THE GOSPEL is about the Kingdom of God. That is what Jesus and the apostles preached (Mark 1:14–15; Acts 28:30–31). It is what disciples died for. We know the names of some people who will be in the Kingdom. For example, Jesus named ‘Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets’ (Luke 13:28).
He also said of the faithful apostles:
… when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28).
Hebrews chapter 11 lists faithful people (in the Old Testament) who were, and still are, dead awaiting the fulfilment of God’s promises. They will be in this kingdom (Hebrews 11:4–16 and 39–40).
In order to live in the Kingdom, all of these named, and many more unnamed, faithful people need to be raised from the dead. The Bible calls them saints (for example Ephesians 1:1). This is what the apostles taught. Like Jesus, these faithful are to be raised from the dead and given immortality together with the faithful who are alive when Jesus returns. And once immortalised they will be changed—to be like the angels. This means that they will no longer be able to sin; they will not marry or have children. They will not be flesh and blood, but spirit; not requiring food to live, but sustained by God’s spirit power (Mark 12:25; 1 Corinthians 15:42–44; 2 Peter 1:4).
But this raises a question. There are several prophecies about how the world will be transformed when Jesus reigns as king (for example Micah 4:1–4; Joel 3:17–18). There will be plenty of food (Psalm 72:16; Isaiah 35:7); justice (Psalm 72:2–4 and 12–14; Isaiah 11:3–5;); children playing (Isaiah 11:8; Zechariah 8:3–5); less illness (Isaiah 35:5–6); and people living many years (Isaiah 65:20). Moreover, nations who are defiant of King Jesus will have to take the divine consequences (Zechariah 14:16–19). This is clearly not talking about faithful believers, saints, who have been judged worthy by Jesus and given eternal life. They are people who are in many ways like we are now.
These passages do not refer to immortal people. When Jesus comes back there will be a time of trouble as he establishes his reign in the face of opposition. Some people will survive and be ruled by Jesus in the first phase of God’s Kingdom on earth. The saints, immortal and in total harmony with God, will help him. And the remaining human beings, subject to sin and death just as we are now, are to be taught God’s ways. They then, like us now, will be given opportunity to commit their lives to Almighty God and to His Son Jesus the king. But, unlike now, they will live in a world transformed into a much better and fairer, and consequently happier, place. This is not, however, the culmination of the Kingdom of God.
After a period of time, given as 1,000 years (Revelation 20:4–6), this phase ends. Death is finally completely abolished. All sin and sorrow and sadness are over (Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 21:1–5). And the faithful from this period are also given eternal life. Then Jesus delivers the Kingdom to his Father. And ‘God is all in all’. We are not told much about this final stage of God’s plan, but it is most certainly promised:
Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death… When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:24–28).
We Can Be There
We need to ask ourselves where we stand. Where do we want to stand? If Jesus came back tomorrow would he find us ready and waiting for him? The apostles did not offer people the hope of a mortal life in the kingdom of God, wonderful though that may be. Their offer—the same offer to us now—was eternal life with Jesus in his kingdom: through the first phase into the ‘all in all’, and thus for ever. People say that they would not want to live for ever in the world as it is. That is not what God wants either. He will change it. The world will be much better and, finally, indescribably perfect. Even if we die before Jesus returns, the promise is just as valid as it is to Abraham Isaac, Jacob, the prophets and apostles. Jesus will raise the dead.
We do not know how many people will survive the time of troubles when Jesus comes back in order to be given opportunity to continue their mortal lives in the Kingdom. That is not our concern. For you and me the offer of the Gospel is the gift of immortality for those who have responded to its call now. The question is, do we want to be there?