Christians believe that when Christ reappears, he will bring with him a glorious future for those who have trusted in him. What that future will look like, we only dimly comprehend in this life.
But a passage from the early Christian bishop Papias of Hierapolis may give us a glimpse into what that glorious future will be like.
The New Testament is clear about two things:— (a) A glorious future awaits those who trust in Jesus; and (b) What that future looks like, is beyond our wildest imaginings.
So for example, John writes in his first Epistle:—
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:2
While Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans:—
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. Romans 8:18-19
For hard-pressed Christians down the centuries, many of whom have had to decide between their faith and their earthly life, promises such as those above have proved a wonderful source of comfort and strength.
But what will that future glory look like? A passage from the writings of early Christian bishop Papias of Hierapolis (perhaps A.D. 70-155) may give us a glimpse.
“The days will come in which vines shall grow, having each ten thousand branches, and in each branch ten thousand twigs, and in each true twig ten thousand shoots, and in every one of the shoots ten thousand clusters, and on every one of the clusters ten thousand grapes, and every grape when pressed will give five-and-twenty metretes of wine. And when any one of the saints shall lay hold of a cluster, another shall cry out, ‘I am a better cluster, take me; bless the Lord through me.’”
Papias of Hierapolis
Reading like a lyric from the apocalyptic Bob Dylan song ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,’ the passage — which claims to come by oral tradition from the Lord Jesus himself — describes a future of unimaginable abundance:—
As the elders who saw John the disciple of the Lord remembered that they had heard from him how the Lord taught in regard to those times, and said: “The days will come in which vines shall grow, having each ten thousand branches, and in each branch ten thousand twigs, and in each true twig ten thousand shoots, and in every one of the shoots ten thousand clusters, and on every one of the clusters ten thousand grapes, and every grape when pressed will give five-and-twenty metretes of wine. And when any one of the saints shall lay hold of a cluster, another shall cry out, ‘I am a better cluster, take me; bless the Lord through me.’ In like manner, [he said] that a grain of wheat would produce ten thousand ears, and that every ear would have ten thousand grains, and every grain would yield ten pounds of clear, pure, fine flour; and that apples, and seeds, and grass would produce in similar proportions; and that all animals, feeding then only on the productions of the earth, would become peaceable and harmonious, and be in perfect subjection to man.” Testimony is borne to these things in writing by Papias, an ancient man, who was a hearer of John and a friend of Polycarp, in the fourth of his books; for five books were composed by him. And he added, saying, “Now these things are credible to believers. And Judas the traitor,” says he, “not believing, and asking, ‘How shall such growths be accomplished by the Lord?’ the Lord said, ‘They shall see who shall come to them.’” These, then, are the times mentioned by the prophet Isaiah: ‘And the wolf shall lie down with the lamb,’ etc.[alluding to Isaiah 11:6ff.]
Papias, Fragment IV (= Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies 5.33.3-4)
The quotation above is from the writing of Irenaeus, a second-century bishop and theologian who was writing circa 180 A.D. It is thought that the excerpts in italics are his quotations from the (now lost) writing of Papias named Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord.
We know from the book of Genesis — and also from what Paul says in his Letter to the Romans — that the earth has been labouring under the curse of futility ever since man’s rebellion against God:—
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Letter to the Romans 8:20-23
“Even in the enacting of the curse in Genesis 3 there is already the promise of future redemption, the putting-everything-right-again which has been put wrong by man’s rebellion.”
We see this futility all the time on our news: whenever drought or crop failure in Africa is reported; whenever floods in various parts of the world affect people; whenever there is widespread famine, such as currently in Yemen and in South Sudan — although the catastrophes in Yemen and South Sudan are of man’s recent making.
But even in the enacting of the curse in Genesis 3 there is already the promise of future redemption, the putting-everything-right-again which has been put wrong by man’s rebellion:—
[The LORD God said to the serpent:]
“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15
Papias’ vision of that future earth — when every plant will yield fruit abundantly, and the plants will as it were compete for fruitfulness — gives us a wonderful picture of the life to come.
“Papias’ vision of that future earth — when every plant will yield fruit abundantly, and the plants will as it were compete for fruitfulness — gives us a wonderful picture of the life to come. That is the life which Christians are looking forward to, on the day Jesus returns.”
That is the life which Christians are looking forward to, on the day Jesus returns to claim his people.
What is your picture of heaven? Of being dressed as an angel, playing harps for eternity while sitting on a cloud?
Well, the harps, at least, are a biblical picture of the age to come. The imagery is taken from Revelation 15:2.
But the age to come is much, much richer than that.
For a start, in Revelation 21:1-4 the city of God, heavenly Jerusalem, comes down to earth. The implication, surely, is that those who belong to Jesus will enjoy the wonderful abundance of a regenerated, restored earth — and the kind of unending plenty which Papias describes in his beautiful picture.
Why not find out more about Jesus of Nazareth today, and take your first steps toward being part of that glorious, abundant future?
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 See Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. I. T&T Clark, Edinburgh; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, reprinted 1996. Henceforth referred to as ANF. Introductory Note to the Fragments of Papias: p.151. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.vii.i.html
Graham is an evangelical Christian believer living in Sussex, UK. He is passionate about helping people to understand what the Bible really says, and about explaining what the Christians of the early centuries believed and taught.