Tomorrow may not be the end times.

What can the church expect to face in the intermediate future? Will it be able to withstand the onslaught of secularism in the world? What developments and problems will it have to confront? What will be its role?

I use the term “intermediate future” deliberately. For most people, the “near future” is almost inconceivable except in terms of extending the present. On the other hand, the “distant future” brings to mind for Christians the ultimate judgment and/or fulfilled kingdom. So in order to help us grapple with issues beyond the present and before that seemingly remote time to come, I use the term “intermediate future.”

I am not an optimist. For society in general, I see little hope; the likelihood of some sort of catastrophe seems overwhelming. Yet for the church—for God’s people and God’s work in the world—I see great hope. Even as secular society crumbles around us and the probability of persecution of the church increases, I am eager to get on with the future. Accounting for one’s pessimism while living out one’s optimism requires more than psychotherapy: it requires faith.

The church needs to prepare energetically for the future, not just as a matter of personal spiritual readiness and ostrich-like millenialism, but in order to determine what it can do to make a difference in the world until the end.

The Bible uses various metaphors to depict aspects of the fulfillment of the kingdom. These metaphors suggest two themes: what God will do, and what God’s people will be doing. Concerning the first theme, metaphors such as lightning, angels, a trumpet, all suggest that God alone knows the details of the end of this era.

To describe what the church will be doing, the biblical metaphors indicate ...

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