The World to Come
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews introduces three points in which Christ's superangelic dignity is shown. The first is that Christ is assigned a higher name than the angels. The second is that he is clothed with a sublimer honour than the angels, and the third is that Christ is invested with a sublimer office than the angels, they being only ministering spirits, while He is spoken of as a Divine King, whose throne is forever and ever, and the sceptre of whose Kingdom is a sceptre of righteousness. The princely investiture and reign of the Messiah is thus distinctly deduced from the Old Testament, and used by the Apostle as the sublimest demonstration of the Saviour's personal dignity.
And this Messianic dominion he applies particularly to what is hereafter to grow out of the Gospel economy. He tells us that it is peculiarly "the world to come" over which the Messiah's reign is to be exercised.
"For unto the angels hath he not put into subjection the world to come, whereof we speak". This proceeds upon the implied assumption that it has been by promise put into subjection to Christ, and that all those allusions to the Saviour as a King have their chief application and ultimate fulfilment in that "world to come". The Messiah's reign and this "world to come" accordingly belong together and coexist in the same period and locality. By determining, then, what is meant by this "world to come", we may form an idea of what is included in the Messianic Kingdom; or, if we already know what the consummated Messianic reign is, and where it is to be, we have it already decided what we are to understand by this "world to come".
There is no alternative left but to understand this "world to come" as the Millennial World, or the world as it shall be when Christ shall have entered upon his glorious dominion as the Sovereign of the nations and Lord of the whole earth. And to this agrees exactly the original word, oikoumene, which means the habitable earth—the domiciliated globe on which we dwell—and not some remote supernal region. The world to come, then, is nothing more nor less than this self-same world of ours in its final or Millennial condition. The earth is not to be annihilated. God never obliterates his own creations. The dissolving fires of which Peter speaks are for "the perdition of ungodly men", and not for the utter depopulation and destruction of the whole world; men and nations will survive them and still continue to live in the flesh. The earth is to be renovated and restored from its present depression and dilapidation, and thus become "the new earth" of which the Bible speaks. It is to pass through a "regeneration" analogous to that through which a man must pass to see the Kingdom of God; but there will be a continuity of its elements and existence, just as a regenerated man is constitutionally the same being that he was before his renewal. It will not be another earth, but the same earth under another condition of things. It is now labouring under the curse; but then the curse will have been lifted off and all its wounds healed. At present, it is hardly habitable—no one being able to live in it longer than a few brief years; but then men shall dwell in it forever without knowing what death is. It is now the home of rebellion, injustice and guilt; it will then be the home of righteousness. It is now under the domination of Satan; it will then come under the blessed rule of the Prince of Peace. Such, at any rate, is the hope set before us in the Word of God, and this I hold to be "the world to come", of which the text speaks. It cannot be anything else. It cannot be what is commonly called heaven, for the word oikoumene cannot apply to heaven. It is everywhere else used exclusively with reference to our world. Neither can it be the present Gospel dispensation, for that began long before this epistle was written and could not, therefore, have been spoken of by Paul as yet "to come". We are consequently compelled to understand it to mean our own habitable world in its Millennial glory. And as the prophecies concerning the Messiah's eternal kingship are here referred to as having their fulfilment in the subjection of the Millennial world to his dominion, we are furnished with another powerful argument of Scripture in favour of the doctrine of Christ's personal reign as a great Prince in this world. Indeed, the Bible is so full of this subject, and its inspired writers are so constantly and enthusiastically alluding to it that I am amazed to find so many pious and Bible-loving people entirely losing sight of it. Ever and anon the Scriptures return to it as the great and animating hope of the Church in all her adversities and depressions, and it does seem to me that we are depriving ourselves of much true Christian comfort by the manner in which we have been neglecting and thrusting aside that glorious doctrine. My present object is to show, from the Scriptures, and by just inferences from them, what sort of a world this "world to come" is, and to describe, as far as I can, what we are to look for when once this earth has been fully subjected to that Divine King whose throne is forever and ever, and the sceptre of whose Kingdom is a sceptre of righteousness.
That "the world to come" is a highly blessed world, and a vast improvement upon the present scene of things, will be inferred on all hands without argument. It could not be a subject of hope if it were not. The Saviour himself exhibited a model of it when in the Mount of Transfiguration—from which, perhaps, we may obtain as deep an insight of its glories as from any other portion of Scripture. That He designed that scene as a miniature model of what his future coming and Kingdom is to be, is obvious. A week before it occurred he told his disciples that "the Son of man shall come in the glory of the Father, with his angels or messengers with him"; and that there were some standing there when He made the declaration who should not taste of death till they saw the Son of man coming in his Kingdom. This coming in his Kingdom, which some of the disciples were to live and see, is not the final Advent, for the disciples are all dead, and the final Advent is still future. Neither is it the destruction of Jerusalem, for but one of the apostles lived to see that catastrophe, and the Son of man did not then come in his Kingdom. And yet some of the apostles were to have ocular demonstration of the Son of man's coming in his Kingdom before tasting of death. Search through apostolic history as we will we shall find nothing but the Transfiguration, to which the Saviour's words will apply. That, then, was in some sense the coming of the Son of man in his Kingdom. It was not, indeed, the coming itself, but it was an earnest and picture of it. Peter says: "The power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" are not "cunningly devised fables". He declares that he was certified of their reality by the testimony of his own senses. We were "eye-witnesses", says he, "when we were with him in the holy mount". We thus have clear, inspired testimony that the scene of the Transfiguration was a demonstrative exhibition of the coming of Jesus in his Kingdom. Hence, whatever we find in the descriptions of that scene, we may confidently expect to be realised in that "world to come whereof we speak". As He was then personally present as the Son of man, so He will be personally present in the Millennial Kingdom. And as He was there attended by different classes of persons, so will his glorious Kingdom consist of similar classes.
This comes from Dr. Joseph A. Seiss, well-known Lutheran minister of Philadelphia, U.S.A. in the latter part of 19th century. Editor of "Prophetic Times" and author many books on Biblical matters.