And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, NLT)
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:3-5, NIV)
According to Bible, in the coming Messianic Kingdom it is Jesus of Nazareth, crucified but then raised to life in power and glory, who will govern the entire earth as the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16).
It is he who will “judge the world in righteousness” (Ac. 17:31, CSB).
It is he who whose governance will “branch out” or extend from Zion to the entire earth (see 1 Sam. 2:10; 2 Sam. 7; Ps. 2, 89, 110, 132; Is. 2, 4, 11; Jer. 23; Ezek. 17, etc.).
As the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev. 5:5), it is he whose scepter of authority will cause the nations of the earth to submit to God in full obedience (Gn. 49:8–12).
It is his shoulders on which God will place governmental responsibility (Is. 9:6–7), and, as God’s divinely appointed “star” and “scepter” (Nu. 24:17–19), it is he who will deliver Israel from her Gentile oppressors and give her divinely-enabled victory over her enemies (see, e.g., Is. 10–29; Jl. 3; Ezek. 38–39; Hab. 1–3; Zech. 12–14, etc.).
It is he who will gather the exiles of Israel back to the land (see, e.g., Dt. 30; Is. 4, 11, 55, 61; Jer. 31–33, 50; Ezek. 16, 37) and “restore the kingdom to Israel”(Ac. 1:6), and it is to him and his city—the “city of the great King” (Mt. 5:35)—that the kings and nations of the earth will bring their gifts, treasures, and wealth (Is. 60:11; Rev. 21:24-26).
It is he through whose word the dead will be raised to life (Jn. 5:25), and it is he before whom “every knee will bow” (Php. 2:10).
Jesus will not, however, rule the earth alone.
Reigning along with him in positions of delegated authority will be his faithful followers (see, e.g., Rev. 2:26-29, 3:21, 20:1-6), who will be raised from the dead when he returns (1 Th. 4:13-18; Rev. 22:17), and who together will make up his “Bride” (2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 22:17). Jesus will appoint his resurrected servants to various governmental assignments according to the degree of faithfulness with which they carried out the assignments which he had entrusted to them in the previous age (Lk. 19:11-27).
When Jesus returns to the earth “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Mt. 24:37 (CSB), he will “descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God” (1 Th. 4:16, CSB).
When this happens, those of his people who had died prior to his return will rise from the dead in immortal, glorified bodies that are like Jesus’ own resurrected body (Php. 3:21; 1 Th. 4:16). After these—the “dead in Christ” (1 Th. 4:16)—have been raised to life, those of his people who are still alive at his coming will suddenly be changed and transformed, “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:52).
They, too, will receive glorified bodies, and together with those who had preceded them in being clothed in “immortality” (1 Cor. 15:53), they will “meet the Lord in the air” (1 Th. 4:17) to celebrate his return to the earth in a grand welcoming event.
After this, Jesus will fight against the Gentile armies attacking Jerusalem, striking them down with a plague (Zech. 14:12), and will “slay” (2 Th. 2:7, NASB) their leader, the “man of lawlessness” (2 Th. 2:3) or “Anti-Christ” (1 Jn. 2:18), “with the breath of his mouth” (2 Th. 2:7, NASB).
These momentous events will mark the beginning of the “renewal of the world” (Mt. 19:27, LEB), or the “Messianic Age” (HCSB), or the “age to come” (NCV), as part of which Jesus will, among other things, take his rightful place on David’s throne and set up his kingdom from Jerusalem (see, e.g., Is. 16:5, 62:1-7; Lk. 1:32-33), rejoice with his people at the “marriage feast of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9), rid the world of Satanic influence (Is. 24:21-23; Rev. 20), reward his faithful followers and punish the wicked (see, e.g., Mt. 7:21-23, 25:31-46; Rev. 20:4-5), install righteous governors over Israel and throughout the earth (see, e.g., Mt. 19:28-30; Lk. 19:11-27; Rev. 2:26-29), “judge the world in righteousness” (Ac. 17:31, CSB), instruct the world in the ways of the God of Israel (Is. 2), bring peace to the animal kingdom (Is. 11),
and cause the earth to be “full of the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the seas”(Is. 11:9, NIV).
Jesus will return to the earth and set up his kingdom following the great crisis that will shake the earth at the end of the age.
His return will mark the official transition from this “present evil age” (Gal. 1:4), which is contaminated by evil, death, and rebellion against God, to the glorious “age to come” (Mk. 10:30), which will be characterized by righteousness, life, and humble submission to God.
Although we do not know exactly when Jesus will return to inaugurate the age to come, we do know that the generation that sees the commencement of the great crisis at the end of the age (which Jesus likens to the “birth pains” of a woman in labor [Mt. 24:8]) will also see the grand events that will mark the beginning of the age to come (i.e., the joyous “birth” of the “baby” that God has promised in the covenants; see also Mt. 24:30-35; Lk. 21:29-33). When we see certain forewarned events, or “signs,” taking place, we are to interpret these as God’s signal to us that Jesus’ return and kingdom are drawing near (Lk. 21:28-31).
Jesus’ coming kingdom will be headquartered in the city of Jerusalem, which will be restored and built anew with precious stones and adorned with unspeakable beauty and glory (see, e.g., Is. 54, 61-62; Rev. 21-22). This “new Jerusalem” (Is. 62:2; Rev. 3:12, 21:20) will be home to the tree of life, from which humanity was cut off after the Fall but to which God’s people will be granted renewed access following the Second Coming (Rev. 2:7), and whose leaves will be “for the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:2).
Like the light of dawn or a torch whose flames radiate light, Jerusalem’s “vindication” and “deliverance” (Is. 62:1, NET) will shine forth so brightly and with such glory and splendor that it will be “the praise of the earth” (Is. 62:7, NIV), that is, “a city the whole world praises” (TEV). From this glorious city—“city of the great King” (Mt. 5:35)—Jesus’ instruction and righteous judgments will go forth to all the nations (Is. 2:1-4).
As to the question of where God’s people will dwell and rule in the age to come, we know that Jewish followers of Jesus, together with righteous Jews prior to Jesus’ first coming, will be granted land inheritances in the land of Israel (see, e.g., Is. 49:8; Dan. 12:13; Ezek. 45-47; Zech. 14), in keeping with Israel’s covenantal destiny and the principles of the Jubilee year (Lev. 25). Jesus’ Jewish apostles will “sit on twelve thrones, governing the twelve tribes of Israel” (Mt. 19:28, ISV), and righteous Jews like Daniel will “rise to receive” their “allotted inheritance” (Dan. 12:13, NIV).
Although the Scriptures give us less information about the specific land inheritances that will be granted to Gentile followers of Jesus and the places over which they will rule, we are told that in Jesus’ coming kingdom they, too, will be granted positions of authority (see, e.g., Rev. 2:26-29), and, like their Jewish brothers and sisters, will receive glorious inheritances (see, e.g., Ezek. 47:21-23; Eph. 1:18, 3:6; Rev. 21:7). As a result, the Lord’s name “will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun” (Mal. 1:11, NIV). Some of Jesus’ resurrected people will be given authority over certain cities (Lk. 19:11-27). All of them, both Jew and Gentile, will belong to God and the new Jerusalem and will be granted free access to the city and the tree of life (Rev. 3:12, 22:14).
From beginning to end, the Bible makes it abundantly clear what God thinks about sin, and what eventually happens to those who refuse to turn from their disobedience and rebellion and turn to him. Human beings have done great damage to the world he loves, and, as a result, are worthy of death and eternal punishment in his eyes (see, e.g., Rom. 1:32; 2 Th. 1:0; Rev. 14:11), as evidenced by his banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.
God loves the good world he created, and he feels anger and wrath toward that which destroys and corrupts it (see, e.g., Rom. 1:18). In the future he will pour out his wrath on those who refuse to repent and heed his commands (Col. 3:6).
However, the Creator of the heavens and the earth is also merciful, patient, gracious, and slow to anger (Ex. 34:6). It is his covenantal commitment and tenacious loyalty to his creation that keeps the sun rising and shining each day, and the moon, likewise, each night (Jer. 31:35-36, 33:20). He “take[s] no pleasure in the death of anyone,” but desires for people to “repent and live” (Ezek. 18:32, NIV). God did not have to make a promise to “create new heavens and a new earth” (Is. 65:17, NIV) and “make all things new” (Rev. 21:5, NASB), but he did. And God is “not a man, that he should lie” (Num. 23:19).
It is absolutely unthinkable for him to promise something but then not follow through on his word (Num. 23:19; Is. 14:24, 31:2, 45:23). Human beings may be fickle, unreliable, and untrustworthy in the vows they make and the oaths they take, but God is not.
Why, then, will God restore the creation at the return of Jesus? The answer is simple: He loves and is committed to it, desires to have eternal fellowship with those whom he made in his image (see Gen. 1:27) and created for his glory (see 1 Cor. 8:6), and is faithful to his promises.
God will bring about “new heavens and a new earth” (Is. 65:17, NIV) in a way parallel to how he created the heavens and the earth in the beginning. In Genesis 1 we learn that when God created the heavens and the earth, he did so through the power of his Spirit and spoken word. As the Spirit of God was “hovering over the surface of the waters,” God spoke, saying, “let there be light” (Gen. 1:2-3, CSB). When he said this, light came into existence: “And there was light” (Gen. 1:3, CSB). In the New Testament we learn that the “Word” through whom God brought light and everything else into existence in the beginning was, in fact, the same “Word” who became a man in Jesus of Nazareth for the sake of humanity’s salvation (Jn. 1:1-3, 14).
Just as God, in the beginning, created life and arranged all things through his Word as the Spirit moved in power, so through the Word and the Spirit will he bring about new life and restore all things to their proper order in the age to come.
It is through his word and powerful command, as the Holy Spirit moves in power (Rom. 8:11), that Jesus, the Word of God, will raise his people to life when he returns (Jn. 5:25; 1 Th. 4:16-17; cf. Jn. 11:43). Just as God formed, established, and put all things in their proper place by his “power” and “wisdom” in the beginning (Jer. 10:12),
so it is through Jesus, who is himself the “power of God” and “the wisdom of God” (Lk. 11:49 [cf. Mt. 23:34]; 1 Cor. 1:24), that God will put all things back in their proper and divinely intended arrangement in the age to come.