Rev. Dick is pastor of Grace Protestant Reformed Church in Standale, Michigan.
Fascinating is man’s fascination with the future. It is not even here. It is a nothing. It might never even be—that certain future of man’s imagination. And yet not only are we interested in it, but we are often taken up by it and into it in our thoughts. Powerful nothing, this elusive Future! Never is—never seen, never touched, never now. Yet ever is—calling, gripping, exciting, alluring. One day in gathering darkness it is that wolf—there lurking, soon to pounce we just know, are Future’s fangs. Then another day it is a sun brightening our spirits—Future rays of hope. And just about every day Future is the thief stealing us from our now and work, making day-dreamers out of us.
Future is a delight of optimists. And aren’t we all that at least some time? Is it not the case that at least once we have viewed our present as a glass half-full (or more), and thought, even, that the future will certainly be fuller? The optimist relishes the possibilities Future holds forth. Future is all the stuff optimistic dreams are made of. Everything we might want to be is there in the “just might be” of tomorrow. There is the dream career. Soon will be the dream house. One day, you just know it, your ship will come in. And two weeks from now will be the dream Standard Bearer article….
Dreamers love the future. Dreaders dread the future. They are pessimistic enough about the present. Tomorrow, they are sure, their glass will be less than half-empty. The next day their cup (of
suffering) will be overflowing. Future, for them, is worse than the monster under the bed. This One is going to get them. And no one can turn on the light to make it go away.
Now that the next millennium is at the door, out is coming the futurist in us all. Among the religious folk, everyone and his Jehovah’s Witness uncle (I can imagine) are predicting the end. The Pope is looking forward to the year 2000 and the jubilee year of his making, and hundreds of millions are hoping from him for another astounding infallible pronouncement about Mary (Mediatrix?). Those who know computers and how much the world needs them have made Y2K our common concern. National Geographic has recently prophesied the problems of population as we enter the twenty-first century. And no doubt there are plenty who are planning now for that New Year’s party….
What of the future…and Christians?
Two things direct our view of the future. One is the Word of God. Note well! It is not a crystal ball. Not a guru. Not your local arithmatic theologian (the guy who adds up some numbers or pretends to find “the code” in Scripture and claims by his calculations to be able to tell when Christ will come). Not a palmist. Not the message in the fortune cookie. But the Word of God, and the Word of God only, reveals the secret of the future—all we need to know about it.
The Word of God says: the future is in God’s hands. The only God, the sovereign King—God owns the future. He ordained it. He knows the end from the beginning. His purposes are accomplished in and through it. There is no chance-god who throws a monkey wrench or a thousand into God’s decree. There are no devil-gods who will upset God’s good plan. There are no human beings who can know and create the future—no human masters of fate. Rather, the God who is in the heavens has done and shall do whatsoever He pleases (Ps. 115:3).
The Word of God is that the future, God’s future, is just this: the coming of the Lord. All the future, every future second, minute, hour, day, week, month, and year, the exalted Lord Jesus will be coming! Every nation, every president, earthquake, tempest—every event and person and power great and small will serve this main event, this coming of the Lord. Just as all things were made by and for Jesus (Col. 1:16) in the beginning, and throughout all history-past He was coming to save His own, so all things proceed since Jesus has come the first time in humility, in order that He might come again the second time in glory.
Into that Word, and into the truth of the future, therefore, we are led by hope. The Word of God, and the hope God gives, are the two things that determine how we view the future. This hope is faith’s hope. Faith is the substance of things hoped for (Heb. 11:1). Faith rests in God now; faith’s hope reposes in a certain conviction that, come what may, God will come. Faith’s hope is telescopic, looking with sure sight into the future, even to the end. Faith’s hope is lively, living hope of those born again (I Pet. 1:3), so that that future of Christ’s coming is now…. We are so certain of it…We can taste it!
In this last part of Jesus’ farewell discourse (John 16) Jesus focuses on the future. As He has said before, so Jesus tells the disciples here that the future for the disciples is persecution, tribulation. The future is, however, bright. For the future of the disciples is the presence of the Holy Spirit Comforter. He will work faith and peace and joy in Jesus.
The future peace and joy in Jesus in the midst of tribulation and distress at the hands of the ungodly is, for the disciples, due to an outstanding future work. It is the work of the cross, the atonement the Savior will make. Future. So certain Jesus is that He presents His future cross victory, the victory of a few hours away, as now: I have overcome the world (v. 33)! Let us by the light of the Word and hope, look into the secret of the future, and that, with as much confidence as the Savior whose future first involved His exposure to an infinity and eternity of wrath. Covenant secret. That we might grow more in the knowledge and delight of the fellowship we have with the God of our now and of our forever.
Good Bible Study! Of the Future! Of the God of the future! Of the coming of the Lord in the future! All is well!
1. In the future ye shall have tribulation (vv. 1-3).
In light of this and other passages which speak of the persecution of the saints (e.g., the Psalms!; John 15:18-25; Philippians 1:29; II Timothy 3:12), consider and discuss the following:
What does the wicked world hate about the church?
From whence does the worst persecution come? Why?
How can some people think they are doing God service (John 16:2) when they persecute the people of God?
How is this persecution evident today: in laws and actions of governments; in the media; in the activities and pronouncements of churches? How do we experience persecution?
Is there evidence that our own ungodliness and compromise are reason for there being so little persecution in our life?
Would the tolerant Jesus who is preached today have been crucified?
2. In the future the Holy Spirit (vv. 7-16).
Jesus has spoken of the coming of the Holy Spirit several times in this last discourse. About the Holy Spirit consider and discuss:
What are the various names given the Holy Spirit? What do these say of His identity and work?
When exactly does the Spirit come? Was He present in the church in the Old Testament (cf. John 7:39)? How will He be present more in the future of which Jesus speaks?
According to John 16:8-11, what is the Holy Spirit’s work in the world? Is there any evidence of His working to save, if possible, the wicked reprobate?
From John 16:7, 13, 16, 22 and other passages explain the relation between the Spirit and the following: the church’s comfort; truth and the church; the presence of Christ in the church.
John 16:14 teaches the main work of the Spirit: to glorify the Lord Jesus. How does the Spirit do that? What does this teach us about discerning the spirits of the age, to see whether they be of God (I John 4:1-3)?
3. Future Joy (vv. 20-22).
The disciples would surely weep when Jesus was crucified. But soon their sorrow would be turned into joy (John 16:20). What is the Christian joy? How is our joy distinguished from the joy of unbelievers (cf. John 15:11; 16:22, 24, 33)?
The other day my six-year-old son told me I ought to smile more. Listening to and learning from our little children (O, the sermons they preach!) is surely one way to develop the joy-fruit of the Spirit. What are other ways we can grow in joy?
Of course, there are some who think our theology hinders our joy. What of it: are Calvinists sad, sour sticks-in-the-mud?
4. Future Prayer (vv. 23-26).
The Bible speaks here and in other places of prayers that the disciples of Christ shall make after Jesus is gone. Jesus speaks in His last discourse, for example, of prayers from now on being made in Jesus’ name (16:24); of their certainly being answered (vv. 23, 24); and of their being mediated from on high (16:26). Consider and discuss prayer. What is it to pray in Jesus’ name? Are our prayers answered? How can we grow in effectual, fervent prayer living?
5. Future Perspective (John 20:31).
These things of the future are written that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing we might have life through His name. How do Jesus’ predictions work faith (cf. John 14:29; 16:4)? In light of the Word of the future would you consider yourself an optimist? A pessimist? A realist? An optimillennialist? Tomorrow may bring the loss of a job. It may mean the end of a very precious relationship. It may bring persecution. You may die. But tomorrow, as the next day, and the next, the Lord is coming! Are you joy-full? Joyful, full of hope in the future, shall we not then purify ourselves (I John 3:3), and watch?