Have you ever played on a teeter-totter? It was something many playgrounds had when I was a kid. With one person on each end of the long board that was balanced in the middle, the teeter-totter went up and down. Just maybe with equal weight on each end, you could balance in the middle.
To be a Christian is to live in the same way as being on a teeter-totter — in tension between two realities, with the present and future at both ends. Unlike worldviews that don’t believe another life will come after this one, Christianity is a faith practiced earnestly for the here and now and for the life to come. We live on that teeter-totter.
Our Statement of Faith breaks down this idea in a three-part kingdom of God: present, millennial, and eternal. However, for this article, I’ll simplify the millennial and eternal into simply the future kingdom.
Balancing present and future
Given this tension, what are our responsibilities to these two realities? What do we do with each one?
In the present, we are continually called to be witnesses to God’s kingdom. Consider this sampling of passages that refer to believers as witnessing for God: Isaiah 43:10; 44:8; Matthew 10:18; Mark 13:9; Luke 21:13; John 1:7, 34; 15:26, 27; Acts 2:32, 40; 10:39-43; 14:17; 22:15, 21; Romans 8:16; Hebrews 12:1; Revelation 2:13; 11:3.
One of the most relevant scriptures is Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (ESV, emphasis added). As witnesses, we invite others into present and future peace with God. Consider the example of Peter on Pentecost (2:37-41). Additionally, we are to demonstrate the reality of the kingdom in our love for each other (John 13:34, 35); in our service to others, inside and outside the family of faith (Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 10:25-37); and in our gentleness to outsiders (Philippians 4:5).
Our responsibility to the future is to put our hope there, rather than in this present life. Jesus reminds us that God will take care of us here (Matthew 6:25-34). He advises us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and what we need will be provided (v. 33). Jesus also teaches believers to build up treasure in the kingdom of God rather than in material things here and now (v. 19).
Our balance, then, is in keeping the future hope in our hearts and minds while living in the present as faithful witnesses and workers.
One common imbalance between future and present comes when we can’t stop talking about our ideas and proposals about what the future kingdom will look like and when it will come. Often this plays out by constantly interpreting signs and every movement on the world stage as the final harbinger of the end. Put another way, when we are living only for the end instead of living in the present, we are imbalanced on the teeter-totter.
Our hope should be in the future. The most important thing about that hope is simply proclaiming that it will happen and preparing ourselves and others for the coming kingdom. It’s more important to be ready at all times for the appearing of our God and Savior than it is to predict the exact moment and manner of its occurrence. If we’re always ready and working as faithful witnesses, we will always be ready for the coming King (Matthew 25:1-13). If our predictions are wrong, we might cause doubt in others, bring derision on the name of God, and fail to be prepared when our lives actually do end or the end comes.
Likewise, if we focus too much on the present, putting our hope only in the here and now, we become imbalanced. We live as though we have too much to lose. We fear death and the loss of the things and pleasures of this life. Then we become useless for the kingdom of God in the present and future (John 15:4-6). The most fruitful workers for the kingdom know that for the present life, we are mere sojourners (Hebrews 11:13). We work faithfully and patiently as living sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1). We know we may be here for eighty years, so we settle in and work earnestly on the tasks at hand. However, like the heroes of the faith, we put our hope only in the future fulfillment of all things: the future kingdom of God
Here’s the challenge. On a teeter-totter, rarely does one go from being balanced in the middle to leaping to one end or the other. Rather, we’re slowly drawn to one side until it tips totally in the air. Perhaps this happens in our Christian walk because the end times are interesting to us or we start accumulating things that become dear to us in the present.
We must beware that we aren’t drawn to an extreme. Balance is needed to stand in tension between the “now” and “not yet” kingdoms. We work in the present for the kingdom while holding our deep and passionate hope in its future coming and glory with God. Everything we do should take into consideration both ends of the teeter-totter. So we orient our lives around the reality that the end will come and that we should proclaim it. But we need to live a long, and certainly fruitful, life before we fall asleep in Jesus or the end comes to all.
May we all labor and persevere faithfully on this journey. May we do so until the last trumpet sounds, and what we have sown with God is raised imperishable in that future glory, where death is swallowed up in victory and God’s dwelling is with the faithful forever and ever (1 Corinthians 15:42-58; Revelation 21:3).