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Already Living in the World to Come

Geerhardus Vos speaks of the Christian as “a peculiar chronological phenomenon.”[1] As is often the case with Vos, we need to reflect for a moment on what he means—especially since he’s speaking about us here. The phrase comes in his discussion on the two covenants and two worlds or ages that are spoken of in the letter to the Hebrews. We have the old covenant, which pertains to this present world or age, and the new covenant, which is co-extensive with the new world or age. That each covenant has a corresponding world should raise an important question in ours minds: If I’m a member of the new covenant by Christ’s blood, then which world do I presently live in?

While this might sound like an odd question, the author of the letter provides us with a rather remarkable answer that, if understood and lived out by faith, leads to astronomically practical implications. But first the answer, then the implications.

In Contact with the World to Come

For one, he says Christians are those who “have tasted [aorist tense] … the powers of the age to come” (6:5). He speaks of the “good things to come” (9:11; 10:1) and “the world to come” (2:5), which, while future, are made present realities by the death of Christ. So also we read that believers “have come [perfect tense] to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (12:22). Again, this is a present reality. Think also about the well-known opening to the letter (1:1-4) in which there is a redemptive-historical transition into “these last days” because of God’s Son. In terms of both time and place, then, “believers are situated where the eschatological world [that is, the world to come] has its center.” In short, we are “eschatological creatures” (50).[2]

So what can we conclude regarding the present position of the believer according to Hebrews? That we are “in actual contact with the world to come and its blessings.” That is, we “are really in vital connection with the heavenly world” (50). To illustrate: in the same way a headland projects out into the ocean, says Vos, so the heavenly world projects into our lives.

Real, Not Metaphorical, Contact

Take careful note of the words “actual” and “vital.” The author of Hebrews doesn’t speak of a hypothetical or metaphorical connection with the world to come, but one that is real and vital. This distinction is important. It’s here where I’ll sometimes hear well-meaning preachers and teachers fumble the ball. Likely with every good intention, they will encourage people to live as if they belong to the world to come, or as if they are citizens of heaven, or as if they have come to Mount Zion, or as if they have been raised with Christ to new life, etc.

But what does “as if” imply? That it’s not real. But if it’s not real, if there’s no vital, living connection to these things, then what power is available to you to live this way? There isn’t any. There’s nothing to support, sustain, nurture, and grow such a life, except what you already have access to in this present world, which Hebrews makes clear is ineffectual for such a task (9:8-14).

We need to say instead that because we are in real and vital contact with the world to come, the powers of the age to come are really and truly at our disposal so that we can run with endurance the race that is set before us (12:1). For it’s there that our faithful high priest, Jesus Christ, who has passed through the heavens (4:14), forever lives to intercede on our behalf (7:25) and is drawing us after himself (2:10; 12:2) by the new and living way he opened for us (10:20). It’s there we have come to share (6:4) in the very same eternal Spirit by whom Christ offered himself without blemish to God (9:14), namely, the Holy Spirit who bears witness to us (10:15). If we do not have real access to Christ and his Spirit, then every attempt to run our race will be in vain—we’ll get no further than a person tiring himself out on a treadmill.

In fact, all of the exhortations that riddle the letter to the Hebrews can only be obeyed and lived out, if we are in vital connection with the powers of the age to come. In real contact with the world to come,

  • we can strive to enter that rest fully and not fall by disobedience like the generation that perished in the wilderness (4:11)
  • we can hold fast our confession firmly to the end no matter the opposition arrayed against us (4:14; 10:23)
  • we can come boldly and confidently to the throne of grace to find mercy and grace in time of need (4:16)
  • we can be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises (6:12)
  • we can draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith (10:22)
  • we can stir one another up to good works and love, not neglecting to meet together and encourage one another as we see the Day draw near (10:24-25)
  • we can endure hard struggles with joy and acts of compassion, knowing that we have a better possession and an abiding one (10:32-34)
  • we can lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely and run with endurance the race that is set before us (12:1)
  • we can embrace discipline for it is God treating us as sons and daughters and it will later yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness (12:7-11)
  • we can strive for peace with everyone, and for holiness without which no one will see the Lord (12:14)
  • we can be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken and so offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe (12:28)

This is only a sampling of the implications that Hebrews draws out for the church on the basis of our real and vital contact with the world to come.

Come, Lord Jesus

When it dawns upon our minds with Spirit-wrought conviction that God’s promises of the world to come have already been realized in part for us, then we should also have an accompanying sense of the nearness of their consummation. Vos was aware of this, and we’ll conclude with his words:

We of the present day, having lost the realism, have also lost the sense of the soonness of its culmination. To be indifferent in regard to the time of its culmination is to commit a chronological sin. The normal Christian state of mind is to pray: “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly” (53).

[1] Geerhardus Vos, The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1956), 51. The rest of the quotes in this post are from this book.

[2] This thought is pervasive (even central according to Vos’ Pauline Eschatology) in Paul’s theology. For example, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). We are presently and really citizens of heaven. God “raised us up with [Christ] and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). We are presently and really seated with Christ in the heavenly places. Christ “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). On this basis, Paul can exhort the church, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). In Vos’ words, “Christians should be fashioned according to the world to come” (51).


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