what it says on my passport, I am not really a citizen of Australia but of heaven. I should be longing for a greater homecoming. In The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis’ Unicorn captures something of the sentiment of entering eternal life when he says: ‘I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here… The reason we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this’.
Finally, knowing that we have this experience ahead of us, Jesus encourages us to invest in our future hope. Don’t store up ephemeral treasures here on earth, but store up indestructible treasures in heaven (Matt 6:19-20). The return on the investment is infinitely more valuable. Also, Jesus says in the next verse that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. So the more we invest in eternal life the more we will long to enter it. We will earnestly pray Come Lord Jesus . No wonder Paul, after explaining a little of ‘what to expect when you’re expecting’, tells the church to ‘encourage one another with these words’. (1 Thess 4:18)
Ed joined the Moore College faculty in July 2014 having completed his PhD (at the University of Cambridge) on the doctrine of the church in the writing of William Temple, a 20th century Archbishop of Canterbury. Ed lectures in Theology and Church History.