Journey 4 The People of God
Day 6: Strangers and Pilgrims
For almost 2,000 years, the Church of God has been praying for the establishment of His Kingdom.
And for almost 2,000 years, the answer has been, “Not yet.”
When Jesus was resurrected, His disciples wanted to know, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he talked about “we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15).
From the beginning of the Church until the present day, the return of Christ has always appeared to be right around the corner—and no wonder! Christ was the One who taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). He was the One who told us, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me” (Revelation 22:12).
Christ also described what the world would look like before He returned to establish the Kingdom. There would be “wars and rumors of wars,” there would be “famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places,” and “because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:6, 7, 12).
Every generation of the Church has had good reason to look at the current events of their time and wonder how it could possibly get any worse. From the Jewish revolts of A.D. 66 to the bubonic plague and inquisitions of the Dark Ages to the more recent examples of World War II, the Cuban missile crisis and the continual turbulence in the Middle East, there have always been reasons to believe Christ’s return could be just around the corner.
Today we have every reason to look at the world scene and believe the same thing. We have wars and rumors of wars. Terrorism continually rears its ugly head. Several nations, including the United States, seem to be teetering on the precipice of societal and economic collapse, and there’s every indication that God is setting the stage for a myriad of prophetic events to begin unfolding.
But maybe we’re not quite there yet. Maybe the end is farther off than it seems to be. And that’s the thing—we don’t know. We can’t know. Jesus described what the end-time world would look like, warning us, “So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors!” (Matthew 24:36). But He gave us another warning too: “Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matthew 24:36).
The Kingdom of God is coming. We’re promised that. It’s closer than it’s ever been—but when it comes to our day-to-day lives, the when of Christ’s return is irrelevant. What matters—what’s always mattered—is what we’re doing in the meantime.
Long before the Church was founded, God was working closely with a select few in the Old Testament era. When we read the stories of men like Abraham, Moses, Noah, Joseph and David, it’s clear they understood at least some aspects of God’s plan. Later, in the New Testament, we read about them again:
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16).
There’s a lot to unpack in those verses. The author of Hebrews was writing about men and women who had some understanding of the coming Kingdom of God—and who clung to that understanding. They saw themselves as strangers and pilgrims; wanderers who were just passing through this life on the way to something better.
The promise of the Kingdom was more real to them than the world they lived in. It was their goal, their purpose, their reason for getting up in the morning. It was so real to them, they could almost reach out and touch it—and in the future, when God resurrects them, that’s exactly what they’ll be able to do.
These men and women—these visionaries, these heroes of faith—are our examples. They paved the way with their determination and dedication, encouraging us to follow suit: “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
The goal, the Kingdom, is ahead of us. Can you see it? Can you picture it in your mind’s eye?
If you can’t, would you like to?
In Journey 3, we saw how the last four of God’s festivals—Trumpets, Atonement, Tabernacles and the Last Great Day—picture the return of Christ to earth, as well as the events that follow. Christ will reign as King of Kings, Satan will be bound, humanity will experience a thousand years of peace, the whole of humanity will have the opportunity to join the family of God. And, at the end of it all, God will establish the New Jerusalem on a new earth.
The apostle John was given a vision of that New Jerusalem, and he recorded what he saw in the book of Revelation. It’s a breathtaking design—streets of pure gold, walls adorned with precious stones, gates made of pearls, and a river as clear as crystal flowing out from the throne of God (Revelation 21:19, 21; 22:1). The glory of God the Father and Jesus Christ will outshine the sun and the moon; the gates will remain open without fear; and the tree of life will grow there (Revelation 21:23, 25; 22:2).
But that’s not the most impressive part. The most impressive part is what John heard as the New Jerusalem descended from heaven to the earth: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).
John’s description gives us a glimpse of the “heavenly country” that the faithful men and women of Hebrews 11 were looking toward—and not just looking toward, but running toward. A city without death. Without pain and sorrow and crying. A city where the God of all creation dwells with His creation and personally wipes away all tears forever.
Can you see it?
The Kingdom of God is the destination. It’s where God’s people have been marching toward for millennia. They could have turned back at any time—they could have given up and made the things of this life their main priority.
But they didn’t. They understood the truth. This world, this life that seems so real to us, so permanent—it’s temporary. Passing away. What mattered was up ahead, and so they continued on, no matter the cost—and for many of them, there was a cost:
“Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:35-38).
That’s a bleak passage. Scourgings. Chains. Executions. Exile. Not the kind of things we like to think about. Not the kind of things we like to entertain as possibilities in our own lives—and hopefully, not the kind of things we’ll ever have to face.
But we will face trials. We will at times have to choose between obeying God and compromising—maybe at work, maybe in the privacy of our own home, maybe with our most treasured relationships. And when we face those choices, whatever form they take, our job is to remember who we are and where we’re going. We’re strangers and pilgrims on our way to the Kingdom—just like those who came before us.
“And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us” (verses 39-40).
“Apart from us.” Consider that. These men and women are still in their graves, still awaiting their “better resurrection” as sons and daughters of God, because God isn’t finished inviting others to accept the challenge and to run the race.
Others … like you.
This phase of God’s plan will have a conclusion, but not yet. God is still calling and working with His future children in this life—and He wants you to be one of them.
The road is before you; the finish line is ahead; the goal is waiting.
Will you run?