On the Future Heavenly Kingdom

Many Christian converts or people who simply like and respect the Church often ask questions about the afterlife and the future Heavenly Kingdom. Such questions are natural: people want to know “here-and-now” about their own and the world’s destinies. Unfortunately, these questions remain the fruit of a superficial and curious (“idle”) mind. They will not see an answer as a motivation for personal growth and improvement.

​Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto. Paradise, 1579–1588 ​Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto. Paradise, 1579–1588     

The Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition suggests a gradual development, step-by-step familiarization with secret knowledge about the future Heavenly Kingdom, depending on the level of our spiritual and moral perfection. Nevertheless, some fundamental things are known to everyone based on the evidence of the New Testament. Let us consider the understanding of the Kingdom of God by the holy Apostle Paul.

The main distinctive feature of the Apostle Paul’s description of the future blissful state of mankind is the living union of human beings with God. And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together (Rom. 8:17); If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him: if we deny Him, He also will deny us (2 Tim. 2:12).

This unity is based on the communion of humanity among themselves and with their Head, Christ. And, according to the Apostle Paul, in the future entire humanity will have to come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ (Eph. 4:13).

St. John Chrysostom St. John Chrysostom With regard to our cognitive ability the Apostle Paul testifies that in the age to come the period of faith will give way to that of knowledge (cf. 2 Cor. 5:7), and there will no longer be partial and incomplete knowledge. Thus, the Apostle Paul confirms the truth that in this life full knowledge of the Heavenly realm is impossible within the framework of the “fallen” earthly world.

For now we see through a glass, darkly (1 Cor. 13:12)—that is, so-so, according to our conclusions from acts of God or His Word; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known (ibid). Although St. John Chrysostom, defining this knowledge, says that then we will learn many things that are now hidden, and we will be vouchsafed a very blessed conversation and wisdom; however, the basis of this knowledge will be the ability to comprehend all the riches of Divine love, comprehending, according to the Apostle Paul, with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God (Eph. 3:18–19).

St. Theophan the Recluse suggests that this fullness should be understood as follows: “May you be perfect in every perfection in God, knowing all Divine things as much as possible.” But at the same time, he shrugs his shoulders when it comes to specifying the terms “fullness” and “comprehension”. “More than once,” he writes, “the apostle used the word, ‘comprehend’, and it’s a little vague. It is true, and this belongs to those things that will be comprehended then in perfect clarity—that is, true knowledge is possible only in the Heavenly Kingdom itself.”

From the perspective of moral relations, once the faithful have attained full and intimate communion in Divine life, they will participate in God’s glory as well: When Christ, Who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:4). Here we should pay attention to a Christological point in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, where the Apostle Paul says: And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it (1 Cor. 12:26). By virtue of Christ’s belonging to humanity it can have its part in Him; just as His Body has glory, so, like blood or a life-giving liquid, this glory can flow through all parts of His life-giving Body.

In the judgment of the holy Apostle Paul, a strict, detailed and accurate expression of the essence of the Heavenly Kingdom in the vain, temporary state of this world is hardly possible: Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him (1 Cor. 2:9).

The holy Apostle Paul gives his disciples some practical pastoral advice and recommendations that answer the question: “What should we do to make the day of the Lord the beginning of eternal joy?” Firstly, it is Baptism, in which a person dies to sin and is united with Christ; secondly, it is the participation in the sacraments of the Church and compliance with the required high morals in our personal and public life. This union with the Lord—He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit (1 Cor. 6:17)—is the earnest of future unceasing communion with Him in Heaven. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:17).

When the holy Apostle Paul reflects on the hidden character of the Heavenly Kingdom, there is a hymn to asceticism, spiritual and moral perfection in his words: Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God (Rom. 6:13). From the description of the future glorious state of the bodies, as well as from the statement that the same bodies that we had in this earthly life will be resurrected, the Apostle Paul derives the moral rule not to use the body for impure, carnal and lawless deeds: The body is not for fornication, but for the Lord (1 Cor. 6:13); Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? (1 Cor. 6:15); Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you (1 Cor. 6:19).

Vasily Surikov. The Apostle Paul Explains the Tenets of Faith to King Agrippa, His Sister Berenice and Proconsul Festus. 1875 Vasily Surikov. The Apostle Paul Explains the Tenets of Faith to King Agrippa, His Sister Berenice and Proconsul Festus. 1875     

The distinctive feature of the Apostle Paul’s Epistles is his pastoral approach. He does not aim to describe the Heavenly Kingdom in detail, as was often the case in the apocryphal Jewish literature of that age (in particular, the Book of Enoch and the Apocalypse of Baruch contain picturesque and fantastic descriptions of the other world). The Apostle Paul consistently instructs and exhorts his readers, warning them against possible mistakes: I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13).

I believe that we, modern Christians, should, too, move in line with apostolic Tradition, which does not entertain itself with colorful pictures of the future, but cares about moral perfection.

Priest Anthony Rusakevich
Translation by Dmitry Lapa

Sretensky Monastery


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