Our Eternal Inheritance
There is a text in the Bible that is often misunderstood (one of many, sadly). Paul writes, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’ (1 Cor. 2:9). Preachers especially are prone to quote these words as if they were saying that the Christian has something gloriously and unimaginably wonderful to look forward to. However, Paul has an apodosis to complete his protasis (my homage to John Murray); he goes on to say, ‘these things God has revealed to us through the Spirt’ (1 Cor. 2:10). Christians do have something unimaginably wonderful to look forward to. But the point Paul is making here is that, in measure, God has already revealed to us just what he has prepared for his people in Christ. He has not left us in the dark to wonder what he has prepared for us.
In his First Letter, Peter gives us a passing glimpse of the astounding future that awaits all Christians. He tells us that God has prepared for all his children ‘an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time’ (1 Pet. 1:4-5).
Christians have, because of their union with Jesus Christ, ‘an inheritance’. It is usual for children to enter into their inheritance when one or both of their parents die. But the Christian’s inheritance is the result not only of their Saviour’s death, but also of his resurrection. In the previous verse, Paul tells us that God ‘has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’. If there were no resurrection, Jesus’ death would have been the greatest anti-climax in history. But gloriously and inevitably, it was not possible for death to hold him (Acts 2:24). It is as a risen, cosmically triumphant Saviour, that Jesus bequeathed to his people the inheritance he secured for them by his sin-atoning death and his glorious triumph over sin and death and hell in his resurrection on the third day.
It is this inheritance that Peter describes as ‘imperishable, undefiled, and unfading’, that God is keeping for all his people in heaven.
It is an imperishable inheritance. What makes this inheritance imperishable? It is imperishable because it is located in the imperishable Person of the God-Man, Jesus Christ. Jesus himself is our salvation. He is ‘the Lord our righteousness’ (Jer. 23:6; 1 Cor. 1:30). Our inheritance can no more perish than he can. It is an undefiled inheritance. What makes it undefiled? The perfectly holy and spotless Saviour in whom our inheritance is located. It is an unfading inheritance. What makes it unfading? By now you can anticipate … because Jesus Christ, the eternally unfading God-Man is himself the inheritance of his people.
Peter proceeds to tell us that God himself is keeping this inheritance secure for his people by his great power (1 Pet. 1:4-5). There is nothing uncertain about this inheritance. It is being ‘kept’ moment by moment by the omnipotent power of almighty God. But, as the NT always does, lest we drift into presumption, this divine keeping is ‘through faith’. No believer ever ‘cruises’ to glory. The inheritance is absolutely secure, but only as we evidence our true identity as God’s born again children by living by faith. The heart of living faith is believing God and trusting his promises, all of which are centred in the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).
All this God has revealed to us ‘through the Spirit’. Paul is not thinking about the Holy Spirit giving heavenly intuitions about the future to God’s people. The Holy Spirit made known what God had prepared for those who love him through his new covenant ministry of providing ‘God breathed Scripture’ (2 Tim. 3:16). In his Second Letter, Peter informs his readers that God has spoken his sure word of revealed truth through the Holy Spirit, so informing and shaping the minds and hearts of mere men that they ‘spoke from God’ (2 Pet. 1:21).
It is in the Spirit-inspired pages of the Bible, the living word of God, that we learn what no eye has ever seen, or ear has ever heard, or mind has ever conceived. So, if you want to know about the future, what God has prepared for his believing people, and what he has prepared for unbelievers, read the Bible. You do not need new, supposed revelations to tell you. You do not need self-promoting, charismatic preachers to tell you. God the Holy Spirit has revealed everything you and I need to know at this time about our heavenly inheritance.
So, be much in the word. It would be a good and profitable exercise to read through the NT in particular, noting just what is revealed to us about our eternal inheritance. Peter’s three descriptive adjectives are three of many. How many others can you discover?
Ian Hamilton is Pastor of Cambridge Presbyterian Church, now worshipping God on Sunday mornings in Queen Emma Primary School, Gunhild Way, Cambridge and in Resurrection Lutheran Church, Huntingdon Road, on Sunday evenings.
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