The Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore, encourage one another with these words. -1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
What’s your favorite book or movie? I think one of the things that makes the difference between “just okay” stories and “awesome” stories is how they end. There’s nothing worse than coming to the end of a book or movie and then finding out that the ending is lame. But if the ending is surprising, or exciting, or wonderful, it makes the whole story worth it.
One of my favorite book/movie trilogies is The Lord of the Rings. I like the first two books, but my favorite is the third one, because the ending is epic. Like seriously, over the top, cheering-on-the-good-guys epic. It makes the whole 9-hour movie marathon worth it to see the bad guys defeated and the good guys win in such an awesome way.
The story of Jesus has an awesome ending. It has an awesome beginning and middle too, of course, but the ending is really what makes the whole story worth it.
Think back to how the story has gone so far: the true King arrives in an upside-down, backwards way—not as a conquering hero but as a helpless baby. He has come to put everything right-ways up again. And as he begins his ministry, we start to see what his Kingdom looks like: a celebration party of forgiveness and life and joy that starts small and keeps spreading. He loves the unlovable, and touches the untouchable, and forgives the unforgivable. He proves that he has power over everything that he has made; even wind and waves obey his word. Everywhere he goes, the future starts breaking in early: the dead come back to life, the sick are healed, the sinners are forgiven.
And then comes the twist: this King has come to conquer sin and death, but in the most surprising way. He will conquer by being conquered; he will kill death by being killed himself. He takes our sin and suffers the punishment that we deserve, all so that we can be forgiven.
And then the tables turn, and death starts working in reverse: the grave spits out the Author of Life, and the King kicks down the gates of hell from the inside out, and comes back to life, having conquered sin and death and Satan once and for all. He ascends back to heaven, sits down on his throne, and begins the march of his kingdom across the world.
One day, that march will be done. People from every nation and tribe and language will have heard about King Jesus and put their trust in him. And when that day comes, the end of the story will come: the King himself will return. The skies will rip open, and we will see King Jesus coming back, shining with glory brighter than the sun. Every person who has ever lived will be raised back to life and will assemble before the King. Every knee will bow—some gladly, some grudgingly—and everyone will proclaim that Jesus Christ really is the Lord of all. Everyone who has rebelled and rejected him will be cast away from him forever, and everyone who trusts and loves him will be gathered into his finally-arriving kingdom. The whole world, which has been broken by sin and stained with tears, will be remade to be a perfect home for God’s children again.
And that’s when the kingdom party—the kingdom party that started with Jesus turning water into wine—will begin for real. Because now, everything sad will be gone forever: no more sickness or crying or death or pain or sin ever again. Everything will be new and beautiful again, even more than it was at the beginning. And all God’s children—everyone who has put their trust in Jesus—will celebrate and sing and dance and thank God for how much he has loved them.
And we will live there with the King, working alongside him, celebrating his goodness, enjoying his love, forever and ever. And it will turn out that this isn’t the end of the story, after all; it’s only the beginning, because Jesus’ love and Jesus’ glory and Jesus’ kingdom will never end. Every day the party will be more wonderful, every day there will be new adventures and new experiences and new relationships and new happiness, and each day will be better than the one before it, forever and ever and without any end in sight. And forever we will be so glad that Jesus came to rescue us.
What a story! What a kingdom! What a King! Come, Lord Jesus—come back soon!